That you may give it in due time to others: a brief meditation for congregational historians and others who care about the past and the future

In 1939 Frederick John Foakes Jackson* published A History of Church History: Studies of Some Historians of the Christian Church (W. Heffer & Sons Ltd: Cambridge).  His final book–he published it at age 84–it surveys in fourteen chapters just what its title suggests using biographical and bibliographical lenses.

Foakes Jackson studied under Bishop John Lightfoot at Trinity College, Cambridge and likely he first read church history under Lightfoot.  He returns full circle to his teacher in the final chapter of this final book under the title “The Books Recommended by Bishop Lightfoot.”

The entire book though is somewhat of a tribute volume to Lightfoot.  Foakes Jackson not only ended the book with a very kind nod to his teacher, he prefaced it with a subdued compliment to Lightfoot’s erudition and personal magnanimity. After three unsuccessful attempts at gaining a scholarship to study at Cambridge, Foakes Jackson obtained in 1880 the Lightfoot Scholarship in Ecclesiastical History.  From there his teaching career launched and sailed for the next six decades.  The Preface to A History of Church History contains the reply Foakes Jackson received when, upon learning of this award he wrote a note of thanks to the Bishop.  The closing line of the reply reads: “I trust you will take up some portion of history and make it your own that you may give it in due time to others.”

Take up…make it your own…give it to others.  I imagine Foakes Jackson at near ninety rereading the treasured letter from the patron who enabled his early university career.

There is wisdom here from Lightfoot and Foakes Jackson.  As church historians, or congregational historians, or teachers in congregational settings, or preachers, we stand in a tradition.  We are not the first to undertake the task of sorting out our past.  We are not the first to stand before a class or congregation.  We are not the first to write or research or sift or evaluate or craft the product of our study.  We are not the first and we will not be the last.  We have neither the first nor the final word.  But we have our word, and with that a responsibility to pay close attention to those who precede us, add to it in our own way with criticism, insight, research and commentary, and then hand it off again.  Just as our predecessors entrusted the work to us, we entrust it to others.  We have responsibility to look backward at the tradition we have inherited; likewise we bear a responsibility to pass it forward after we make our contribution.  We care about the past, we steward our gifts and resources in this moment, and we care about the future.  We receive, we give.  We take up, make it our own, and then give it away.

This inspires me to be responsible with what I receive.  It inspires me to take seriously and steward wisely the opportunities and resources available to me.  It underscores for me the reality that I am part of a community, one that ‘right now’ as much as it is past/future.  For some of us the community may be a professional guild, or it may be the Wednesday night regulars, but there is a community.  It encourages me to submit the fruit of my work to the good of the community.

Wikipedia will get you started; follow the links there to good and useful information about FJFJ.


Burnette Chapel Church of Christ

Today’s shooting at Burnette Chapel Church brings great sadness.  The Churches of Christ community in Nashville can be a very close-knit web of relationships, kinships, and friendships.  When Laura and I taught at Ezell-Harding we formed many friendships and some of those reach into Burnette Chapel Church, including Joey and Peggy Spann.  Other connections revolve around common connections we have all over town.  Today’s tragedy touches the web in all kinds of ways.

The last time I was at Burnette Chapel, in 2011 I think, I came in just a few minutes after the evening services began.  Joey was very warm and kindly introduced me to several folks who could help me with my history pursuit.  Burnette Chapel is an old congregation with deep roots in that part of the Nashville/Davidson County community.

Some time ago I posted a few tidbits about Burnette Chapel history on the Nashville Churches of Christ Facebook group:

Samuel Parker Pittman was a fixture, first as a student, then on the faculty, at Nashville Bible School/David Lipscomb College. He preached his first sermon at Burnette Chapel in the fall of 1892, at the ripe age of 16 years. This is the old Burnette Chapel building, the site of which is now under the waters of Percy Priest Lake. The current building is not far from the lake. These photos are from the 1954 biography of S. P. Pittman. Also, TB Larimore preached his first sermon at Burnette Chapel while he was a young student at Tolbert Fanning’s Franklin College. This is a fine example of a congregation growing preachers the organic, natural way: slowly, patiently, lovingly, fanning the flame of the gifts of the Spirit. Burnette Chapel was not unique in this regard; neither were Pittman and Larimore. Jim Allen got his start this way, so did David Lipscomb, Lytton Alley, the Cullum’s, Joe McPherson, Marshall Keeble, and a host of local elders and deacons who regularly taught and fed the flocks in addition to carrying full-time employment responsibilities in the marketplace and family responsibilities at home.

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My thoughts, now, though are not on the past, but the very much on the pressing grief and shock of the moment.




Clay Street Christian Church

The Christian Churches who used instrumental music in worship and conducted mission work through organized societies were never strong in Nashville.  Comparatively speaking there were far more members and scores more congregations among the conservatives.  This is due to the local on-the-ground leadership of conservatives whose convictions closely paralleled David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell (which found expression in the pages of Gospel Advocate), the school Lipscomb established (Nashville Bible School), and especially the congregations they planted.

Yet, the Christian Churches planted a few congregations.  The old downtown congregation, Vine Street Christian Church, was the most visible and well-known and served as the ‘mother church’ to most of the earliest church plants in the city limits.  Vine Street, with Woodland Street, assisted in planting Seventeenth Street Christian Church in East Nashville.  Further out along Gallatin Road was Eastland Christian Church (built in a day, too!).  In North Nashville the state society (with assistance from Vine Street) planted a little mission on Clay Street at 10th Avenue, North.  Vine Street assisted also with the efforts at North Spruce Street (later 8th Ave. North) in 1885 and South College Street in 1887, both of which predated division over the issues, remained acapella, and did not support societies.

Zenos Sanford Loftis was a student at Vanderbilt Medical School ca. 1903-1904.  He earned his Ph.C. from Vanderbilt in 1901 (and would stay to complete the MD in 1908) and had experience in “slum work” in St. Louis.  It appears the working-class neighborhood of emerging North Nashville appealed to Loftis as an ideal place to plant a congregation.  With the assistance of Vine Street Christian Church and the Tennessee Christian Missionary Society the mission launched.  Loftis graduated and sailed for Tibet in September the same year as the Living Link missionary of Vine Street Christian Church.  The little band at Clay Street continued with Vanderbilt divinity students filling the pulpit.

Clay Street Christian Church (at 10th and Clay in North Nashville) by 1909 erected a small one-room frame building at the rear of the lot.  The “entire lot on which the present Church now stands [1929] was purchased and paid for by the members, donations, the Ladies Croquet Clubs, and by Socials over a period of struggling years.” For almost twenty years it perked along under the service of temporary, year-at-a-time ministers–mainly Vanderbilt divinity students–until 1927 when Stanley H. Dysart began a ten-year term as minister. The 1910s and 20s were decades of growth for their neighborhood and congregation.  A feature of the weekly church program was a Sunday School which often topped 200 pupils.  By then Vine Street Christian Church was heavily involved which seems to have given the little mission the push it needed to launch out as a viable independent congregation.  Some of the Vanderbilt students who served Clay Street are known only by their last names: Morgan, Vance, Shepard, Reynolds, Hoosinger, Spiegel, Saum and Harris.

Dysart began with a 14-member mission, four Sunday School classes, and the backing of Vine Street Church.  Dysart’s month-long July 1928 tent meetings gave a major boost, adding over forty members to reach a membership of 59.   A year later the little frame building at the rear of the lot was replaced by the neat brick building that still stands.

Clay Street membership reached a peak of about 200 members through the 1930s-1940s into the 1950s.  Long-time Vine Street minister, Dr. Carey E. Morgan, inspired an outreach program named in his honor: the Carey E. Morgan Baby Welfare Clinic.” By 1960, however, most members no longer lived in the neighborhood and drove in from the suburbs to attend services.  Financially they were only able to support a minister and keep the doors open.  In April 1960 the minister wrote to the Alex Mooty, secretary of the Tennessee Christian missionary Society “we are in an area that is fast becoming a Negro area.  In two years I have seen five Negro families move in on Clay St. between 10th and Owent [sic] across the street from the church.” In 1960 there were only five residences between 10th and Owen; in other words, that side of the street opposite the church building went from all-white to all-black from 1954-1955 to 1959-1960.

In September 1960 the minister, citing “the population moves, racial migration, and spiritual indifference,” resigned in the face of a “growing feeling of discontentment” among the congregation.  The congregation badly needed encouragement, trained leadership, and a larger vision.

A dozen years later, by 1972, after years of declining membership and conflict, at times there would be only two or four present for worship.  The consensus of the remaining members was to disband and return the property to Vine Street through the Tennessee Christian Missionary Society.  When Clay Street mission launched in about 1904 it joined these Christian Churches: Vine Street, Gay Street, Lea Avenue, Woodland Street, Seventeenth Street, and Belleview.  Eastland, University Place, Woodmont, and Donelson would join the ranks by the middle of the 20th century.

Eastland and Woodland Street would merge to form Eastwood; Vine Street would launch Woodmont; Gay Street and Lea Avenue would merge to form Gay-Lea; University Place would close, as would Seventeenth Street.  The situation in 1972, in terms of number of congregations and congregants, differed little from 1904.  While the conservative Christian Churches–by the 1920s exclusively known as Churches of Christ–outpaced the Disciples in both number of congregations and adherents, they would reach the zenith of their growth in the 1970s and thereafter enter a slow overall decline.

Since 2002 Swift Tabernacle Baptist Church has called home the brick building built for Clay Street Christian Church in 1929.  I took these photos in the early morning light of May 26, 2010:


John William McGarvey Jr.

For a short while John William McGarvey Jr. served as State Evangelist under the auspices of the Tennessee Christian Missionary Cooperation. He began this work early in 1911 but died unexpectedly in April; his father J. W. McGarvey died later the same year in October.

Jr. preached a few times at Woodland Street Christian Church. This scan is from the April 22, 1911 issue of Christian Standard.


A Fisk Postcard and Grandma Johnson

This postcard caught my eye several years ago.  The subject matter is interesting and I bought it because this card illustrates the campus of Fisk University at a time when some folks among the Nashville Churches of Christ attended Fisk. But the additional story of the sender caught me by surprise.

In 1906 (the year this card was mailed), very near Fisk University are Jackson Street, Jefferson Street, Scovel Street and Jo Johnston Avenue Churches of Christ. Jackson Street (est. 1896) and Jefferson Street (now Schrader Lane, est. 1918) are African-American and the others are white. By 1915 Scovel Street (later Westwood) sell their buildings (twice) to African Methodist Episcopal and Christian Methodist Episcopal, respectively, congregations. Jo Johnston sells to a black primitive Baptist congregation before World War 2 ends and disbands. Just what all of this means I cannot yet say, but I can say now I think that this is the first instance of white-flight that I have seen among Nashville Churches of Christ.  But I bought card because it shows Fisk buildings and Fisk history intersects with local Restoration history.  It intersects with the neighborhood congregations; it intersects in that some very important names in local Churches of Christ history attended Fisk: G. P. Bowser, Georgia Gordon Taylor, Minnie Womack, and Annie Tuggle, for example.

However, what also struck me when I first saw the card was the name ‘Lena Haralson.’ It nagged me because it seemed familiar. I put the card aside and not until I first drafted this post (back in late August 2010) did I dig further. A Google search reveals a couple of interesting things, one on the postcard side of things [and one more about the Jolly Joker Club] and one on Nashville Church of Christ history.  Yep, I’d seen Lena before…Lena Haralson is Helena Haralson Johnson…Grandma Johnson*

Miss Haralson, Jolly Joker #5 and likely co-founder of the club, funded Andrew Mizell Burton’s insurance venture and helped build the Lipscomb campus during and after the Great Depression.  She was a fixture in Nashville business circles and a fixture on the campus of David Lipscomb College; to this very night young women sleep in a dorm bearing her name. She was also a charter member at Central Church of Christ, downtown Nashville, on Sunday 5 October 1925.

I knew of her, and had kept an eye out for her activities with a view to writing up a nice biographical sketch.  Her story is fascinating, I think, and one that needs to be told.  But I didn’t expect to find Lena Haralson on a penny postcard.

*-from 1994-1998 I was one of several (maybe about a dozen each year?)  Johnson Scholarship recipients at David Lipscomb University.

Cordelia May Ice

She was born on Sunday, the 28th of May, 1854 in Doddridge Co., [West] Virginia.  She died on a Tuesday 17 November, 1863 at the age of nine years.  Cordelia is buried directly in front of the front door of Center Point Christian Church.  The straightforward white frame church is typical of the time and region but is not the building she knew…not the same one in which her father was ordained an elder and her brother served as a leader and in which her nephew learned to preach… but it sits atop the site of the one she knew.  The church Cordelia knew was of hewn logs; this one has cheap siding over wooden clapboards.  Inside this plastic-clad church is a bronze plaque with her father’s name on it.  Other names include the other founding families.  Outside, with Cordelia, lie their mortal remains.

Her father, Isaac, and brother Andrew, were in November 1863, I believe, at Harper’s Ferry.  They were musicians in the 6th West Virginia Infantry (Union).   Who knows if word reached them of her illness?  For that matter who even knows whether she was ill?Were they able to obtain leave to bury their daughter and sister?  Good questions; no answers.

In 1896 Cordelia’s mother Elizabeth was buried beside her. Elizabeth has a stately tall marker. She was buried between her two children who preceded her in death: Cordelia on the left and Andrew on the right.   In 1882 the mortal remains of Cordelia’s older brother, Andrew Jackson Ice were placed in a grave in front of Center Point Christian Church.  A. J. succumbed to appendicitis, leaving six sons under the age of twelve.  The fourth son, Kromer, is my great-grandfather.  Isaac Ice is buried on the other side of Andrew.   He died 11 June 1905.  Daughter, mother, son, father.  Such is Ice Row.

In April 2010 I visited Center Point.  One reason for the visit was to locate her grave.  The morning was still and quiet.  Clear weather, cool steady breeze under blue skies.  The morning air was damp. There was enough winter left in the air to remind you that you weren’t quite into spring yet.  The spring growth was some ways behind Middle Tennessee: much of the vegetation was brown, crunchy, dormant.  And there was enough of spring in the air and green shoots here and there to let you know that life was around the corner.  A perfect metaphor for a day in the cemetery.

I spent a good deal of my morning in the oldest part of the cemetery among the field-stone-marked graves.  Only a couple had initials scratched deeply upon them; none bore CMI.  Their identities are now completely lost if ever they had initials.  Like the corpses absorbed by the earth beneath them, time’s long years eroded both name and memory. Whoever they are they were the early white settlers in this area, or at least the first to die and receive proper burial.  Their lives intersected in some way with the lives of my distant family; whoever they are they were involved in the life of the community and for all I know they planted and watered a congregation in which my family later served and worshiped and ministered.  They are important to me whoever they are.  I’ll never know.  And that was a strange feeling to face since I came all this way for answers.

I walked up high, to the top of the hill–Allen’s Hill– right up to the tree line and sat down in the crunchy grass to snap a few photos.  Many graves were early 20th century, some were recent, and one was fresh, but where is Cordelia?  The records I had at hand clearly stated she is buried in the Center Point cemetery, and the record provided birth and death dates.  Is she among those whose identities have been lost to time?  I fixed my attention on the fresh, maybe-only-a-couple-weeks old, grave in the middle distance.  If I were digging a grave in 1863 where would it be?

I tried to imagine the scene in 1863 from my vantage point up on the side of Allen’s hill.  It makes best sense that the family rests together.  This is Appalachian culture and for all the fierce independence shot through this time and place and people, there is also a mighty fierce interdependence.  Most families in this cemetery are buried together or as close as seems practical.  Where they seem separated in a few cases can be explained by intermarriage or feuds or both or neither.

In 1863 there were far, far fewer graves and the likelihood that the Ice’s are together moves me back down the hill.  I examine each of the identified graves, the old ones, the 19th century ones.  I find the Ice’s easily enough, the ones I saw on my 1998 trip.  No Cordelia.  A second time, each stone, front, back all sides…headstones and footstones.  No Cordelia. A third time…nope.  Frustrated, I walk down to the small covered bridge.  Walk over it, over the creek, an take a right up that hollow a mile or two or three, and you’ll get to the old Ice land.  I didn’t know that then.  I guess I’ll have to go back someday.

Back to the cemetery, I sit down again, this time in front of Isaac’s tall monument.  He was an elder at Center Point Christian Church, a patriarch in one of the founding families.  He was an elder at the time of her death, or so the record seems.  There is no good reason why she is not here!  

On my hands and knees with a screwdriver from the small tool kit I kept in the trunk, I probe the grass for flat headstones. And there she was.

Next to Elizabeth, covered in grass and dirt, was a small stone.  Looks to me like it fell backward years ago.  I cleared the earth and grass so visitors will know she is there.   My hands a sandy brown, I cleared and scraped and pulled weeds and thought of my three girls in Middle Tennessee.  In 2010 the girls were eight, five and two.  Zach was nowhere in our consciousness, and neither was Texas.  I didn’t set the stone upright, but I cleaned and cleared and at least made it visible again.

Maybe Isaac and AJ heard about Cordelia’s illness and were granted brief leave to rush home for a few days.  There wasn’t much for a musician to do at Harper’s Ferry anyhow.  It appears they spent most of the time watching and waiting for action that never happened.  Perhaps she died suddenly, unexpectedly, quickly.  Perhaps they learned of her death some days or even weeks after the fact.  Perhaps they made it in time to bury her.  Or they, like, me, walked up the hill and looked for her, not knowing where they might find her.  There is no doubt Isaac stood where I stood, looking down at the grave of his daughter, his only daughter.

At least now anyone who walks along Ice row will see Cordelia’s stone.  Center Point is a tiny village, the sort of place you get lost trying to find, or get lost trying to find your way from.  I bet in the last two years the only person to have seen her grave is the fellow who cuts the grass.  I hope he notices her, for every little girl who dies at the age of nine deserves at least a legible headstone, in a visible place, in hopes that someone will see, and pause a moment, be it ever so brief.  I hope he sees her stone and goes home to his family a happy and thankful man and I hope he counts every blessing he has.

God rest you, Cordelia.  We will meet in the resurrection!

Ice row: L-R, Cordelia, Elizabeth, Andrew, Isaac.  Nearby, in front of the church, is George Washington Ice and William Waitman Ice.  George is Isaac’s brother and William is Isaac’s other son.

Cordelia’s marker reads:




MAY 28, 1854


NOV. 17, 1863


Our darling one

hath gone before

To greet us on that

blissful shore.

Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning’s portrait of Alexander Campbell

Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning’s portrait of Alexander Campbell made in Nashville ca. 1827-1835. Ira Collins, a photographer who was also a Disciple, made this cabinet-card sized photo widely available in the early 1890s. Thanks to him we have a likeness of Campbell from his early prime. It is a very nice artifact of the Fanning’s which was witness to the very beginnings of the Campbell movement in Nashville and Tennessee. And squirreled away in a garret while the troops ravished Franklin College! 

When Jim Taulman asked for illustrations for last year’s issue of Tennessee Baptist History Journal, I sent him this one since it shows Campbell at the time of the fierce debates among Middle Tennessee Baptists. Jim published it to illustrate my article on Alexander Campbell’s engagement with Garner McConnico.  

Jim died a few days ago. I am grateful for his kind friendship and our collaboration on our shared Nashville history. Thinking of him led me again to this cabinet card. I know Jim would wonder, as do I: “Who knows, maybe someone in town has this portrait over their mantle and doesn’t know the story?”