A friend gave me this card about a year ago while I was teaching a class on Stone-Campbell history. While his mother attended Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ as a child, she occasionally visited family across the river in North Edgefield at Lischey Avenue Church. Going through an old scrap book he found this card and graciously gave it to me, knowing it would be a treasured part of my collection (which it is!).
Collins’ meeting-card opens a window into the life of one congregation seventy years ago. It helps us understand how this congregation (Lischey Avenue) and this evangelist (Willard Collins) prosecuted a “gospel meeting.” All but forgotten now in most urban and suburban churches, ‘gospel meetings’ or ‘revivals’ were common across Protestant denominational lines generations ago. They are part revival (for those already members of the congregation), part evangelistic or outreach event (for those who are not members of the congregation) and part teaching event (for all concerned).
This meeting begins Sunday April 26th and goes through two full weeks to Sunday May 10th. Collins preaches twice on Sundays and nightly at 7:40pm. I am not sure exactly how he handled the two Sunday services since only one title is given on the card. Nevertheless, judging from the titles alone, Collins’ sermons are at once evangelistic, moralistic, doctrinal and hortatory. He initiates the meeting by first laying out the gospel before proceeding through several conversion stories in Acts. The middle sermons are moralistic: he draws a bead on hypocrisy and congregational life and then addresses the ‘household code.’ I am unsure of what he means by ‘addition problem.’ Collins addresses what appears to be the basic life situation for most of the his auditors at Lischey: church-going working and middle-class families with children. How ought these folk live? What is good and right, what is noble? It appears that these are his overarching moral concerns for the middle of the meeting.
The final three sermons conclude the meeting on a decisive note. Why should visitors to this meeting seriously consider the Lischey Avenue Church of Christ rather than, say, North Edgefield Baptist Church a short distance away? By 9 May 1942 the United States had been at war with Japan right at six months. Given the circumstance of spring 1942, how should we live as citizens of a nation at war? Finally, in what must have been a powerful conclusion: the title is telling: “The Burial of Those Who Die Out of the Lord.” His last sermon moves his hearers to decision. Collins’, if anything, was persuasive and moving.
By April 1942 Collins, age 26, preached for Old Hickory Church of Christ about three years. Old Hickory is a few miles east of Nashville (it is now in the city limits of Metro Nashville), right on the banks of the Cumberland River. Old Hickory was a thriving little hamlet and Collins’ church was an active, thriving, aggressive congregation.
Lischey Avenue Church of Christ began in 1907 through the door-to-door efforts of two women who canvassed the neighborhood around Joy’s Flower Gardens in North Edgefield. Joe McPherson preached a tent meeting on James Avenue in August 1909. By May 1910, thanks to the generosity of T. S. Joy’s donation of a lot, the little church had a frame meetinghouse on Jones Avenue. They outgrew the building and moved to 1310-1312 Lischey Avenue in May 1923, completing a new building in January 1925. They then outgrew that building, and in early spring 1942, seventy years ago this week, completed a $20,000 facility. They arranged for Willard Collins, a dynamic young evangelist, to hold the first two-weeks’ meeting in the new building. In March 1942 Lischey Avenue was a congregation of about four hundred members. Collins, writing in his report of the meeting to the Gospel Advocate, says, “The Lischey Avenue meeting, in Nashville, closed May 10, with six hundred fifteen present. The previous largest crowd in the history of the church was five hundred nineteen. Fourteen were baptized and one was restored. This is an active congregation and a pleasant one with which to work.”
While Colllins held forth in East Nashville, Old Hickory was equally busy in a meeting of their own. In the midst of the Lischey Avenue meeting Collins wrote this report for the Advocate: “One hundred eight have been baptized here and thirty-eight restored in the past eight months. Nine hundred fifty-two attended Bible classes Sunday for an all-time record. Hulen L. Jackson just closed a meeting here….” Collins left Old Hickory in 1944; two years later he began preaching at Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ in West Nashville when Athens Clay Pullias accepted the Presidency of David Lipscomb College. Collins would soon direct the Lipscomb Expansion Program in the late 40’s, helping DLC move from a two-year Junior College to Four Year Accredited Senior College status. After years of decline, Lischey Avenue moved out of the neighborhood and, with Parkwood Church, formed Northside Church of Christ in 1976-1978. Lipscomb College expansion and East Nashville decline, though, are topics for further research reflection.
A single ephemeral handout card, as I have demonstrated here, can be quite helpful. From this item we have open before us a window into one two-week period in the life of Lischey Avenue Church of Christ. From it we have some idea of their theological commitments and the program of preaching and teaching they pursued in their community at that time. In tandem with a few other sources, we are able to see a bit more clearly. In the fascinating world of research, at times some questions are answered, while new ones are posed, and still altogether different questions surface.
There may be other such cards out there somewhere that may give us additional understanding. Maybe not…maybe a good deal of the history of this congregaion is lost to time. There is a lot of history to be written, if only the primary source materials are available. Do you have any old paper from Lischey Avenue, or any other Church of Christ or Christian Church in Nashville? If so, I’d like to talk with you about how those important materials can be preserved. For my plea along those lines, see my 3 July 2009 post, Save the Paper.
Willard Collins’ meeting reports:
Gospel Advocate, May 7, 1942, page 450
Gospel Advocate, May 21, 1942, page 498
More about Lischey Avenue history and work:
“Lischey Home-Coming in New Building,” Gospel Advocate, March 5, 1942, page 237.
Batsell Barrett Baxter and M. Norvel Young, Eds. New Testament Churches of Today, Volume 1. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1960, page 237.
For a helpful study of the intersection of local history and congregational history, with a focus on the Old Hickory Church of Christ, see:
C. Philip Slate, Du Pont’s Old Hickory Employee Movement and the Spread of Churches of Christ” Restoration Quarterly 39:3 (1997) pages 155-174.
Lischey Avenue Church of Christ’s 1942 (with a ca. 1959 classroom building) building yet stands at 1312 Lischey Avenue. This is as it appeared about two years ago: