A strategy for congregational research

My Nashville research across the last ten years has evolved from an interest in Central Church (where I was then Associate Minister) to a much, much larger scope including each congregation in the county, every para-church ministry based in Nashville, and how the larger issues within Stone-Campbell history interact with local history in one city resulting in the ministry conducted on ground, in the trenches, in the congregations.  With that comes the innumerable evangelists, ministers and pastors who held forth weekly from pulpits across the city. Ambitious? Yes.  Perhaps too ambitious.  That may be a fair criticism, but the field is fertile and the more I survey the landscape and read the sources and uncover additional data, the more I’m convinced to stay the course.

In the last four years especially I have focused my efforts to obtain information about the smaller congregations, closed congregations, particularly congrgations which have closed in the last 40 to 50 years.  My rationale for this focus is that some history here is in some cases, potentially recoverable.  There are larger affluent congregations which have appearances of vitality…they are going nowhere soon.  I can only hope some one among them is heads-up enough to chronicle their ongoing history and preserve the materials they produced.  On the other hand are congregations which have long-ago closed and chances are good we might not ever know anything of them except a name and possibly a location (for example, Carroll Street Christian Church is absorbed into South College Street in 1920 forming Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ…no paper is known to exist from this church, and I can’t even find one photo of the old building, and there is no one remaining who has living memory of this congregation).  For all practical purposes Carroll Street Church of Christ may remain as mysterious in twenty years as it does now.  I’d be surprised to learn of 3 people now living in the city of Nashville who have even heard of it.

But the several congregations that closed in the 50’s-80’s (and some even in the last five years) remain accessible if only through documents and interviews.  Theoretically the paper (the bulletins, meeting minutes, directories, photographs, even potentially sermon tapes) has a good chance of survival in a basement or attic or closet.  Chances are still good that former members still live, or folks might be around–in Nashville or elsewhere–who grew up at these congregations.  Theoretically.  Potentially.  Hopefully.

Yet as time marches on there are more funerals…for example in the last year I missed opportunities to speak with three elderly folks about their memories at these now-closed churches…they were too ill to speak with me and now they are gone!  I did, however, speak at length with one woman in ther 90’s who I thought died long ago!  She is quite alive and lucid!

So from time to time I will highlight on this blog these closed congregations…closed in the recent past…with hopes that someone somewhere might look for them (I get hits on this blog by folks looking for all sorts of things, among them are several Nashville Churches of Christ).  Maybe we can stir up some interest and surface additional information.

A few days ago I posted about one such congregation, the Twelfth Avenue, North Church of Christ.  I have in the queue a post about New Shops Church of Christ in West Nashville.  There are more, several more.

Stay tuned, and remember, save the paper!

5 thoughts on “A strategy for congregational research

  1. Amen, brother!

    Keep on keepin’ on. This is excellent material, foundational for a true understanding of the history of Churches of Christ in every place, beyond the ideology, the “issues,” and the rant.

    God’s Peace to you.


  2. I attended Russell Street Church of Christ from about 1959 though 1972 , and I was born in East Nashville in 1950. The preacher I most remember from my childhood was Hubert Lawing. Three of the elders were Guy Manning, Austin Huggins, and E. B. Thweat. I have the Sunday bulletin for many of those years. It was a warm and loving congregation. We called each other Brother and Sister. My brother and father served the Lord’s Supper, took Communion to shut-ins, and all the men painted and cared for the inside of the building. My mother taught VBS. My Father, brother and I were baptized in this building. The whole congregation had many whole congregation picnics at Shelby Park.

    Russell Street fell prey to the white-flight that occurred, almost overnight, following the federally mandated school busing to achieve racial integration. Literally over-night children, black and white, were bused away from their neighborhood schools, far away. As is the case today, those parents bought homes and lived in neighborhoods based up the schools their children would attend. Within 48 hours of the court order, families that could and could not afford to do so… moved out of the county. For a time these families drove back to Russel Street for church, but soon they joined churches close to their new homes and where their children attended school. Russel Street withered and died due to the rapid and almost total loss of membership. Like East Nashville in general, a debilitating period of devastating decline and decay followed. There were just not enough members to be a viable congregation.

    The same thing happened to almost every church of any stripe in East Nashville. I don’t know the history of Sylvan Park as well, but my Grandmother attended the Charlotte Ave. Church of Christ. I know that congregation died for the same reason.

    I rejoice that young parents with little or no knowledge of those years are repopulating and embracing the East Nashville where I was born and grew up. Sylvan Park is coming back as well! However, I have recently heard some destructive school decisions that will adversely impact neighbors and families in East Nashville and Sylvan Park Public schools. If Metro doesn’t support and listen to parents and nurture neighborhood schools, history will repeat itself. Neighborhood schools with actively involved parents are the heart of wonderful neighborhoods and healthy church families.

    I have scanned all of those Sunday Church Bulletins and will be donating the digital record to the Nadhville Archives located at the downtown Nashville Public Library.

    There are many people alive and in their 60s, 70s, and 80s that remember the Russell Street Church of Christ with great fondness.

  3. Grace Avenue Church of Christ is the congregation I grew up in. My grandmother cared for the communion plates and cups for years. I attended from my birth in 1950 until it had its last service in 1974. Do you have any other pictures of Grace Avenue? My mother passed away January of 2017. What memories she had! There are several people still living in the Nashville area who also grew up here.

    • Thank you Deborah. I do not have any photos of Grace Ave (other than what appears in the North Edgefield book by Bill McKee). I would very much like to locate a photo of the Foster Street Church at N. 2nd and Foster. I do not have an interior picture of Grace Ave. I wish I was able to meet and visit with former members; living in Abilene makes such very difficult, even email and telephone research is no replacement for shoe leather on the ground. Thank you again; many thanks, Mac

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