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!

Nashville Churches of Christ History Facebook group

Nashville Churches of Christ History group is open to anyone interested in the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. When I began the group about three years ago I said this:

I envision this community as a place to share common interest in the rich story of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Nashville. I am conducting research for a book which will highlight each congregation of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches from the 1810’s to the present…basically the entire movement from its beginning in our city until now. I envision this group as a place to share memories, photos, news and generate discussion and interest. Please join and contribute. Please feel free to contact me directly at icekm (at) aol (dot) com.

Since readership for this blog is significantly higher now than it was in 2010, let me offer another invitation.  The group is open to all. Help spread the word and generate interest. (astogetherwestandandsing…)

Two Cane Ridge Revival items, 1852 and 1889

A few days ago I blogged James Trader’s want-list for the archives at Cane Ridge.  Two items on the list are available on Google Books.  I am pleased to learn of them as I do not recall seeing reference to either.  Here are two points in the history of memory of this momentous event.

First, the Magazine of Western History, December 1889 issue has this long article by Isaac Smucker:

Second, Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the Great West in 2 vols.  Vol. 1 notes the exercises; vol. 2 notes Cane Ridge in particular.

From vol. 1, pp. 189-190:

Volume 2, pages 215ff

Bowen House, Goodlettsville, TN

Daybreak on Friday 9 November revealed dense fog along Mansker’s Creek.  I snapped the pics below just as the sun burned through.  By the time I circled the home and made it back to vantage point of the first photo the home was awash in the bright morning sunrise.  Barton Stone perhaps witnessed similar foggy sunrises as he went about his early-morning chores in the fields which are today Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettsville, TN.  He lived in and/or near this home 200 years ago; his second wife, Celia Bowen, grew up here.

Name Authority for Nashville, Tennessee Stone-Campbell Congregations

Name Authority for Nashville Tennessee Stone-Campbell Congregations, September 2012

Click above to download a document listing 319 variants of time-, place- and character-names for the 227 known congregations of the Stone-Campbell movement in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee from 1812 to September 2012.

To my knowledge my work in this area is the only such compilation, and therefore, the most complete.  The initial publication of the list to this blog was in May 2010 as a first step in my research toward a book on the Restoration Movement in Nashville.  I blogged then:

With over 200 congregations in this county, the congregational research alone will take years, perhaps the remainder of my life.  If I live to be 100 I may not finish even a rudimentary survey.  It may be too much:  too many congregations, too many preachers, too much ‘story’ to tell.

But this is where I am at the present.  I publish the list here to generate interest, additions, subtractions, corrections and clarifications.  Look it over and if I need to make changes, please let me know.

While congregational history is only one aspect of this project, this is where it all played out…on the ground in the congregations on a weekly basis.  Few congregations have attempted more than a list of preachers or a narrative of the expansion of the church building.  What I propose, as I wrote above, may be too much…too far to the other extreme.  But that fact changes not one whit the necessity of it being done.

The story of these churches in Nashville needs to be told.  I ask for your help in telling it.  look over my list; I solicit your critique. Contact me at icekm [at] aol [dot] com.

(The first version of the name authority, from May 2010, can be found here.)

Barton W. Stone preaches at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Nashville, September 1796

Part fifth (and final installment), a continuation from Barton Stone preaches at Mansker’s Station, August-September 1796, part 2:

My colleague, J. [John] Anderson, having preached through the settlements of West Tennessee, determined to visit Kentucky.  We had our last appointment in father Thomas Caraighead’s congregation, in which neighborhood we had often preached.  As we expected a large and intelligent audience, we endeavored to prepare discourses suitable to the occasion.  My companion, Anderson, first rose to preach from these words: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”  I shall never forget his exordium, which, in fact, was also his peroration.  Holiness, said he, is a moral quality–he paused, having forgotten all his studied discourse.  Confused, he turned with staring eyes to address the other side of his audience, and repeated with emphasis–Holiness is a moral quality–and after a few incoherent words, he paused again, and sat down.  Astonished at the failure of my bnrother, I arose and prached.  He declared to me afterwards, that every idea had forsaken him; that he veiwed it as from God, to humble his pride; as he had expected to make a brilliant display of talent to that assembly.  I never remembered a sermon better, and to e it has been very profitable; for from the hint given, I was led to more correct views of the doctrines of original sin, and of regeneration.

Thomas Craighead was the first Presbyterian minister in the Cumberland settlements, having arrvied in 1785 from Kentucky.  He settled on the northern bluff overlooking the Cumberland River at the Madison/Opryland/Briley Parkway part of town.  Haysboro, as it was known then, was for a time a rival settlement to Nashborough down the river a bend or two.  Nashville eventually eclipsed the other hamlets, but the little stone church/school built there left an indelible impression on the larger community.  Opened on 25 September 1786, Davidson Academy was not only the first school in the Cumberland settlements but ancestor to the University of Nashville and Peabody College.  The stone building served as meetinghouse for Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, of which Craighead was pastor.  It was here that Stone held forth in the early autumn 1796.

En route to and from work each day I pass by the old Craighead homesite.  For locals, it was located under the Home Depot complex at the intersection of Briley and Gallatin Road opposite the cemeteries as you come into (or leave) Madison.  For a brief article about the home and its demise, click here.  There stood the Craighead place and there stood the little school which helped initiate a reputation Nashville enjoys to this hour: Athens of the South.

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church site, Nashville

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church site marker, Nashville

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church site looking across Gallatin Road/Briley Parkway intersection toward Craighead home site, Nashville

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church graveyard, Thomas Craighead grave looking toward church site. The grave is to the right of the church site.

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Thomas Craighead marker

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Thomas Craighead marker closeup 1

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Thomas Craighead marker close up 2

I wonder if Margaret Brown, then about age 96, was in attendance when Barton Stone preached at Spring Hill Presbyterian Church?

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, Margaret Brown marker, age 100

Perhaps also in attendance was Dr. William McWhirter. The James Robertson party was among the first groups to move into Nashville. They constructed Fort Nashboro in the winter/spring of 1780. The Cumberland Compact was the first governmental document drafted and signed in Middle Tennessee.

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church, William McWhirter marker, signer of Cumberland Compact

Barton Stone preaches at Mansker’s Station, August-September 1796, part 2

Overall this is part fourth, a continuation from Barton Stone preaches at Mansker’s Station, August-September 1796.  Expect a couple more posts this week.

At the same place, and at a another time, I was publicly attacked by an old deist, immediately after I had closed my discourse, and descended from the stand.  He walked up to me, and said, I suppose you know me, sir.  No, sir, said I, I have no knowledge of you.  I am Burns, the celebrated deist of this neighborhood.  Mr. Burns, said I, I am sorry to hear you boast of your infidelity sorry, sir, inform me, what is a deist?  Said he, the man that believes there is but one God.  Sir, said I, this is my belief, taught me by the Bible.  But, sir, what is the character of your God?  I believe, said he, that he is infinitely good, just, and merciful.  Whence, Mr. Burns, did you gain this information?  From the book of nature, said he.  Mr. Burns, please to show me the page in that book which declares that God is infinitely good.  Why, said he, all nature declares it.  We see the traces of goodness everywhere; hence I conclude that God, the great governor of the universe, is infinitely good.  Mr. Burns, please turn your eye upon the opposite page of your book, and see the miseries, and attend to the groans of the millions, who are suffering and dying every moment.  You must conclude, from your own premises, that God the great governor of the universe, is also infinitely evil and malevolent.  Your God, Mr. Burns, is infinitely good, and infinitely evil–a perfect contradiction!  You must be an atheist Mr. Burns, not a deist.  You said also, that your book taught you that God was infinitely just.  Please show me the page in your book that teaches this doctrine.  Said he, it is evident from this, that there is a principle of justice in every man: therefore I conclude that God the Maker of all men, must be infinitely just.  Mr. Burns, I can show you in your own book as many men of unjust principles, as you can men of just principles.  Then it follows from your premises, that God, the Maker, is infinitely just, and infinitely unjust.  Surely, Mr. Burns, atheism is your creed! [24] But, sir, look here, on this page of your book.  Here is a good citizen, a good husband, a good father, acknowledge such by all; yet his whole life is full of suffering, pain, and want.  Here also is a bad citizen, a bad husband, a bad father, and wallows in wealth.  How can you reconcile this with the infinite justice of God, the great governor of the universe?  Mr. Burns’s lips quivered; the whole congregation intensely listening.  O, says he, just rewards will be given in another world.  But, mr. burns, your book nowhere teaches this doctrine; you have stolen it from our Bible.  Sir, said he, I will see you at another time, and retired in confusion, the congregation smiling approbation at his defeat.

to be continued…