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…)

Genealogical Workshop

Religious Archives-Registration Form (2)Genealogists in the Nashville area will want to know about this event:

Located in the buckle of America’s Bible belt, Nashville, Tennessee is home to several major repositories of religious records.  Denominational archives, publishing boards, and local congregations offer a wide array of research opportunities.  In addition to documenting de­nominational histories, religious archives also preserve information that tells the stories of the individuals and families who comprise each faith. This workshop provides an overview of historical records, manuscripts, and other documents in Nashville’s religious archives.

PDF flyer: Religious Archives-Registration Form (2)

Little Sisters of the Poor

“Something for the poor, please, in God’s name,”[1] begged the Little Sisters of the Poor as they sought, door-to-door, relief for the sick, the poor and the aged. Canvassing the neighborhoods and business districts, they served Catholics and non-Catholics alike in what was likely the first religious home for the aged poor in Nashville.


A Community devoted to good works and mercy on behalf of society’s neediest, this order was founded in 1633 in Paris, France.  Often called the “Grey Sisters” due o their distinctive blue-grey habits, their work consisted of establishing hospitals, schools and asylums across France and Europe.  Their tasks consisted of providing hot meals, education and spiritual care.


Rising at 4 am for Mass and prayer, the remainder of their days was spent in direct assistance to and on behalf of the poor and aged, pausing only occasionally to examine their consciences, meditate and pray.


The society was founded in America in 1809 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Taking as their motto the words of Jesus, “So long as you do it to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me”, they operated 130 academies, hospitals, orphanages, asylums, industrial and parochial schools.  By 1915 they operated houses in 30 cities from New York to California and from Grand Rapids Michigan to Puerto Rico, including Nashville.


They were called to Nashville by Bishop Byrne as one of his many commitments to social service, charity and education in the city.  Charged with operating a home for the aged poor, they first were located near the Cathedral downtown and then in a former orphanage before locating east of the river near St. Columba’s Church.


Although their building was a casualty of the Great Fire in 1916, the blaze did not consume their spirit.  To escape the fire, one sister carried a resident from the building on her back.  After the fire they relocated to South Nashville to a new facility. 


Note: this short essay was greatly improved and expanded for publication by Barbara J. Baltz, Archivist, Catholic Diocese of Nashville.  What you read in the book is much better than what I have here.

[1] Thomas Stritch, The Catholic Church in Tennessee, The Sesquicentennial Story. Nashville: The Catholic Center, 1987, 272.