Several years ago I was given a few photographs and other paper items from the estate of Owen Pryor, one of the early ministers to the deaf at Nashville’s Central Church of Christ. Among them is this photograph of Leander Moore preaching to the deaf congregation. It is as fine an example of chart preaching as I have seen.
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 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…)
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.)
I am eager to learn about deaf ministries among Churches of Christ in general and particularly at Central Church in Nashville. Does anyone have any leads for research in this area? I am aware of Light for the Deaf (periodical) and the national workshop and camp. Central’s deaf ministry began in the 1940’s with Owen Pryor (above) playing a key role in preaching and teaching. Billy Leavell succeeded Owen until about 1979 at which time Frank Rushing came to Central. Frank has been at Central since then.
I would like to investigate deaf ministry among Churches of Christ so as to situate Central’s ministry in that context. I would also like to situtate Central’s ministry in larger and/or other contexts. Again, if you know of any leads, I would appreciate a comment or an email. As always, save the paper!
Members of the Central church of Christ, Nashville, Tenn., met for the first time on Sunday, October 4. The first meeting was devoted to worship and organization, and was a very significant service because of its simplicity and spirituality. Humility and reverence characterized everything said and done. The Central congregation is meeting for the present in a residence located on the church property. The buildings which will house the activities of the church later are under construction, but will not be available for sixty or ninety days. In the meantime the congregation will continue to meet in the residence building at 143 Fifth Avenue, North. The Central congregation is beginning its meetings at this time, in advance of the completion of its buildings, border “to take heed to itself” and study the all-important subjects of Christian grace and growth. It has planned an extensive program of gospel teaching and preaching, coupled with an equally extensive program of good works. The brethren joining hands and hearts in this work realize that consistent service in the name of Christ requires a high degree of individual Christlike devotion, spirituaI-mindedness, and godliness of character. Hence, the Central congregation is resolved to look very carefully to itself, and is making the most of present opportunities to build itself up in spiritual understanding and grace, whereby it can “offer service well pleasing to God with reverence and awe.” The present congregation will work and pray for the grace to imitate the apostle Paul, who said: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Its meetings will be planned with this purpose in view. The elders of the Central church of Christ are Dr. J. S. Ward, C. E. W. Dorris, J. E. Acuff, and E. H. Ijams. After a prolonged period of study and prayer, these brethren were chosen with the unanimous approval of the congregation. No doubt their selection will be quite generally approved wherever these brethren are known. Dr. Ward was for more than twenty years associated with David Lipscomb and others in the work of the Nashville Bible School and of David Lipscomb College. Brother Acuff is one of the trustees of Burritt College and is well and favorably known as an elder and preacher in the church of Christ. Brother Dorris has contributed many fine articles to the Gospel Advocate during the many years in which he has preached and lived the truth of Christ. Brother Ijams is a member of the present faculty of David Lipscomb College and an experienced teacher. With these loyal and mature brethren as elders, nothing can be expected of the Central church of Christ but unquestioned loyalty and steadfastness to Christian truth and purpose. The program of work outlined by the Central congregation ought to appeal to the best aspirations of every Christian. It is located in a field of abundant opportunity. It will have in the heart of the city an auditorium in which to hold gospel services every day in the week. Every day except Sunday these services will be broadcast by radio station WDAD. The congregation is also preparing to systematically seek the sick and the needy and minister to their necessities. It is also planning to “go teach” the erring and the unsaved and try to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. Daily Bible lessons will be given to all high-school or college students who will attend them in the afternoon after school. Several able Christian teachers have agreed to give night lessons to those who want to prepare for some definite form of Christian service or leadership. In addition to all this, the congregation will try to give constant heed to the language of the great commission, which says: “Go teach all nations.” In pursuance of this purpose, the congregation has already taken over in full or in part the support of these brethren laboring in mission fields: C. M. Sitman, Jr., Amite, La.; J. P. Sanders, Jackson, Miss.; W. O. Norton, Hartselle, Ala.; Hugh E. Garrett, Columbus, Ga.; C. W. Landers, Pensacola, Fla.; T. H. Burton, Union, S. C.; J. W. Shepherd, Richmond, Va.; Roy Vaughn, Mississippi; J. A. Hines, Fort Collins, Col.; John Sherriff, South Africa; W. Percy Pittman, North India. In short, the Central church of Christ proposes to emphasize “doing” the word, as well as “hearing” it, and to make the doing humble, godly, and in every respect consistent with all the teaching of the New Testament. The congregation hopes to show its faith by its work. Brother A. M. Burton and the other brethren associated with him in undertaking this work have set these high standards of achievement with the clear understanding that they can be accomplished, not with material means or with organization, but only through the personal devotion, sacrifice, and zeal of men and women whose minds and hearts are truly converted to the gospel of Christ. Sustained effort to serve God with works of faith and righteousness must depend on the God-given strength which comes to the sincere, spiritual-minded followers of Christ. Therefore, the members of the Central church of Christ ask the prayers of brethren everywhere to the end that they may, individually and collectively, offer fruitful service to God with reverence and humility. The elders will be glad to have encouragement and counsel from any fellow worker in the vineyard of the Lord. Address any of them at 143 Fifth Avenue, North, Nashville, Tenn. It is perhaps well for brethren at large to remember that the Central congregation at present has very limited quarters in which to work and worship. Much of the work which it plans to do must be deferred until its buildings and equipment are in place. It cannot at present invite the general public to its services. However, reports of progress will be given out from time to time, and announcements made as rapidly as preparations are made to take up the different phases of the work. In the meantime the Central congregation very earnestly requests the prayers of all God’s people.
Gospel Advocate, October 8, 1925, p. 976
—Thanks to Hugh Fulford for emailing me this item in digital form. I have in my files a color postcard of the buildings which housed Central Church (not the building you see now at 145 5th Avenue, North). One of my favorite antique-store postcard finds, above is scan of it. These buildings were purchased from the Timothy family (owners of a downtown Nashville dry goods firm) by Andrew Mizell Burton et al. in the summer of 1925. Both had lots behind the buildings on which, in late fall of 1925 as the article indicates, an auditorium was constructed. When ground for it was broken the congregation was having around 150 per Sunday. It could seat 1000 and by the end of the decade it would be full most weeks. Until the construction was complete they met in the parlor of the mansion…I believe…on the right. The postcard shows the auditorium behind the row house on the left…it is the one-story addition running straight back to the alley. In December 1928 the ‘Administration Building’ of five stories plus basement was completed with Nicholas Brodie Hardeman preaching in a special dedication meeting. It is/was art-deco and was built by famed local firm Foster & Creighton. In about 1987 the facade was bricked and new windows installed. Across Commerce Street towards Broadway (and almost directly across the street from the Ryman Auditorium) stood an old hotel/boarding house which Burton purchased for use as the “Girls’ Home.” Boys lived in dormitory space above the administration building; girls in the Girls’ Home. Many romances developed as you would imagine. I have spoken to dozens of former residents, some now dead, of these homes and they remember it was a very special time of their lives.The photograph below appeared in Burton’s 1932 book Gleanings.