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…)

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.)

Cherokee Park Church of Christ, Nashville, TN (also Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ)

In 1904 Cherokee Park Church (possibly also known as Cherokee Park Christian Church) began meeting in West Nashville, TN.*  West Nashville was a burgeoning suburb, three miles west of the downtown courthouse, soon to be annexed into Nashville.  The earliest listings of it in the Nashville and West Nashville City Directories have the Cherokee Park Church at the corner of California Avenue and 21st Avenue….specifically, the south side of California, two doors east of 21st.  In 1905 the congregation met Sundays for Bible Study at 3:30 pm and heard preaching in the evenings at 7:15 pm.  By the next year Sunday assemblies included Bible Study at 10:00 am with preaching at 11:00 am and again at 7:30 pm.  The 1907 City Directory clarifies the address as 2013 California Avenue and indicates the congregation has “no regular pastor.”  By 1909 (I haven’t double-checked this yet…maybe this is when West Nashville was annexed) it appears that the street numbers in West Nashville were changed to harmonize with those in town.  There was already a 21st Avenue in Nashville, so in the 1909 directory the address is 6113 California Avenue.  I suspect it is the same location as 2013 California Avenue (2013 would be in the 2000-2100 block, with 21st renamed to 61st Avenue).  This manner of listing in the directories obtains through 1924.  I do not have the 1925 entries at hand, but the 1926 City Directory knows nothing of the Cherokee Park Church of Christ.  Rather, the West Nashville Church of Christ is listed as meeting at 6113 California Avenue and so appears until 1930 (by 1926 West Nashville Christian Church changed its name to Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ).  I know…keep your eye on the ball…the game changes quickly.  In 1931 we find neither Cherokee Park nor West Nashville Churches of Christ.  We do, however, note the first appearance of the Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ, meeting at 5411 Pennsylvania Avenue (in west Nashville just a few blocks from 6113 California Ave.).

In 1934 Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ published a directory in which they included a brief historical sketch, noting

approximately thirty-five years ago the Charlotte Avenue congregation started a mission in a building owned by Brother W. M. Latta on California Avenue.  In 1903 a meeting house was erected on California Avenue near the corner of Sixty-first Avenue.  The Charlotte Avenue congregation conducted a mission in this building for several years.  Later it became an independent congregation known as the California Avenue Church of Christ.  During the year 1928, the members of this congregation, feeling that they could do better work as members of Charlotte Avenue congregation, deed this property to the trustees of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ.  The property was sold and a lot purchased at a more desirable location on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Fifty-fifth Avenue, upon which the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ erected a brick structure.  This property is owned by the Charlotte Avenue Church.  The work is under the supervision of the elders of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, and those worshipping there are regarded as a part of the Charlotte Avenue congregation.

I have more leads to pursue, but it appears that by 1903-1904 (or as early as the 1898-1901 window according to the directory quoted above) Cherokee Park is an intentional plant from the West Nashville Christian Church (later known as Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ).  West Nashville Christian Church members met at 11:00 am and 7:15 pm.  Several likely also assembled fifteen blocks east, on California Avenue, at 3:30 pm to assist in the new church plant.  A year or two later the young congregation is up on its feet and meeting in the morning and likely carrying on as its own.  I will not be surprised to learn of leadership ordinations in the 1905-1906 window.  A similar plant nearer to North Nashville in the same time frame (1900 to 1910) followed the same practice: meeting at 3:00-3:30 in the afternoon for the first year or two, then moving to morning and evening services.  Were there two plants from West Nashville Christian Church?  Were the same principals involved in both?  Coincidence?  All of the above? None of the above?

Again, I have more leads to check, but Charlotte Avenue supports with finances and personnel the Pennsylvania Avenue ‘mission’ in the late 1920’s through at least 1934.  I don’t know what happens after 1934.  In the 1934 Charlotte Avenue Church Directory 117 members are listed separately who “meet at Pennsylvania Avenue.”  In 1934 Charlotte Avenue has 753 members; plus 117 at Pennsylvania Avenue equalas an aggregate membership of 870.

When Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ closed in 2000 or 2001 the members turned over the property to the elders of Charlotte Avenue Church.  Last I drove by (about two years ago) the brick ‘meeting house’ built in the late 1920’s by Charlotte Avenue housed a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal congregation.

Should anyone have records or documents from Cherokee Park Church of Christ (other variations may include Cherokee Park Christian Church,  California Avenue Church of Christ and/or California Avenue Christian Church) or Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ, please contact me.  I would like to fill in the gaps and learn more.  Bulletins, directories, printed materials of any kind, photographs of any kind, meeting minutes or church roll books, recordings of sermons, anything, will enable at least a basic congregational history to be assembled.  It has been almost dozen years since Pennsylvania Avenue Church closed; if records survived, they may yet be saved.  But if living memories are not captured now, we may never get them.  If you know of anyone who worshipped at Pennsylvania Avenue, please contact me as I would like to talk history with them.   Who preached at Pennsylvania Avenue?  Who were the leaders?  Who got things done and what did they do?  What was the shape of ministry there?  Who grew up there?  Who has memory of this congregation?  Email me at icekm [at] aol [dot] com.

*John Zuccarello provided invaluable information and leads for this brief historical sketch.  Thank you, John!