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…)

Explorations in Stone-Campbell Bibliography: 2009 Year-In-Review

As we turn the page next week, I think it appropriate to review the year’s literature in the broad field of Stone-Campbell studies.  Though the publishers seem to have scaled back the volume of new titles, several significant studies came our way this year.  I make no claims for thoroughness here; no doubt I’m overlooking something.  If you think so, please chime in with a comment.  I’m concentrating here on Restoration history and theology that engages our history. The list below is in no particular order.

I think it safe to say the volume we have waited for the longest is the third installment of Eva Jean Wrather’s biography on Alexander Campbell.  Alexander Campbell: Adenturer in Freedom, A Literary Biography Volume 3 completes the set which was to have been published in the late 1940’s.  The manuscript, numbering 850 pages with 800,000 words, took her about 70 years to write.  Through a series of ups and downs (see the preface to volume 1 for the details) the mss did not to see the light of day until after Wrather died.  D. Duane Cummins edited with Eva Jean’s oversight the entirety of what is volume 1.  Her declining health prohibited her from assisting with the remainder.  Volume 1 appeared in 2005, volume 2 in 2007 and volume 3 in 2009.  Issued in three nicely done hardcovers by Texas Christian University Press, Wrather’s set will take its place beside Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell as required reading for AC.  We wish Eva Jean used footnotes, but she did not.  Nonetheless, the set is a significant achievement.

And the Word Became Flesh: Studies in History, Communication, and Scripture in Memory of Michael W. Casey edited by Thomas H. Olbricht and David Fleer (Pickwick Publications) was presented to the public at the 2009 Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb University in July.  It contains a number of first class essays on Restoration history as well as several other engaging essays in a wide range of areas such as Biblical studies, Biblical theology, rhetoric, communication and peace studies.  Mike made a significant contribution to Stone-Campbell studies, particularly Churches of Christ.  This collection is a fitting tribute to Mike and his work; they fill several previously empty niches in Restoration history. 

W. Dennis Helsabeck, Jr., History prof at Milligan College, has added to the work of Gary Holloway and Doug Foster in producing Renewal for Mission: A Concise History of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (ACU Press).  The first several chapters appeared some years ago under the title Renewing God’s People: A Concise History of Churches of Christ (2001; with Study Guide in 2006).  Helsabeck picks up where Holloway and Foster leave off in 1907 and takes the reader through the particular history of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (sometimes called Independent Christian Churches or 4-C’s).  I suggest it as a first-read for 4-C’s, followed by longer works such as those by James B. North and Henry Webb.

Lawrence A. Q. Burnley has rendered a needed service in situating the agency of African Americans in the Christian Church in denominational, historical, educational and racial contexts.  The Cost of Unity: African-American Agency and Education in the Christian Church, 1865-1914 (Mercer University Press) breaks new ground by contextualizing African American educational initiatives in this way.  In other words, Larry does here what hasn’t been done before.  He brings needed attention and analysis to what has largely been glossed over, footnoted or ignored in Stone-Campbell history. 

Earl Kimbrough’s massive biography of F. B. Srygley is another welcome addition to our literature.  The Warrior from Rock Creek: Life, Times, and Thoughts of F. B. Sryley, 1859-1940 (Religious Supply Center, Louisville, KY) nears 650 pages and touches upon every issue or controversy in Churches of Christ during Srygley’s lifetime.  One cannot hardly read an issue of the Gospel Advocate from the later 1880’s until 1940 and miss a Srygley.  I have not yet completed a close reading of Kimbrough’s book, but I have read much in it.  From what I have read, I commend it as a thorough  and well-researched biography. 

Lastly, The Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation (Chalice Press) from D. Duane Cummins is especially welcome for its emphasis on recent Disciples history (recent as in mid-twentieth century until now).  As with Earl’s biography of Srygley, I intend to give Duane’s latest book a careful read.  From what portions I have read, I expect to learn much.

Tolle lege!

Christian Scholars’ Conference 2009

With its organizing theme as The Power of Narrative, this year’s conference drew to Lipscomb University about 400 conferees to hear over 230 presenters in 70 sessions. Topics ranged from studies in specific biblical texts to theology to poetry to literature to history to ethics to science to ministry to teaching (and beyond). Presenters represented something like 100 universities and institutions.

Plenary addresses by Hubert Locke, Barbara Brown Taylor, Billy Collins and Marilynne Robinson were superb.  Tokens old-time radio show was most outstanding.  The luncheon honoring the memory of Mike Casey was touching.  Meeting new folks, renewing acquaintances and seeing old friends was a true joy.  I even met some followers of this blog…all three of them!  (No books this time, we’re on a tight budget at the Ice house.  I’m trying to read the ones I already have…what a novel idea and if faithfully pursued will take care of my reading for the rest of my life without a single future purchase)

I took in these sessions:
The Impact of the Written Word: The Place of Editors in the American Restoration Movement with presentations on Isaac Errett by L. T. Smith, on David Lipscomb by Robert Hooper and Austin McGary by Terry Gardner.

New Explorations in Race, Peace, and Justice: Recent Dissertations in Stone-Campbell History, a session I chaired with papers by Wes Crawford on African American in Churches of Christ and on B. U. Watkins by Ray Patton and responses to the above by Barclay Key and Vic McCracken.

And the Word Became Flesh: Studies in Restoration History in Memory of Michael W. Casey, with papers by Thomas Olbricht on Recovering Covenantal narratival Theology, by Jerry Rushford on the Christians in Klickitat County Washington, and by Carisse Berryhill on the Rhetoric of Alexander Campbell’s Morning Lectures (some of which were published under the title Lectures on the Pentateuch).

Another installment of the Restoration Studies in honor of Mike Casey with papers on R. W. Officer by David Baird, J. W. McGarvey’s “The Authorship of Deuteronomy” by Mark Hamilton and Hoosiers, Volunteers and Longhorns by John Mark Hicks.


Reflections on Theological Education: Ministry and Ecclesiology with papers by Tom Olbricht surveying the past 75 years of theological education in Churches of Christ, on their experiences in the academy by Abraham Malherbe and James Thompson.

This was my first time to attend CSC.  I’m already making plans to attend next year.


With this update of the CSC my blogging hiatus, I think, may be over. The flooding at work the last week of April threw a monkey-wrench into our collective and individual routines. Nothing was lost, and what was damaged has been totally salvaged. This is fantastic news. It turned out to be a real headache, and never were we so thankful to have a headache rather than a disaster. I think I am now back into a routine…just in time for the summer research season (one of my favorite times of year).

The end of the academic year has its own set of rituals, routines and events. The Ices had our fair share.  The long and short of it is that blogging wasn’t even on the list the last six weeks, much less down on the list.

But I intend to to resume.  On deck is the latest installment in my “First Reads” series. This one is a guest post courtesy of my friend, fellow blogger and partner in crime when it comes to Nashville church history, Chris Cotten. Chris kindly agreed to reflect on the literature by, from and about the non-institutional churches of Christ. I have found his list, and his comments about each item on it, very helpful.