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!
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!