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.)

Stone-Campbell Movement congregations in Nashville One Hundred Twenty-Five Years Ago

Christian Churches as listed in the 1887 Nashville City Directory:

M. M. Kline, compiler. Nashville City Directory. Volume 23. 1887 — Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, A Classified Business Directory, Miscellaneous Information, and a Correct Map of the City. Nashville: Marshal and Bruce, 1887, p. 23.

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Christian.

Church Street Church — Elder R. Lin Cave, pastor, Church bet S. High and S. Vine.

North Nashville Church — Elder ——-, pastor, N. Spruce bet Jefferson and Monroe.

South Nashville Church — Elder ——-, pastor, Fain’s Hall, S. Cherry bet Elm and Ash.

Woodland Street Church — Elder R. M. Giddens, pastor, Woodland bet S. Fifth and S. Sixth.

COLORED.

Gay Street Church — Rev. P. Taylor, pastor, Gay bet N. Vine and N. Spruce.

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This list only includes the congregations within the 1887 city limits of Nashville which were then not much larger than the interior of the present interstate loop around downtown, plus the western edge of what is now East Nashville (then a recent addition to the city…formerly a city unto itself: Edgefield).  The county congregations are not on the radar screen for M. M. Kline and the folks at Marshall & Bruce.  However, from this short list we see that the Restoration presence gained a congregation or two since the Civil War ravaged Nashville.  The old Second Christian Church is now known as Gay Street Christian Church.  Preston Taylor has came to Nashville in 1884 and Second Church will remain the African-American presence among the Reformers until the congregation split and Lea Avenue Church is formed.  Gay Street and Lea Avenue were able to put differences aside and merged, forming Gay-Lea Christian Church.  They now minister under the name New Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  However, out of Gay Street church would by the end of the century come Jackson Street Church of Christ, the ‘mother church’ of black Churches of Christ.

Among the white congregations the Woodland Street Church was formed over a decade earlier in Edgefield, a very nice easterly suburb across the Cumberland River.  E. G. Sewell is no longer regular teaching minister there in 1887, but remains as an elder.  A nasty division is likely already in the works at Woodland Street in 1887 as the seeds of ‘society-ism’ are first planted at Woodland Street church by Giddens and A. I. Myhr and certain of Sewell’s fellow elders.  Plus, some members who moved in from other parts of the country brought with them to Woodland Street inclinations, if not outright intentions, to establish a Society presence in Nashville.  About five years later Sewell and about forty others, J. C. McQuiddy among them, left Woodland Street to form Tenth Street Christian Church only five blocks east.  But first others will form Foster Street Christian Church in 1888-1889 in Northeast Nashville (or North Edgefield).  Woodland Street continues in Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Tenth Street became Russell Street Church of Christ but closed in 1998.  Foster Street became in 1926 Grace Avenue; they closed in 1977.

In 1887 Church Street Christian Church met about where the downtown library now sits, but they will within a year or so sell the old building (built in 1820) and begin work on a new church building on upscale Vine Street (now 7th Avenue North where the library parking garage is).  A block or so north along Vine Street is the Governor’s Mansion and beyond that is the State Capitol.  I’ve read where Vine Street was a nice quiet street of upscale homes…preferred in part because the street was too steep going up to the Capitol and therefore lacked a noisy streetcar.  Vine Street continues as Vine Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but left downtown in the 1950’s to upscale Belle Meade.

The North Nashville and South Nashville Christian Churches are in large measure the result of David Lipscomb’s efforts to establish congregations across the city where people live.  The city was growing and Lipscomb is convinced that each neighborhood will be well-served by an active and vibrant congregation of Disciples.  North Nashville Christian Church was variously known as The Church of the Disciples, North Nashville Church of Christ and North Spruce Street Christian Church.  It was the outgrowth of Lipscomb’s preaching in the old Civil War barracks in the vicinity of what is now Bicentennial Mall.  North Nashville Church continues today as Eighth Avenue Church of Christ, which has met on the same ground for 125+ years.

South Nashville Christian Church exists today as Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ.  About a year later, in 1888, they will have finished a building, dedicated it, chosen elders (among whom is David Lipscomb), and will be well on their way to being a leading congregation of Disciples in Nashville.  Arguably this is the most vigorous congregation of Disciples in 19th century Nashville.  That particular story is one I am yet researching and documenting.  Suffice it to say that this congregation alone is responsible for much of what had happened in Nashville by 1912 (as far as church plants go).  Neither North nor South Nashville churches have a regular pastor in 1887.  South Nashville will not have a regular located minister for about a decade until Cornelius A. Moore begins work there.  North Nashville will not have a ‘located minister’ until the 1940’s.

West Nashville is about to come into the picture, but in 1887 all we have, it seems, are plans.  Eventually Line Street Christian Church (later Jo Johnston Avenue Church of Christ) and West Nashville Christian Church are established.  Jo Johnston disbands by 1943 in part due to the changed racial landscape of that neighborhood (17th and Jo Johnston…north of Charlotte Ave.).  Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ continued West Nashville’s ministry until the early years of the 21st century when they merged with West Nashville Heights Church of Christ to form Charlotte Heights Church of Christ.

In 1887 things are starting to happen in the Nashville Stone-Campbell scene.  The half has not been told.  What is vital to the telling of that story is the paper produced by these congregations, particularly the early paper.  I’m talking minutes books, membership ledgers, business meeting minutes, photographs, bulletins, correspondence.  If you have or know anyone who mas anything along these lines, please contact me at       icekm [at] aol [dot] com

 

 

Seventeenth Street Christian Church

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Seventeenth Street Church is in East Nashville…17 blocks east of the river to be exact…and quite close to Shelby Park.  The building is about 2 blocks north of where Shelby Avenue Church of Christ met.  Organized in 1896, the congregation first met in a white frame building of which I cannot find any photograph.  Micah Stirling Combs was the first minister, serving around 1898.  This brick building was built in 1908-1909 when J. T. McKissick was minister; additional classroom space came in 1950 (notice the boxy addition to the rear).  Its membership in the middle 1950’s was about 350.  The congregation relocated to Madison in the later 1960’s and is now known as Madison Christian Church.  Madison is one of a handful of Independent Christian Churches in Nashville (Madison, Lakeshore and Aspen Grove, which was formerly First Christian).  There were a couple others, but in Nashville and the Middle TN area they are few and far between.  In East Nashville, Seventeenth Street, as an Independent-leaning congregation, sort of fell between the Disciples-leaning Eastwood Christian Church (result of a merger between Eastland and Woodland Street Christian Churches) and the dozen acapella congregations.  Those dozen or more acapella congregations were not all of the same mind, either.  Furthermore, there aren’t a dozen acapella congregations in East Nashville anymore, but perhaps more on that later.