What a powerful way to understand, through the insights of an art historian, one aspect of the work of archives and archivists…
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!
I have, after a long, long absence from the blogosphere, returned to my research on the Restoration Movement in Nashville.
Not too long ago I spent an afternoon at TSLA. From that afternoon of work I have a short list of names of evangelists who held forth from Christian Churches or Churches of Christ in Nashville from the later 1850’s to the later 1950’s. These men are listed in city records as ‘pastor’ or ‘minister’ for Stone-Campbell congregations. With an exception or four, nearly every one of them is only a name. I know nothing else about them. I post the list here in hopes that someone doing genealogical research online will stumble upon it. If you have any information at all about anyone on this list, please contact me at icekm [at] aol [dot] com. Some of the names below are among Christian Churches (instrumental and pro-society) and some are Church of Christ (acapella and non-society). Before about the 1890’s these distinctions do not hold much sway as the division was in process. Racial division was more pronounced, though, and had been since the war.
This from Doris Kearns Goodwin via Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” (with thanks to Don Haymes for passing it on to me):
To be a historian is to discover the facts in context, to discover what things mean, to lay before the reader your reconstruction of time, place, mood, to empathize even when you disagree. You read all the relevant material, you synthesize all the books, you speak to all the people you can, and then you write down what you know about the period. You feel you own it.
I look forward to speaking tonight at North Boulevard Church of Christ. We’ll be surveying the story of the Nashville Churches of Christ in the 19th century…Philip S. Fall…Church Street Christian Church…Tolbert Fanning…David Lipscomb and the mission to the emerging post-Reconstruction-era suburbs. Ultimately, we’ll talk about how our history can inform our mission. Join us at 6:30 pm in Murfreesboro.