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!

Two Cane Ridge Revival items, 1852 and 1889

A few days ago I blogged James Trader’s want-list for the archives at Cane Ridge.  Two items on the list are available on Google Books.  I am pleased to learn of them as I do not recall seeing reference to either.  Here are two points in the history of memory of this momentous event.

First, the Magazine of Western History, December 1889 issue has this long article by Isaac Smucker:

Second, Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the Great West in 2 vols.  Vol. 1 notes the exercises; vol. 2 notes Cane Ridge in particular.

From vol. 1, pp. 189-190:

Volume 2, pages 215ff

The Posthumous Works of James M’Gready

Not long ago I posted to this blog a short extract of a sermon by James McGready entitled “A Sinner’s Guide to Hell.”  McGready (I’ve seen variations in the spelling of his name… McGreedy, MacGready, MacGreedy, M’Gready, M’Greedy and so forth) is one of those characters whose influence on the Stone-Campbell movement has not yet been fully traced.  From what I have read (and it hasn’t been exhaustive, I should add), his influence on Cumberland Presbyterians hasn’t been fully traced, either.  I shall be pleased to learn otherwise.

James McGready is known to us in the main through a collection of posthumously published sermons, forty-two in number, thanks to the efforts of the Reverend James Smith.  “It happens, too frequently,” Smith laments in introduction to the volume, “that the benefit of the intellectual labors of great and good men is almost lost to the world, either from too great diffidence of the individuals themselves or from the carelessness of those into whose hands their productions fall after their decease.  And such had nearly been the fate of the discourses comprising this volume, with many others of equal value by the same author.”

Smith doesn’t elaborate on the circumstances of their near demise; he continues, “The Editor, therefore, trusts that he renders good service to the great cause in which their author labored, by rescuing from oblivion a part of the sermons of the venerated M’Gready; and, he confidently hopes, that this belief will be fully sanctioned by the Christian community.”  Smith has indeed done us a fine service, for this volume of sermons opens to us a window into the world of revivalist Presbyterian thought at the close of the 18th century on the cusp of the formation of the Stoneite Christian and the Cumberland Presbyterian movements.  While we might wish for more, we should be pleased with what we have here.

Here is the full title: The/ Posthumous Works/ of the Reverend and Pious/ James M’Gready,/ late/ Minister of the Gospel in Henderson, Ky./ “By it, he, being dead, yet speaketh.”/ Edited by the Reverend James Smith./ Two Volumes in One./Nashville, Ten./ Printed and Published at J. Smith’s Steam Press./ 1837.  In some future installment I will tell how I acquired this volume (a coup if I do say so myself).  Disciples of Christ Historical Society holds the two-volume edition (the first edition of 1833 if memory serves).  Beaman Library at Lipscomb University has the two-volume edition in its Restoration Collection. 

Smith tells us that a good number of these forty-two sermons were preached during the Great Revival of 1800 in Logan County, Kentucky.  The revival breaks out in Sumner County, Tennessee, and elsewhere in the area, not to mention up at Cane Ridge.  James M’Greedy’s role in the atmosphere of revival in central Kentucky alone establishes the value of examining him for  Stoned Camels.  But more on that another day.  Smith is confident that of the many Christians still living who remember those sermons in person some will no doubt “recognize in one or another of these discourses the very arrow which pierced their hearts, and to which, under heaven, they are indebted for their salvation.”

These sermons were neither designed for publication nor did McGready pay much attention to “the mere ornament of expression” (Smith’s words).  Rather, they are “well calculated to convince the unregenerate of the evil nature of sin, and the awful consequences of living and dying under its dominion; to lead the heavy laden to the blood of sprinkling, and to administer encouragement and consolation to the hearts of God’s people, the Lord Jesus Christ being the alpha and omega, the beginning and end, the soul and substance of the whole.”

Smith concludes his Preface by noting that if the sermons seem to end abruptly, such is the design of their author.  McGready made application of the sermons extemporaneously.  No doubt he read his audience and tailored the exhortations and applications accordingly.  I suspect he was a wonder to behold.

Reverend John Andrews contributes to this volume a “Sketch of the Character of the Reverend James M’Gready” in which he extols McGready as a “subject of divine grace and unfeigned piety [who was] favored with great nearness to God and intimate communion with him.”  Like Enoch, he walked with God; like Jacob, he wrestled with God; like Elijah, he was jealous for the Lord; like Job, he deeply abhorred himself; like Paul, he counted all things but loss; and like Christ he felt great delight in preaching to his fellow man.  Andrews’ point is clear: McGready was no priest, he was prophet through and through.

In dress and manners, he was a “remarkably plain” man.  His manner of preaching was “unusually solemn and impressive” without polish and without ambition to please men.  Andrews notes that McGready was often persecuted not only by the “openly vicious and profane” but also by “many nominal Christians, or formal professors, who could not bear his heart-searching and penetrating addresses, and the indignaty [sic] against the ungodly, which, as a son of thunder, he clearly presented to the view of their guilty minds from the awful denunciations of the Word of Truth.”  It appears McGready’s particular strong suit was to indict and convict sinners.  It is noted at the conclusion of Andrews’ essay that “for further particulars concerning the character of this man of God, the reader is referred to Smith’s History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.”  Ahh…another reference for me to chase down.

More to come.

The Sinner’s Guide to Hell

Barton W. StoneIn February 1790 Barton Warren Stone was a student at David Caldwell’s Academy in Guilford, North Carolina.  “With the ardor of Eneas’ son,” he wrote in his Autobiography, “I commenced with full purpose to acquire an education, or die in the attempt.”  While he acquired some education, many of his classmates acquired religion.

When I first entered the academy, there had been, and then was, a great religious excitement. About thirty or more of the students had lately embraced religion under the ministration of James McGready, a Presbyterian preacher of exceeding popularity, piety, and engagedness. I was not a little surprised to find those pious students assembled every morning before the hour of recitation, and engaged in singing and praying in a private room. Their daily walk evinced to me their sincere piety and happiness. this was a source of uneasiness to my mind, and frequently brought me to serious reflection. I labored to banish these serious thoughts, believing that religion would impede my progress in learning–would thwart the object I had in view, and expose me to the frowns of my relatives and companions. I therefore associated with that part of the students who made light of divine things, and joined with them in their jests at the pious. For this my conscience severely upbraided me when alone, and made me so unhappy that I could neither enjoy the company of the pious nor of the impious.

The remainder of the year 1790 was marked by young Barton’s (he was not yet twenty years old) struggle to either get religion, or get rid of it.  He struggled mightily. Continue reading