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!

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Twelfth Avenue Church of Christ, Nashville, TN

Twelfth Avenue Church of Christ began in 1904 as a swarm from North Spruce Street Church of Christ (also known as Eighth Avenue, North Church and earlier as North Nashville Christian Church).  Numbering about a dozen, they met first in a private home, in rented space at the Presbyterian Church on 14th Avenue, North, (pictured below) and in the home of Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Luton on 14th Avenue North across the street from the Presbyterian church.  The earliest preaching for this small group was from Henry Leo Boles and Samuel Parker Pittman in particular, and others in general, from Nashville Bible School.  They met in the afternoons; I suspect that they may have also met at their former congregation(s) until this new work could get off the ground.  I have seen several references in the Nashville newspapers of that time to ‘missions’ which met in the afternoons.

Twelfth Avenue North, 5.26.10 5

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By 1906 they purchased a lot on Twelfth Avenue, North, upon it built a small frame meeting house measuring 24′ by 36′.   Additions were numerous from protracted meetings held by John T. Poe of Texas and Joseph McPherson, preacher/mail carrier of Nashville.  When Poe arrived and saw the little frame building, he declared: “I did not come here to hold a meeting in a sweat-box.”  A tent secured, his meeting went on as planned resulting in several additions to the church.   While Poe referred to it as a ‘Sweat-box’ the little fram church building was nicknamed among the members as the ‘Cracker Box’ and apparently with a tinge of nostalgia.  In any case, it was soon to small to accomodate the growing congregation.  By the late 1910’s the building was enlarged three times.  This 1934 directory photo shows it when the seating capactity in the auditorium was 500 plus 14 Sunday School rooms.

,Twelfth Avenue Directory photo p1

Twelfth Avenue Directory cover

Twelfth Avnue Directory.1

Twelfth Avnue Directory.2

Twelfth Avnue Directory.3

North Nashville in the 1910’s and 1920’s was a bustling working class suburb.  Described to me by one who lived there in those days as a wonderful place to live with a true community feel, it was, nonetheless, looked down upon as an undesirable section of the city.  Living in, or being from ‘North Nashville’ was enough to garner a ‘bless your heart’ from residents of Nshville’s trendier and wealthier sections.  Twelfth Avenue Church, however, reached out to its community, however that community was viewed by the larger city.  In 1925, as the two photos below indicate, the vitality of its Bible class program was palpable.  The Shaub brothers’ classes brought over 1800 for the capstone Sunday of an attendance drive.

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Its membership in 1934, at the time the directory pictured here was printed, was 591 with 600 enrolled in sixteen Bible classes.  In 1939 the membership numbered 650.  My sources estimate the number of baptisms, prior to 1939, to have been in the ‘several thousands.’

Local mission work was always a focal point for Twelth Avenue Church.  They began as a mission point…a small group who worshipped together at Eight Avenue Church then swarmed to form another congregation in their section of town.  Few in this section of Nashville had cars; walking to church was common and neighborhood churches were the norm.  By the later 1960’s interstates 24, 40 and 65 would alter not only Nashville’s physical landscape, but the ecclesiastical, social and racial landscapes; but that is another tale for another day.

Twelfth Avenue Church planted neighborhood congregations at 22nd Avenue, Seventh Avenue North, and Bull Run in Nashville plus congregations in Georgia and Mississippi.  Unsuccessful attempts were made, prior to 1934, to plant churches on Dickerson Pike and Murfressboro Pike.  The 1934 directory also notes they contributed financially to build a number of meeting houses acros the country as well as to several of the Christian colleges.  Local benevolent, or ‘charity work’, was also a mainstay of their day-to-day ministry.

It appears that by March 1, 1934 J. W. Brents became the first located minister at Twelfth Avenue.  It is unclear how long he preached there, but the 12th Ave. sketch (authored by Boles) in the December 1939 special Nashville issue of Gospel Advocate does not mention him. Rather, he says, “H. Leo Boles has preached for the congregation since its beginning and has served as an elder for many years.”
Twelfth Avenue Adult Class 1950s

By the middle to late 1950’s the frame building was given a brick facade, the steeple removed, air-conditioned and a foyer added with a stone facade.  Even so, the membership by then had begun its decline.  By 1975 when 12th Avenue Church of Christ closed there were only, ironically, about a dozen members.  The old 12th Avenue building is now occupied by Abyssinia Missioanry Baptist Church.  My occasional efforts to contact them, over the last three years, has always proved unsuccessful. I’d like to photograph the interior of the building.

Twelfth Avenue North, 5.26.10 1

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The Twelfth Avenews apparently began weekly publication in 1939.  Should anyone have copies of this bulletin, or know of any phone calls or emails I should make to obtain copies, please contact me at :   icekm [at] aol [dot] com.  If the story of the ministry of this congregation is to be at all recovered, it will be through the pages of this bulletin and through interviews with the few surviving members…and they are few.  If records from this congregation can be discovered, they will shed light on the life of the congregation served as elder by one of Nashville’s most influential church and educational leaders of the early 20th century: Henry Leo Boles.  It will also shed light on the rise and decline of one of the strongest, in its hey day, congregations among Churches of Christ in Nashville, arguably the strongest and most aggressive in North Nashville.   If…

Twelfth Avenews Bulletin.1

Twelfth Avenews Bulletin.2

Sources:

H. Leo Boles, “Twelfth Avenue Church” Gospel Advocate, December 7, 1939.

Directory. Twelfth Avenue Church of Christ, Nashville, TN. March 1, 1934.

Interview, Miss Etha Green, September 2012, Nashville, TN.

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.)

Cherokee Park Church of Christ, Nashville, TN (also Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ)

In 1904 Cherokee Park Church (possibly also known as Cherokee Park Christian Church) began meeting in West Nashville, TN.*  West Nashville was a burgeoning suburb, three miles west of the downtown courthouse, soon to be annexed into Nashville.  The earliest listings of it in the Nashville and West Nashville City Directories have the Cherokee Park Church at the corner of California Avenue and 21st Avenue….specifically, the south side of California, two doors east of 21st.  In 1905 the congregation met Sundays for Bible Study at 3:30 pm and heard preaching in the evenings at 7:15 pm.  By the next year Sunday assemblies included Bible Study at 10:00 am with preaching at 11:00 am and again at 7:30 pm.  The 1907 City Directory clarifies the address as 2013 California Avenue and indicates the congregation has “no regular pastor.”  By 1909 (I haven’t double-checked this yet…maybe this is when West Nashville was annexed) it appears that the street numbers in West Nashville were changed to harmonize with those in town.  There was already a 21st Avenue in Nashville, so in the 1909 directory the address is 6113 California Avenue.  I suspect it is the same location as 2013 California Avenue (2013 would be in the 2000-2100 block, with 21st renamed to 61st Avenue).  This manner of listing in the directories obtains through 1924.  I do not have the 1925 entries at hand, but the 1926 City Directory knows nothing of the Cherokee Park Church of Christ.  Rather, the West Nashville Church of Christ is listed as meeting at 6113 California Avenue and so appears until 1930 (by 1926 West Nashville Christian Church changed its name to Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ).  I know…keep your eye on the ball…the game changes quickly.  In 1931 we find neither Cherokee Park nor West Nashville Churches of Christ.  We do, however, note the first appearance of the Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ, meeting at 5411 Pennsylvania Avenue (in west Nashville just a few blocks from 6113 California Ave.).

In 1934 Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ published a directory in which they included a brief historical sketch, noting

approximately thirty-five years ago the Charlotte Avenue congregation started a mission in a building owned by Brother W. M. Latta on California Avenue.  In 1903 a meeting house was erected on California Avenue near the corner of Sixty-first Avenue.  The Charlotte Avenue congregation conducted a mission in this building for several years.  Later it became an independent congregation known as the California Avenue Church of Christ.  During the year 1928, the members of this congregation, feeling that they could do better work as members of Charlotte Avenue congregation, deed this property to the trustees of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ.  The property was sold and a lot purchased at a more desirable location on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Fifty-fifth Avenue, upon which the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ erected a brick structure.  This property is owned by the Charlotte Avenue Church.  The work is under the supervision of the elders of the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, and those worshipping there are regarded as a part of the Charlotte Avenue congregation.

I have more leads to pursue, but it appears that by 1903-1904 (or as early as the 1898-1901 window according to the directory quoted above) Cherokee Park is an intentional plant from the West Nashville Christian Church (later known as Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ).  West Nashville Christian Church members met at 11:00 am and 7:15 pm.  Several likely also assembled fifteen blocks east, on California Avenue, at 3:30 pm to assist in the new church plant.  A year or two later the young congregation is up on its feet and meeting in the morning and likely carrying on as its own.  I will not be surprised to learn of leadership ordinations in the 1905-1906 window.  A similar plant nearer to North Nashville in the same time frame (1900 to 1910) followed the same practice: meeting at 3:00-3:30 in the afternoon for the first year or two, then moving to morning and evening services.  Were there two plants from West Nashville Christian Church?  Were the same principals involved in both?  Coincidence?  All of the above? None of the above?

Again, I have more leads to check, but Charlotte Avenue supports with finances and personnel the Pennsylvania Avenue ‘mission’ in the late 1920’s through at least 1934.  I don’t know what happens after 1934.  In the 1934 Charlotte Avenue Church Directory 117 members are listed separately who “meet at Pennsylvania Avenue.”  In 1934 Charlotte Avenue has 753 members; plus 117 at Pennsylvania Avenue equalas an aggregate membership of 870.

When Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ closed in 2000 or 2001 the members turned over the property to the elders of Charlotte Avenue Church.  Last I drove by (about two years ago) the brick ‘meeting house’ built in the late 1920’s by Charlotte Avenue housed a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal congregation.

Should anyone have records or documents from Cherokee Park Church of Christ (other variations may include Cherokee Park Christian Church,  California Avenue Church of Christ and/or California Avenue Christian Church) or Pennsylvania Avenue Church of Christ, please contact me.  I would like to fill in the gaps and learn more.  Bulletins, directories, printed materials of any kind, photographs of any kind, meeting minutes or church roll books, recordings of sermons, anything, will enable at least a basic congregational history to be assembled.  It has been almost dozen years since Pennsylvania Avenue Church closed; if records survived, they may yet be saved.  But if living memories are not captured now, we may never get them.  If you know of anyone who worshipped at Pennsylvania Avenue, please contact me as I would like to talk history with them.   Who preached at Pennsylvania Avenue?  Who were the leaders?  Who got things done and what did they do?  What was the shape of ministry there?  Who grew up there?  Who has memory of this congregation?  Email me at icekm [at] aol [dot] com.

*John Zuccarello provided invaluable information and leads for this brief historical sketch.  Thank you, John!

Willard Collins Preaches at Lischey Avenue Church of Christ, April 26-May 10, 1942

A friend gave me this card about a year ago while I was teaching a class on Stone-Campbell history. While his mother attended Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ as a child, she occasionally visited family across the river in North Edgefield at Lischey Avenue Church. Going through an old scrap book he found this card and graciously gave it to me, knowing it would be a treasured part of my collection (which it is!).

Collins’ meeting-card opens a window into the life of one congregation seventy years ago. It helps us understand how this congregation (Lischey Avenue) and this evangelist (Willard Collins) prosecuted a “gospel meeting.”  All but forgotten now in most urban and suburban churches, ‘gospel meetings’ or ‘revivals’ were common across Protestant denominational lines generations ago.   They are part revival (for those already members of the congregation), part evangelistic or outreach event (for those who are not members of the congregation) and part teaching event (for all concerned).

This meeting begins Sunday April 26th and goes through two full weeks to Sunday May 10th.  Collins preaches twice on Sundays and nightly at 7:40pm.  I am not sure exactly how he handled the two Sunday services since only one title is given on the card.  Nevertheless, judging from the titles alone, Collins’ sermons are at once evangelistic, moralistic, doctrinal and hortatory. He initiates the meeting by first laying out the gospel before proceeding through several conversion stories in Acts. The middle sermons are moralistic: he draws a bead on hypocrisy and congregational life and then addresses the ‘household code.’  I am unsure of what he means by ‘addition problem.’  Collins addresses what appears to be the basic life situation for most of the his auditors at Lischey: church-going working and middle-class families with children.  How ought these folk live?  What is good and right, what is noble?  It appears that these are his overarching moral concerns for the middle of the meeting.

The final three sermons conclude the meeting on a decisive note.  Why should visitors to this meeting seriously consider the Lischey Avenue Church of Christ rather than, say, North Edgefield Baptist Church a short distance away? By 9 May 1942 the United States had been at war with Japan right at six months.  Given the circumstance of spring 1942, how should we live as citizens of a nation at war?  Finally, in what must have been a powerful conclusion: the title is telling: “The Burial of Those Who Die Out of the Lord.”  His last sermon moves his hearers to decision.  Collins’, if anything, was persuasive and moving.

By April 1942 Collins, age  26, preached for Old Hickory Church of Christ about three years.  Old Hickory is a few miles east of Nashville (it is now in the city limits of Metro Nashville), right on the banks of the Cumberland River.  Old Hickory was a thriving little hamlet and Collins’ church was an active, thriving, aggressive congregation.

Lischey Avenue Church of Christ began in 1907 through the door-to-door efforts of two women who canvassed the neighborhood around Joy’s Flower Gardens in North Edgefield.  Joe McPherson preached a tent meeting on James Avenue in August 1909.  By May 1910, thanks to the generosity of T. S. Joy’s donation of a lot, the little church had a frame meetinghouse on Jones Avenue.  They outgrew the building and moved to 1310-1312 Lischey Avenue in May 1923, completing a new building in January 1925.  They then outgrew that building, and in early spring 1942, seventy years ago this week, completed a $20,000 facility.  They arranged for Willard Collins, a dynamic young evangelist, to hold the first two-weeks’ meeting in the new building.  In March 1942 Lischey Avenue was a congregation of about four hundred members.  Collins, writing in his report of the meeting to the Gospel Advocate, says, “The Lischey Avenue meeting, in Nashville, closed May 10, with six hundred fifteen present.  The previous largest crowd in the history of the church was five hundred nineteen.  Fourteen were baptized and one was restored.  This is an active congregation and a pleasant one with which to work.”

While Colllins held forth in East Nashville, Old Hickory was equally busy in a meeting of their own.  In the midst of the Lischey Avenue meeting Collins wrote this report for the Advocate: “One hundred eight have been baptized here and thirty-eight restored in the past eight months.  Nine hundred fifty-two attended Bible classes Sunday for an all-time record.  Hulen L. Jackson just closed a meeting here….”  Collins left Old Hickory in 1944; two years later he began preaching at Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ in West Nashville when Athens Clay Pullias accepted the Presidency of David Lipscomb College.  Collins would soon direct the Lipscomb Expansion Program in the late 40’s, helping DLC move from a two-year Junior College to Four Year Accredited Senior College status.  After years of decline, Lischey Avenue moved out of the neighborhood and, with Parkwood Church, formed Northside Church of Christ in 1976-1978.  Lipscomb College expansion and East Nashville decline, though, are topics for further research reflection.

A single ephemeral handout card, as I have demonstrated here, can be quite helpful.  From this item we have open before us a window into one two-week period in the life of Lischey Avenue Church of Christ.  From it we have some idea of their theological commitments and the program of preaching and teaching they pursued in their community at that time.  In tandem with a few other sources, we are able to see a bit more clearly.  In the fascinating world of research, at times some questions are answered, while new ones are posed, and still altogether different questions surface.

There may be other such cards out there somewhere that may give us additional understanding.  Maybe not…maybe a good deal of the history of this congregaion is lost to time.  There is a lot of history to be written, if only the primary source materials are available.  Do you have any old paper from Lischey Avenue, or any other Church of Christ or Christian Church in Nashville?  If so, I’d like to talk with you about how those important materials can be preserved.  For my plea along those lines, see my 3 July 2009 post, Save the Paper.

Bibliography:

Willard Collins’ meeting reports:

       Gospel Advocate, May 7, 1942, page 450
       Gospel Advocate, May 21, 1942, page 498

More about Lischey Avenue history and work:

“Lischey Home-Coming in New Building,” Gospel Advocate, March 5, 1942, page 237.
Batsell Barrett Baxter and M. Norvel Young, Eds. New Testament Churches of Today, Volume 1. Nashville:                       Gospel Advocate Company, 1960, page 237.

For a helpful study of the intersection of local history and congregational history, with a focus on the Old Hickory Church of Christ, see:

C. Philip Slate, Du Pont’s Old Hickory Employee Movement and the Spread of Churches of Christ” Restoration Quarterly 39:3 (1997) pages 155-174.

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Lischey Avenue Church of Christ’s 1942 (with a ca. 1959 classroom building) building yet stands at 1312 Lischey Avenue.  This is as it appeared about two years ago: