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.)

Understanding Non-Sunday School Churches of Christ: Some Suggestions for First Reads

This installment includes just five suggestions for first-reads about one sub-set of acapella Churches of Christ.  Navigate the ‘First Reads Series‘ link in my Categories list to find earlier installments.  This brief list is in response to a request made in the comments on a February 2010 post, ‘The Situation in Tennessee.’

1. Thomas A. Langford, “N. L. Clark: Early Firm Foundation Editor and College President” in The Christian Academic: Exercising Faith in the University Setting. Ketch Publishing: Bloomington, Indiana, 2007.

2. Larry Hart, “Brief History of a Minor Restorationist Group,” Restoration Quarterly 22 (1979), pages 212-232.

3. Thomas A. Langford, “An Insider’s View of Non-Sunday School Churches,” Restoration Quarterly 45 (2003), pages 181-192.

4. [Roy Deaver and Lester Hathaway] Debate on the Bible Class Question and Women Teachers in Some of Those Classes. Chronicle Publishing Company, Inc.: Abilene, 1952.

5. [L. W. Hayhurst, Alva Johnson, Logan Buchanan and Van Bonneau] Debate on the Bible Class Question J. R. Chisolm and Jimmy Wood: Brownfield, TX, 1950.

Comments and additions to this list are earnestly solicited.

Name Authority for Nashville, Tennessee Stone-Campbell Congregations

Name Authority for Nashville Tennessee Stone-Campbell Congregations

Click above to download a document listing 286 variants of time-, place- and character-names for the 228 known congregations of the Stone-Campbell movement in Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee from 1820 to May 2010.

To my knowledge this is the first such compilation, and therefore, the most complete.  The publication of the list to this blog is a first step in my research toward a book on the Restoration Movement in Nashville.  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.

The story of these churches in Nashville needs to be told.  I ask for your help in telling it.

Ben J. Elston remembers J. M. McGarvey

Reminiscences of Bro. J. W. McGarvey.

After the death of bro. McGarvey many of the students were asked to give a statement setting forth their estimate of the great man.  And my boys having been students under him three to four years, were called upon for a statement.

“‘Let no man glory in man,’ But for this prohibition I could easily have chosen Bro. McGarvey as my man.  Knowing my incompetence, I forbear all judgment.  To his own Lord he standeth or falleth.  Uniformly kind and helpful to me, I remember him with unmingled gratitude, and all the love of which I am capable.  He instructed me three full sessions, beginning in 1889.  A rather natural suspicion that he might err occasionally was almost entirely dissipated by his masterful marshaling of facts.  Plain, modest, humble as a child, he was simple in his greatness.  Harsh critics of McGarvey have neither my sympathy nor my vision.  I have wept with those who weep for him.  Ben J. Elston.  “Harper, Kan.”

Alfred Ellmore, Sermons, Reminiscences Both Pleasant and Sad, and Silver Chimes. Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1914, page 153.

Ben J. Elston is A. Ellmore’s son-in-law.  Ben would later write for R. H. Boll’s Word and Work a little column called “Ben’s Budget.”  Both Ellmore and Elston are in 1914, and were in 1911 when John William McGarvey passed from this life to the next, living out their ministries among the conservative Disciples…Churches of Christ.  It is interesting to me to see who among Churches of Christ remembers McGarvey and what they say when speaking of him.   Ellmore includes a second letter, from William Ellmore, which I shall reproduce here tomorrow.

The Situation in Tennessee, The Apostolic Way, March 1, 1929

The work done in Tennessee in years that have passed and gone, by such men as Harding, Lipscomb, Shrigley [sic, should be Srygley], Sewell and others make one who was well acquainted with their work and who now realize the deceptions, false doctrines, misrepresentations, and untruths that are being handed to the people under the guise of religious tolerance, and devotion; I say, it makes such a one feel sad, sad indeed. [There are several grammatical errors in this article.  I have not called attention to them, MI].

These apologists are so afraid of their position that no amount of persuasion will lead them into a written discussion.  They will refer to those opposing the Sunday school with sneers, as brother James A. Allen did in Gospel Advocate under date of January 24, 1929.  Brother Allen is a splendid writer.  He writes many good things, with which we agree.  But so far, has not intimated that he would, under any consideration, discuss the Sunday school question.  Why?  Oh, of course, he may have a “holier than thou” feeling, or “I am too big to fool with you,” but such is unbecoming to Christian.  The brotherhood at large have heard of this issue.  If he and other writers of the Gospel Advocate did not feel the pressure of our opposition to the Sunday school, they would not occasionally mention it.  But the very fact that they mention us and our opposition in a sneering manner shows that they are feeling the pressure, but haven’t the courage to let us be heard in their own columns.  All right, Brother Allen.  You are a great writer.  If you will not let us tell your readers that the Sunday school is wrong, maybe you will tell our readers it is right, and publish just one side like Firm Foundation did with the Early Arceneaux articles, but all right, do so if you will, but we will give both sides; we will let our folks read what you say and then read our reply.  Will you do that much, Brother Allen?

Brother J. P. Watson of Cookeville, Tennessee, a good man, a clean man, an able preacher, has been making desperate efforts under great handicaps of bad health and lack of support to call the churches back to the primitive Christianity, and he has been misrepresented, abused, until many brethren in Tennessee who have never heard him and know nothing of the position he advocates, would hesitate to have him in their community.

Incidentally, we will mention that a few very poor brethren in his community are endeavoring to build a house of worship.  They haven’t the means with which to build.  Some of our readers may have a letter from them asking for help.  I wish these brethren would have sufficient support and assistance as to enable them to get behind Brother Watson and support him for two years without a stop to preach in school houses, on the streets, anywhere that he could get a hearing in the state of Tennessee.  Such an effort on his part would arouse that state more than any other one thing that seems possible of accomplishment just now.–R. F. D.

—–

R. F. D. [R. F. Duckworth], “The Situation in Tennessee” The Apostolic Way, March 1, 1929, p. 4.

——-

I am unsure whether the little band of “poor brethren” in the community of, in or near Cookeville, Tennessee ever got their building off the ground.  In the 2009 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States, there is one NC (Non-class or Non-Sunday school) congregation in Cookeville and it was established in 1984.  Perhaps some reader from Cookeville can provide additional information.

In Nashville, in James A. Allen’s community, the Westlawn Court Church of Christ was established in 1941.  It appears to be the oldest NC congregation in town.  Westlawn Court is in west Nashville, not far from what used to be the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ (and as things look now…the soon-to-be parking lot that used to be the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ…).  Other NC congregations in Nashville are the Fox Glove Drive (est. 1950’s? and now defunct) congregation which was near the old Harding Mall area and the Southside congregation (est. 1971) on Bell Road in Antioch.   Before Mac Lynn began, in the early 1980’s, using a system of letters to code the churches it is quite difficult to determine whether a congregation is “mainstream”, “non-institutional”, “mutual edification”, “one-cup” etc.  It may be that in 1929 one or more of the Churches of Christ in Nashville was of the “Non-Sunday School orbit.”  But I don’t yet know what congregation/s.  So, if Allen was feeling any pressure locally, I am unsure where it was coming from.  It may be that Westlawn Court Church was formed as a “Non-Sunday School” congregation, or it may have evolved sometime between 1941 and the 1980’s into an NC church, or maybe something else?  I can’t say yet.  It may be that J. P. Watson preaches in Nashville.  If anyone has heard of J. P. Watson, I would be very grateful to learn what you know.  Please comment or email me at:

icekm (at) aol (dot) com