David Lipscomb College Summer Lectures, August 6-10, 1956

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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.)

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: