Show and Tell: A Mini-Exhibit in Stone-Campbell Hymnody

We had a special treat a few days ago when several participants in the TX Singing School visited Special Collections for a tour.  In response to their request, I pulled several hymnals and related artifacts for a brief show and tell.  We thought you’d like to see the pictures.

Elias Smith, A Collection of Hymns, 1804
Elias Smith, A Collection of Hymns, for the Use of Christians. Boston: Manning and Loring [1804].
Smith-Jones, Hymns Original and Selected 1805
Elias Smith and Abner Jones, Hymns, Original and Selected, for the Use of Christians.Boston: Manning and Loring, 1805.
Abner Jones gift inscription to Mary Boodey
Here is an inscription in another edition of the Smith-Jones hymnal: “A Gift from Elder Abner Jones of Charlston Massachusetts to — Mary Boodey of Alton June 13th [or 18th] 1806–.”  This inscription may be from Jones’ hand, or from Mary Boodey’s hand.  I suspect Mary to be the wife or daughter of Joseph Boodey [or Boody] a minister whose book detailing his call to the ministry was advertised in an 24 November 1808 issue of Elias Smith’s Herald of Gospel Liberty.  A nice inscribed association copy with an inscription!
Smith-Jones Hymnals
This table displays the assortment of Smith-Jones hymnals on the bottom row.  With the acquisition of the Joe Johnson Collection in American Christianity, ACU received a fine collection of Smith-Jones hymnals, and each one is in remarkably nice condition.  On the other side of the table is a row of Campbell hymnals with a photocopy (oblong red buckram volume at the top of the photo) by Enos Dowling that we use for reference rather than handling the early originals.


Alexander Campbell, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs 1828
Alexander Campbell, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, Adapted to the Christian Religion. Bethany, 1828.
Campbel hymnals, spines
Four Campbell hymnals, ca. 1840′s-1850′s.  When hymnals were privately purchased the tastes and finances (and theology!) of the purchaser dictated the type and style of binding.  Here are two plainer styles of leather binding and two fine gilt-embossed calf-bound ones.  Later in the nineteenth century congregations purchased hymnals in bulk to be kept and used at the meetinghouses, gradually closing an era when worshipers brought their own hymnals.


Campbell hymnals, decorative leather
Here is another shot of the fine leather bindings


Campbell letter
We thought a letter from Alexander Campbell’s hand would be a fine addition to the exhibit.  The paper, which served double duty as its own envelope, is housed safely in a Mylar sleeve.  We apologize for the glare.  Below is a transcription.
Campbell letter transcription

Hymnal assortment
This table brings us into the 20th century…
Austin Taylor signature on Songs of Joy no. 4
Since Austin Taylor established the singing school, we thought an item or two from his collection would be a big hit.  We were right.  Above is his copy of Songs of Joy No. 4.  Below is another inscribed association copy.  George Henry Pryor Showalter was editor of Firm Foundation and co-compiler with Taylor (and others) on The New Ideal Gospel Hymn Book .  Here is Taylor’s copy, bearing a gift inscription from the publisher.


G. H. P. Showalter to Austin Taylor inscription, New Ideal Gospel Hymn Book, 1930
Among the most enduring hymnals among Churches of Christ are the Great Songs of the Church family of hymnals.  The 1922 copy below was part of Austin Taylor’s collection.

Great Songs of the Church, 1922

Church of Christ Hymn Book 1957, Great Britain
The earliest hymnals above did not have musical notation.  Assuming the meter matched, the texts could be coupled with various tunes.  Convicted that notes on the page was a distraction from the content of the song, Alexander Campbell did not allow his hymnal to carry notation.  Here is a 1957 hymnal used among British Churches of Christ.  Look for the meterical indicators, pair the text with a matching tune, and set yourself to singing!
Leonard Burford braille hymns
Dr. Leonard Burford was long-time choral director and Professor of Music at Abilene Christian College.  Blind, Burford compiled this braille hymnal and with his brother Jack (also blind) produced several albums of the ACC Chorus.  Hymns of the Church was printed in Louisvile, Kentucky by American Printing House for the Blind in 1958.

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Great Songs of the Campus, published in Taipei, Taiwan by Campus Bible Study Press [ca. 1970s] open to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

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This Arabic hymnal, Hymns of Faith, was published by Dar Manhel in Alhayt, Lebanon.


VBS song book assortment
Since summer is the season for Vacation Bible School, we thought it appropriate to include an assortment of VBS songbooks from the early 1960′s to the later 1970′s.  These are from Standard publishing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.  I think these may actually be rare (certainly not as rare as the Smith-Jones items!) since they were produced, used and discarded.  When next year’s VBS kit rolls out, the old ones get tossed aside.  Should you have such in your closets at church, please consider donating them to our collection.  We want to save them!
Sermon Chart, Mac
In an age of Power Point, we took our guests back to an earlier time when visual aids consisted of bedsheets-turned-sermon-charts hung in brush arbors.  Here is a nicely illustrated one.  You can see dozens more here.

Traveling Preacher: The George Washington Varner Papers

Special Collections is proud to add another collection to its store of historical material. Descendants of pioneering preacher George Washington (G.W.) Varner generously donated remnants of Varner’s business and ministry career. After marrying Angela Virginia Daniel, Varner settled in Pleasant’s County, West Virginia. They successfully operated a farm in Cloverdale for many years where the Cloverdale Church of Christ was eventually planted. George and Angela Varner were both instrumental to the congregation’s organization. G.W. Varner also acted as a traveling evangelist in the Ohio River Valley.  The collection includes letters written in the back of Varner’s small ledger books.  Of special note within this collection are several letters of recommendation written by church members on his behalf endorsing him and his ministry.

These letters were used to certify the credibility of traveling preachers as good standing members of Christian communities, with well behaved families, and commendable oratorical skills. Often brief biographies were included in the letters detailing the burgeoning call to ministry seen in the preacher at a young age. They attested to his knowledge of Scripture as it was assumed that he closely studied the Bible. At the time rural preachers usually didn’t have formal education so these letters served as their means of establishing themselves in new communities. See below for two typical letters of recommendation used by George Varner, along with the transcriptions of the letters.

Letter of Recommendation for G.W. Varner written by one of the Elders of the Cloverdale congregation.

Transcription for Letter of Recommendation (1890)

Letter of Recommendation for G.W. Varner written by Elder A.W. Garrett.

Transcription for Letter of Recommendation (1892)

An interesting specimen found within this collection is a Letter of Recommendation for both George Varner and his wife, Angela Virginia Varner. When families moved from town to town they would usually transfer their membership from their previous congregation to another with the help of these letters of recommendation, written and signed by elders or deacons.This particular letter however is signed by the entire congregation, women included. It is possible that the Varners were moving to another area or that Angela traveled with G.W. at times.

Letter of Recommendation for both G.W. Varner and A.V. Varner signed by the entire congregation.

Transcription for Letter of Recommendation (1883)

Another interest piece from this collection is a small ledger book Varner used as an all-purpose notebook. In this particular ledger one will find lists of business transactions (pages used as a check book) and payments made, letters of recommendation for Varner, and also Varner’s own scribbles. These personal notes seem to be sermon notes, devotional notes, or study notes Varner made while reading Scripture.

Small ledger book used by G.W. Varner as a check book and notebook for personal notes and letters of recommendation.

The Varner Papers are processed and available for research.  Please contact us to schedule an appointment to view them in person, or review the finding aid and we can arrange for electronic document delivery.

Finding aid for George Washington Varner Papers, Center for Restoration Studies Manuscript # 295, is available in PDF and MS Word formats:

PDF: ACU_FindingAid_GeorgeWashingtonVarnerPapers_MS#295

MS Word: ACU_FindingAids_GeorgeWashingtonVarnerPapers_MS#295

This Just In: Glenn Earle McMillan Papers

A few weeks ago the family Dr. Glenn Earle McMillan deposited with Center for Restoration Studies the class notes, academic research, sermon notes and some memorabilia from Earle’s career as minister and teacher.  Shown here is a notebook he kept while a student at ACC; it contains notes he made in a course on the Greek Old Testament.

Included are materials from congregations he served, outlines and manuscripts of sermons, and many files of notes he used in preparation for his teaching at Abilene Christian College.  The papers are in the processing pipeline.  When processing is complete a finding aid will be published and they will be available for unrestricted research.

Dr. McMillan died in Abilene on 14 October 2013.  Click here to read the obituary.

This photo and sketch was published in Batsell Barrett Baxter and M. Norvel Young, eds. Preachers of Today, A Book of Biographical Sketches and Pictures of Living Gospel Preachers. vol. 2. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1959, pages 284-285:





Big Spring, Texas, Church of Christ, ca. 1935

Here is the meetinghouse of the Church of Christ in Big Spring, Texas, 1935, as it appeared during the ministry of Forrest R. Waldrop.

In my experience, interior photographs are rarer than exterior shots.  At least in the archival contexts in which I have worked contained far more snapshots of the church building than the inside.  Usually we do not think to photograph our most sacred places (unless a classroom wing is added or it was time for a new directory).

Interior views capture a sense of the space in which congregations met for worship, for instruction, for inspiration.  In these spaces they performed their most sacred rituals, read from their most sacred texts, oriented and reoriented their lives.  Worship, marriage ceremonies, funeral services, passing on their faith to their children and engaging and serving their neighbors: all of this and more occurred weekly at meetinghouses across the US and the globe.

How does the space in which you worship shape your worship?  How does your worship shape the space you create in which to assemble, or teach, or serve?



John Mark Hicks, “Pedagogy in the Stone-Campbell Movement: Implications of Religious Heritage for University Teaching Practices”

On March 4, 2014, Dr. John Mark Hicks (Lipscomb University) presented a lecture at the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.  His presentation focused on three “movements” that are important in the Stone-Campbell movement and its approaches to pedagogy, with a focus on Alexander Campbell and his conception of education.