That you may give it in due time to others: a brief meditation for congregational historians and others who care about the past and the future

In 1939 Frederick John Foakes Jackson* published A History of Church History: Studies of Some Historians of the Christian Church (W. Heffer & Sons Ltd: Cambridge).  His final book–he published it at age 84–it surveys in fourteen chapters just what its title suggests using biographical and bibliographical lenses.

Foakes Jackson studied under Bishop John Lightfoot at Trinity College, Cambridge and likely he first read church history under Lightfoot.  He returns full circle to his teacher in the final chapter of this final book under the title “The Books Recommended by Bishop Lightfoot.”

The entire book though is somewhat of a tribute volume to Lightfoot.  Foakes Jackson not only ended the book with a very kind nod to his teacher, he prefaced it with a subdued compliment to Lightfoot’s erudition and personal magnanimity. After three unsuccessful attempts at gaining a scholarship to study at Cambridge, Foakes Jackson obtained in 1880 the Lightfoot Scholarship in Ecclesiastical History.  From there his teaching career launched and sailed for the next six decades.  The Preface to A History of Church History contains the reply Foakes Jackson received when, upon learning of this award he wrote a note of thanks to the Bishop.  The closing line of the reply reads: “I trust you will take up some portion of history and make it your own that you may give it in due time to others.”

Take up…make it your own…give it to others.  I imagine Foakes Jackson at near ninety rereading the treasured letter from the patron who enabled his early university career.

There is wisdom here from Lightfoot and Foakes Jackson.  As church historians, or congregational historians, or teachers in congregational settings, or preachers, we stand in a tradition.  We are not the first to undertake the task of sorting out our past.  We are not the first to stand before a class or congregation.  We are not the first to write or research or sift or evaluate or craft the product of our study.  We are not the first and we will not be the last.  We have neither the first nor the final word.  But we have our word, and with that a responsibility to pay close attention to those who precede us, add to it in our own way with criticism, insight, research and commentary, and then hand it off again.  Just as our predecessors entrusted the work to us, we entrust it to others.  We have responsibility to look backward at the tradition we have inherited; likewise we bear a responsibility to pass it forward after we make our contribution.  We care about the past, we steward our gifts and resources in this moment, and we care about the future.  We receive, we give.  We take up, make it our own, and then give it away.

This inspires me to be responsible with what I receive.  It inspires me to take seriously and steward wisely the opportunities and resources available to me.  It underscores for me the reality that I am part of a community, one that ‘right now’ as much as it is past/future.  For some of us the community may be a professional guild, or it may be the Wednesday night regulars, but there is a community.  It encourages me to submit the fruit of my work to the good of the community.

* Wikipedia will get you started; follow the links there to good and useful information about FJFJ.

Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

Praying with our Ancestors: A Prayer for Truth

ACU Library hosts a weekly chapel for our students, student workers, faculty and staff. I was asked to pray in last week’s assembly. I chose to draw from the well of our history rather than bring a word of spontaneous prayer. I reflected on what we are trying to do in the library, not just the tasks we perform, but a core reason for our existence at the heart of the university’s life and mission. I reflected on what we are trying to accomplish in a weekly gathering of students and faculty. I reflected on why we collect and steward information resources in our spaces, why and how our community uses these resources, and to what ends. I then spent some time with J. H. Garrison.

As is the case with most of my friends, Garrison has been dead a good long while. But while he was among the living he contributed mightily to the devotional spirit of the Stone-Campbell movement. Arguably his Alone With God is the classic work on the inner devotional life.  He wasn’t the only one who tried to develop this sense among us, and you’ll have to gauge for yourself whether he even did it well, but every time I read him I’m better for it.

My reflections about the nature of our work in our space converged with Garrison’s prayer for truth.

Living as we do in a world charmed by lies, half-truths, near-truths, and spin, I think it wise to pause for a moment and pray for truth.  Living as we do in a context rife with passive-aggression, innuendo, rhetorical slight of hand, I think it wise to pause and pray and seek truth.  Living and working in a community of scholars, nearly every last thing we do is a search for truth: we research, we investigate, we experiment, we hypothesize, we inquire, we discover, we assess, we interpret.  It is good for us along this way to gather and pray for truth.

James Harvey Garrison’s ‘Prayer for Truth’* in Alone With God** (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1891), 151:

O God, the God of truth, mercifully grant that the Holy Spirit of Truth may rule our hearts, grafting therein love of truth, and making us in all our thoughts and words and works, to study, speak, and follow truth, that we may be sincere before all people, and blameless before Thee.  May no unworthy prejudice or sectarian pride prevent us from accepting whatever bears the divine impress of Thy truth.  May we love the truth, know the truth, and be made free by the truth; for His sake who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and in whom is no guile, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen!

*I adapted Garrison’s pronouns.  I changed them from singular to plural and where he prayed to be ‘blameless before men’, I prayed ‘blameless before all people.’

**Read the first edition here or purchase a new edition here.

Header Image: Brooks, Jeremy. Truth ->. Flickr. June 3, 2008. Some rights reserved.

Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

Bumping into Mystery and Lining Out Hymns

Bumping into mystery is only one benefit of learning about our past.  Benefit is probably not the best way to describe this kind of learning.  I prefer ‘blessing’ to ‘benefit.’  Let me explain why. Not long ago I spent some time exploring the various traditions of hymnody within the Stone-Campbell movement.  I was surprised to find multiple traditions just within the confines of Stone-Campbell history.  Up in New England the Elias Smith and Abner Jones movement developed a robust hymnody drawing from Isaac Watts.  Down in the Carolinas and Virginia the James O’Kelly movement developed an idiosyncratic hymnody based off O’Kelly’s and Joseph Thomas’ hymnals…composed largely of original hymns. They were aware of the work of Watts and Charles and John Wesley, but they shunned them.  Fascinating!  Then there was a brief Stoneite trajectory that actually did not begin with Barton Stone himself (though he was present and accounted for), but involved several of his close co-workers.  By the 1830s the hymnals published by Alexander Campbell dominated the movement; this remained the case until the Civil War.  It was a rich study: I learned so much that I just did not know before.  Everywhere I turned some new wonderful discovery seemed to be waiting for me.  Several times I ‘bumped into mystery.’  That is how I describe coming face to face with some thing, some fact or idea or concept so new or so beyond my prior experience.

What really intrigued me, though, is that I wanted to hear the hymns I read about.  They were new to me: mysterious, challenging, different.  If my ancestors sung them, and were shaped by them, then I wanted to hear them and learn them, too.  That led me quickly to YouTube because I wanted to hear a particular practice I discovered.  In a day before congregations purchased hymnals to be used at the meetinghouse (and left there…in the pew racks) each person bought their own hymnal and brought it to Sunday assembly.  Especially in cases where not everyone had access to a hymnal, or could not read, the leader would read or chant the first line and the congregation would respond by singing that line.  Called ‘lining out the hymns’ this practice was common among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians in the late 18th century.  It was as aspect of Sunday worship our ancestors knew well…but for me it was mysterious, and new and wonderfully different practice.  So, off I went to YouTube.

Having bumped into mystery, I count it more than a benefit to hear and learn this, I count it a blessing.  I count it a blessing because I know better something of what they sung and how their hymnody shaped them.  I count it a blessing because I feel better connected to my ancestors having heard–even if for just a few brief minutes–something that they might have heard in a manner they might have sung it.  I count it a blessing to be aware of a way of singing and worshipping beyond any of my experiences, but was so central to the experiences of those who went before me.  For me to gain knowledge and understanding and sensitivity and awareness to those whose lives and work shaped me is not merely a benefit, it is a blessing.

This clip is only one of many you can find online that illustrate how this practice works, and sounds.  I’ve used it with benefit blessing in several classes.



Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

Christian History Magazine devotes issue to Stone-Campbell Movement

Christian History Magazine last September released an issue devoted to the Stone-Campbell Movement.  Doug Foster and Richard Hughes collaborated as guest editors to assemble the first issue of CHM dedicated to the Restoration Movement.  About 20 years ago Barton Stone and Cane Ridge made an appearance in issue 45 on Camp Meetings & Circuit Riders…which you can download for free as a PDF here.

CHM issue 106 is a richly illustrated and accessible overview for the average reader who has some knowledge of and a keen interest in Christian history.  If you plan to teach Restoration history, consider ordering a bundle for distribution to your class; see CHM_BulkPricing for details.  The full issue is available for free download in PDF.


Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

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!

Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

Be on the lookout, or My Nashville research resumes!

I have, after a long, long absence from the blogosphere, returned to my research on the Restoration Movement in Nashville.

Not too long ago I spent an afternoon at TSLA.  From that afternoon of work I have a short list of names of evangelists who held forth from Christian Churches or Churches of Christ in Nashville from the later 1850’s to the later 1950’s.  These men are listed in city records as ‘pastor’ or ‘minister’ for Stone-Campbell congregations.  With an exception or four, nearly every one of them is only a name.  I know nothing else about them.  I post the list here in hopes that someone doing genealogical research online will stumble upon it.  If you have any information at all about anyone on this list, please contact me at   icekm [at] aol [dot] com.  Some of the names below are among Christian Churches (instrumental and pro-society) and some are Church of Christ (acapella and non-society).  Before about the 1890’s these distinctions do not hold much sway as the division was in process. Racial division was more pronounced, though, and had been since the war.

Lytton Alley
Alex H. Anthony
Joseph D. Armstead
George R. Bethurum
Roy H. Biser
R. V. Cawthon
C. C. Cline
M. S. Combs, Jr.
E. L. Crouch (may be L. E. Crouch)
M. S. Davis
A. S. Derryberry
W. E. Ellis
J. W. Hardy
F. E. Harlow
C. E. Holt
L. M. Jackson
Henry T. King
J. T. McKissack
T. B. Moody
W. S. Moody
Henry Owen (may be Owen Henry)
H. L. Patterson
Jesse F. Pendleton
Philip Y. Pendleton
Samuel P. Poag
Joseph E. Pritchett
August Ramage (possibly Pamage, but I doubt it)
Z. H. Rose
W. J. Shelburne
S. M. Spears
H. M. Stansifer
James E. Stewart (may be James E. Stuart)
J. J. Walker
B. A. Wilder
The men below are pastors or ministers of African-American congregations.  The black Stone-Campbell congregations in Nashville are Second Christian Church (also referred to as Colored Christian Church), Lea Avenue Christian Church (also [mis]spelled Lee Avenue Christian Church) and Gay Street Christian Church.  Jackson Street Church of Christ, Willow Street Church of Christ and Jefferson Street Church of Christ are also on the scene.
G. Calvin Campbell
G. W. Crosthwait
W. A. Emmerson
William Granberry
T. Hardison
Monroe Jackson
D. M. Keeble
A. J. Lawrence
W. P. Martin
Edwin Perkins (may be Edward Perkins)
Fred J. Smith
John R. Smith
This is by no means an exhaustive list, rather it is the list of my deepest ignorance, so to speak.  I don’t know anything about these folks…I just a few weeks ago learned their names!  So, be on the lookout and stay tuned for further finds as I get back into it.  Remember, save the paper!

Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

“To be a historian”: Quote without comment

This from Doris Kearns Goodwin via Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” (with thanks to Don Haymes for passing it on to me): 

To be a historian is to discover the facts in context, to discover what things mean, to lay before the reader your reconstruction of time, place, mood, to empathize even when you disagree. You read all the relevant material, you synthesize all the books, you speak to all the people you can, and then you write down what you know about the period. You feel you own it.

Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.

Rowe’s History of Reformatory Movements on Google Books

More here.

Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.