Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 24, 1954

Uncle Minor's Comments And Brother John T's Work

Robert H. Parish, Tarrant, Alabama

During a recent meeting with the 40th and N. Capitol Avenue congregation in Indianapolis, Indiana, I had the opportunity to read some of the old periodicals in Butler University's Restoration library. Brother Dayton Keesee, the preacher at 40th and N. Capitol, very graciously arranged for me to have access to these volumes. Some of the travel and news notes from these old papers will give a brief history of the beginning and growth of the church in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1882 V. M. Metcalf made a trip from Chattanooga, Tennessee through Gadsden, Alabama and then to Birmingham. He noted that there was one brother in Gadsden who was anxious to get the work started there. (There are now three large congregations in Gadsden.) In the February 2, 1882 Gospel Advocate Brother Metcalf gave an account of this trip. In this account he has this to say about Birmingham. "Birmingham was my next stop and here we see a magic city of ten thousand inhabitants in about ten years. (Pop. 328,000-1954, RHP.) But it is like most of our suddenly built towns, out of joint. Property has a fictitious value, everything is on a boom — especially whiskey. I have never seen so many saloons in one place — quite a contrast to most of the towns in Alabama. As a general thing, I have been astonished at the orderly deportment of the people. Six counties north of this have prohibitory laws. No whiskey is allowed to be sold or given away, except by physicians, and they can only give two ounces in twenty-four hours. Heavy fines and imprisonment for violation of this law. The law is working well, so far as I can see. Wish we had such laws in Kentucky.

"Birmingham is destined to be a large city. We ought to have a church at this place. We need not go to China nor Turkey to find a good field for work; we have it nearer home. I would be glad to say more on this subject but my paper is already too long." V. M. Metcalf.

Brother Earl West notes in "The Search for the Ancient Order" Vol. 2, page 177 that "Twelve members lived here in 1876 when J. M. Barnes arrived, but because they refused to hold regular meetings, Barnes would not return." However Brother Barnes did preach extensively at Birmingham at different times after this.

In the Gospel Advocate of January 13, 1910 there appeared the following note from John T. Lewis. "For several years a few brethren living in and around Birmingham have met to worship in the 'third loft' of a grocery store on the corner of Nineteenth Street and Fourth Avenue. Two years ago, last November, I went to labor with them. Some of the brethren were very uneasy, at first, for fear that I would not be supported and while I am only a man, and perhaps like the loaves and fishes as well as the ordinary man, yet I have never allowed my love for them to drive me from the post of duty; so I lost no sleep over the matter myself.

"During that winter I saw Brother T. J. Bryan (now dead) of Attalla, and secured from him the use of a large tent owned by the Attalla congregation. I used this tent in the Birmingham district for six months in 1908.

"In September the brethren bought a nice lot on Charles Street, in West End, one block from the Powderly car line. The lot cost one thousand dollars. The following help was received: Through Brother J. M. Barnes $132; B. L. Boyd $40; congregation at Lewisburg, Tennessee $25; Sister David, Owassa, Alabama $25; S. F. Morrow, Nashville, Tennessee $10; congregation at Roberson Fork, Tennessee $7; congregation at Stewart Creek, Tennessee $5.50; congregation at Almaville, Tennessee $1; Mrs. G. S. Johnson $1; Total $246. This left $754 for the brethren to pay which they did.

"A nice house for worship has just been finished on this lot, and we are now awaiting for the seats, which were promised to be delivered by January 10. The house and seats cost $2,250. The following help was received on the house: From David Lipscomb $200; Sister Lipscomb $10; H. G. Lipscomb $50; B. L. Boyd $110; S. F. Morrow $75; John T. Lewis $25 It. S. Brown $10; J. A. Pettus $10; E. A. Elam $5; C. A. Moore $5; E. E. Sewell $5; R. V. Cawthorn $6; J. Paul Slayden $5; John T. Glenn $7.50; L. G. Sewell $5; McQuiddy Printing Co. $5; Miss Effie Anderson $5; Sister Anderson $5; congregation at Laverne, Tennessee $4.35; M. C. Wilson $3; C. C. Derryberry $2.50; Miss Jessie Wells $2; B. E. Hill $2; G. R. Bethurum $2; E. C. Cullum $2; L. P. Peebles $2; G. W. Lewis and wife $2; S. W. Bell $1.15; W. H. Nelson $1; H. Leo Boles $1; A. J. Lewis $1; H. I. North $1; R. R. Cunningham $1; H. H. Gentry $1; J. T. McQuiddy $1; Sister R. N. Moody $1; Womack brothers $1; D. W. Shepherd $1; Sister Hamilton $1; Mrs. G. S. Johnson $1; E. E. Shoulders $1; Janie Shields $1; Elizabeth Baxter $2; Annie Delk $1; Annie Galloway $1; Frank Craig 50 cents; Kermit Harsh 40 cents; Walton Chambers 30 cents; Sister A. H. Jordan 25 cents. Total $653. The brethren raised $597, making $1250, leaving a balance of one thousand dollars to be paid on the house. This they borrowed. I mentioned the fact that some of the brethren were afraid that they were not able to support me only to show that brethren can do more sometimes than they think they can. They have not only supported me, but, as you can see from the above, have paid thirteen hundred and fifty dollars on their house and lot — and this, too, within two years. The brethren are very grateful for the help that they have received, but that which gives them the most pleasure is their own efforts; and the ones that feel the best are the ones that came more nearly making a sacrifice in what they gave.

"Brother F. W. Smith is to be with us in a meeting beginning on Monday night after the first Lord's day in February. We hope and pray for a good meeting."

There were fifty two chairs in Fox's Hall, the meeting place on corner of Nineteenth Street. This was more than enough for they never used all the chairs at any service, except when Brother Barnes would visit and preach. At which times, friends of Brother Barnes would come from over the whole area to hear him preach.

In the "personal" column of the Gospel Advocate February 3, 1910, Brother J. W. Shepherd wrote, "Brother John T. Lewis is convalescing and hopes to return to Birmingham, Alabama, his field of labor at an early date." This optimistic hope was not realized as is evidenced by the following note in Gospel Advocate of June 9, 1910, "Brother John T. Lewis left this city last Monday for Meaford, Ontario, Canada where he will spend the summer. Brother Lewis is now improving, and we hope he will soon be able to enter into regular work again. He is badly needed in Birmingham, Alabama, where he is doing a fine work."

Brother Lewis was soon "able to enter into regular work again." He spent the summer in New Brunswick, "roughing it," sleeping in a tent and feasting on wild game. He recovered so completely that he has never had a recurrence of the trouble. In the fall of 1910 he returned to Birmingham where he was "badly needed" and where he continues "doing a fine work" forty-four years this side the time he entered "into regular work again." in Birmingham.

The Woodlawn congregation was the second loyal group to be started in the city. The following quotation is from a brief history of the Woodlawn congregation's beginning by Brother Raymond Crumbliss, the present preacher at Woodlawn. "A group of Christians after the New Testament order began `keeping house for the Lord' in Woodlawn early in 1914. In the fall of 1913 the West End congregation, the only faithful group of brethren in the city, obtained the building on 60th Street between First Avenue North and First Avenue South, from which a congregation of Presbyterians were moving. The purchase price of the house and lot was $2250. During the winter months the sum of $1100 was spent on repairs and remodeling, and over several months $318 was paid in interest charges on money borrowed to finance this beginning in Woodlawn. Thus the church came into possession of physical property in the district at a total cost of $3668. During an extended period after its beginning, the contributions of the new congregation averaged about $40 per month.

"Brother John T. Lewis was preaching at West End at that time and he assisted the work of repairing and remodeling, not only with moral support, but with manual labor as well. Among other tasks he climbed a ladder with loads of brick and mortar for the erection of the chimneys at the rear of the auditorium, although a negro bricklayer actually laid the bricks. On one occasion while Brother Lewis and other of the brethren were busy at work installing new steps at the entrance a passing Presbyterian preacher volunteered considerable advice as to how best to do the work. After listening to his advice for a little while, Brother Lewis gave him some advice, on which the passing preacher retired! An elder (Presbyterian) who had heard the exchanges, apologized for the advice-giving preacher by saying, 'You know, Brother Lewis, our preachers associate with the women-folk so much that they haven't any practical sense'."

Today there are twenty-seven congregations in the greater Birmingham area with approximately five thousand members.