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The First Ninety Years
Lomax Church of Christ
Thomas Melvin Lawson
The congregation at the Lomax Crossroads began in 1918 as the idea of Thomas Melvin Lawson. Melvin had been raised in Hickman County, Tennessee. As a young boy, he had to walk three miles to school and at that time, the school year only lasted three months. Melvin’s father had a stroke when the boy was sixteen, and Melvin left school and went to work as a fireman at the mines to help support his mother and a family of eight. He read books on his own but missed out on a formal education. By the 1930's, he was able to go to night school while he worked . Not to be limited by his lack of education, he carried a Bible and a dictionary in his pocket at all times.
Melvin rarely attended church until he met Sue Annie Totty. She attended the Church of Christ and he followed. Sue Annie had been baptized by Brother. Will Morton in the Duck River in 1897. She and Melvin dated for two years before he was baptized by Brother Will Spivey. They were married the next year. Melvin and Sue Annie moved to Gordonsburg where Melvin worked running a dinky in the mines. The closest congregation of the Church of Christ was in Hohenwald, which was not a quick trip at the time; therefore, the Lawson family began having a family worship at home.
Melvin did not sing until after he was married. Sue Annie convinced him that he could sing and she helped him. One Sunday afternoon she took a song book and told him that she would sing the notes if he would sing the words. Then he sang the notes and she sang the words. They made a chart with the notes and taught their children to sing. Later he started a singing school to help others learn the shaped notes so that they could sing in harmony.
In 1911, Melvin and Sue Annie invited others in the Gordonsburg community to worship with them, which started the congregation at Gordonsburg. He served as the preacher when circuit preachers were not available. There was no meeting house for the church and they worked out an arrangement with the Methodist Church to use their meeting house after their services. When the Gordonsburg congregation held one of their first revival meetings, the minister broke his arm and asked Melvin to take care of the baptisms. Those were the first baptisms he performed. There were no inside baptistries and later in the year when someone wanted to be baptized, he sometimes had to break ice in the creek to baptize them.
Melvin Lawson then moved his family to Wales in Maury County, where he started a black congregation. By the time he and Sue Annie moved to Hohenwald, he had experience in starting new congregations.
The Congregation Begins
In 1918, the Lawson family moved to a house on a one-hundred five acre farm about a quarter mile west of the current location of the church building. The farm had been owned by a Swiss immigrant Ed Sheppaker, who married Alida Grover.. Sheppaker had covered the land with peach orchards, hoping to create a large peach industry in conjunction with the railroad, but the peach business did not work out.
At first, Melvin and his family rode to Hohenwald each Sunday to attend church there. One Sunday in the spring of 1918, as the family prepared to leave for church services, their neighbor Cass Lomax came to visit and although they told him they were leaving to attend church, he refused to leave. Mr. Lomax did the same the following Sunday. Melvin met with the Lomax families and Mrs. McLemore who attended other congregations and talked about starting a congregation near the crossroads. The neighbors agreed.
At first the new congregation met in the school building on the Bresbois farm near the fork of Darbytown Road and Cane Creek Road. They carried water from the Lomax house over to the school building for drinking water. The building also continued to be used for a school, and the Lomax area became known as the Lawson School Settlement. Following the customary practice at the time, the congregation used just one cup for the Lord’s Supper during worship.
Recorded in the church ledger is the following account probably by Sue Annie Lawson:
The beginning of the Church of Christ of Lomax Cross Roads. Began meeting at the Bresbois residence in the year 1918. The ... members were as follows: Melvin Lawson & wife, Andrew Lomax & wife, Cass Lomax & wife, Mrs. S.A. Grover, Mrs. Hugh McLemore. We met in that house until 1923. We then built a Church House.
Charles Tidwell held a revival meeting in 1923 (His son became the Lomax minister in 1973). Shortly after the meeting, the first building burned. The congregation rented Mrs. S.A. Grover’s rental house to meet in until they could build their own building.
The 1924 and 1928 Buildings at the Current Location
The Lewis County Board of Education bought one acre at the crossroads from Mr. Eckert in 1919 to build a school building. In 1924, the local congregation began raising money to buy the school property to build a meeting house of their own. Melvin Lawson wrote to surrounding churches and members to ask for money for construction. An elderly widow gave $1. Others gave more. Charles Tidwell, who had held the meeting in the old building, contributed the amount he had probably been paid to hold the last revival meeting. After raising about $200, the men cut the logs themselves and took the logs to the mill for lumber. The Lomax brothers, who were carpenters, even made benches for the building. In 1925, the Board of Education deeded the land to three of the congregation leaders, in trust for the benefit of the church. By that time, the congregation had already started constructing a building and the school board stated that they wanted the congregation to be able to finish the building and have good title to it.
The members made the suggestion to call the congregation “Lawson’s Chapel,” because Melvin Lawson had been the organizer, but he insisted on the name “Lomax Crossroads Church of Christ,” Once the building was completed, the school in the community also met in the church building, which was called the “Lawson School.” Families who met for worship in the 1924 building included Lawson, Holt, Grover, Goodman, Lomax and McLemore. The building was heated with a wood stove and lit with kerosene lamps. Restrooms were outdoor toilets. Brother Lancaster was paid to arrive early to start the fire so that the building would be warm in time for services.
In the summer, when the windows were raised for ventilation, the services could be heard outside as well as inside. Hershell Spears remembers seeing the wagons parked around the building. Because there were too many people for the building, many of the men sat in the wagons outside while their wives went inside for worship.
Melvin Lawson was a friendly and outgoing man. He often stood up at the end of the service, raised his hands and said,“Everybody go home with me.” And they did. Then Sue Annie would have to go home after services and catch enough chickens to prepare dinner for the congregation, while Melvin talked to the members one on one in the parlor. His favorite hymn was “Face to Face.” In later years, his eyes would tear as he sang it. He said, “Just listen to the words.” Her favorite hymn was “Blessed Assurance.” It can be assumed that those songs were sung often in the congregation.
On January 29, 1928, the 1924 building burned and the county lost several hundred dollars worth of school desks and equipment. The members met in the Grover house again as a temporary meeting house. They had been able to afford partial insurance on the building, and they immediately set out rebuilding. The wooden building sat on brick piers and the entrance faced west.
In the congregation’s first ledger or journal where Melvin Lawson recorded contributions and expenses, the congregation listed a number of scriptures which they chose as their guide including Acts 20:7 as authority for preaching on the first day of the week; I Cor. 16:2 as authority for giving; Matt. 26: 29-30 and I Cor. 11:23-28 as authority for the Lord’s Supper and Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking or bread, and in prayer.”
The women made their own bread for the Lord’s Supper and in the 1928 building, they used two glasses for the Lord’s Supper - one for each aisle. A man who thought he had tuberculosis brought his own cup.
The Depression Years/ The Congregation is Disbanded
It is often said that during the good old days, everyone knew how to act and people were somehow more spiritual. But the reality was that many people in the area during that time had never been to a church service, or any other kind of formal meeting where certain rules were followed. The congregation lived under some persecution from its neighbors. It was not unusual for members to show up to worship to find windows broken out, marks whittled into the pews and song books torn apart. A vandal once cut the legs off the table used for the Lord’s Supper and the members had to lean it against the stage during the service. Visitors often talked so loud during services that no one could hear the person praying. Lomax was not alone. One congregation in Hohenwald ran an advertisement in the newspaper that if the young people did not start behaving during services, they were going to ask the Grand Jury to prosecute them.
The Great Depression years of the 1930's were a low point for the congregation. Several of the earliest members moved away, a few of the older members passed away, and the congregation at one point had only four or five members. During those years, the congregation often did not raise enough money through contributions to pay expenses and they had to request additional donations from a few people just to pay for weekly needs. On some Sundays the contribution totaled forty cents.
Early in 1941, the third building burned. The congregation had not been able to afford insurance. The fire, just as the ones before it, was believed to have been started by some men who did not want the church in the community. Not having enough members or funds to rebuild, the remaining members scattered across the county and began attending in Hohenwald and other congregations in the area.
The Congregation is Renewed/ 1946 Building
World War II produced three effects that would help church growth over the next two decades: it strengthened family relationships, men returned from overseas with a broader world view after seeing the needs of people in other countries and the war years renewed a spiritual yearning among the nation. In 1946, former members raised about $2,300 to build a new meeting house that seated 150. The building was finished in 1947. It had no electricity until 1951. When Melvin was the preacher, he brought a gas powered Aladdin lamp for light for Sunday evening services. When the lamp ran out of fuel, the service ended.
The church building floor was a varnished beech wood, with a runner down the center aisle. Wooden benches with a curved seat faced the stage on either side. That area became known as the “amen corners.” Sue Annie always sat in south “amen corner” and sang the alto leads during singing. White tin covered the ceiling. The walls were plastered and painted green. Men called on to lead prayer often went to the aisle and knelt as they prayed.
There were no separate classrooms and up to five Bible School classes were taught in the same room at the same time. Les Bell’s wife Mary Helen taught the pre-school children. Someone else took the teenagers and Melvin taught the adults. Occasionally the children’s classes were divided. People who wanted to be baptized indoors went to the baptistry at the Hohenwald congregation. Several people at that time preferred to be baptized in running water, because Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan River, and they went north a couple of miles to the running water of Cane Creek
The work of Lomax, like most congregations at that time, centered around meeting once a week for worship services, a mid-week Bible study on Thursday nights, and some personal one-on-one evangelism. An exception was the annual revival meeting, which usually was held in August. There were few other activities to compete with the revival meetings and they became the focal point of the year. The gospel meeting evangelism approach had been developed in the 1920's as a way for some of the most effective preachers to reach people who did not attend church. Visitors would be attracted to the meeting for the entertainment value of listening to good speakers and would then be converted by what they heard. Many of the baptisms of the year occurred during the revival meetings and during warm weather. Curtis Posey was one of the first preachers regularly to hold meetings in the 1946 building.
By the end of the 1940's, Hohenwald began to grow and membership in the congregation increased to between 100 and 145. Two classrooms were added to the 1946 building in 1949; however, there were still no restrooms at the building at that time other than the outdoor toilets. The south classroom was built over the old cistern that was located behind the 1946 building.. As a benevolence work, the congregation took on the cost of feeding two school children in Lewis County.
The congregation bought an additional 2.65 acres for future expansion in 1956. The deed contains the restrictions that no instrumental music can be used in any Bible class or worship service, nor can any fund raisers or shows for amusement be conducted on the property. It also states that no practice can be carried out that is not “commended in the New Testament for the permanent establishment and maintenance of the Church where the plain and simple gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, may be preached in its purity.” Further the deed states that the Trusteeship (a legal requirement that includes the office of Elder) shall at all times be one that takes “the New Testament as its only and sufficient rule of faith, worship and practice, and rejects from its faith, worship and practice every thing not required, either by precepts or example and which does not introduce into the faith worship and practice as part of the same, or adjuncts thereto, any supplemental or ginagation, or any thing else not clearly and directly authorized in the New Testament, either by precept or example.”
Melvin Lawson suffered a stroke and asked a young Freed-Hardeman Bible freshman Carmack Skelton to preach twenty-three sermons beginning in 1953. The first lessons were a three- month series on personal evangelism. At that time, preaching was part of worship only when preachers were available. Brother Skelton preached once or twice a month; however, when he was available, the congregation met for services on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as on Sunday.
In 1956, Melvin died. The congregation bought an acre of land behind the building to start a cemetery and that is where he was buried. Sue Annie continued to attend services at Lomax until her death in 1974.
A Younger Generation Begins New Work/ 1957 Building
1957 represented a major turning point for the congregation. When Melvin Lawson died, a younger generation realized that it was up to them to make plans for the future. Older generations are sometimes more likely to cling to the methods they know from what they have witnessed during their lives; Younger generations are willing to try newer methods to reach people. The congregation was ready to expand and the group of young men who oversaw the congregation were willing to try the same new methods to reach people that would make the 1950's and 1960's a period of growth for the churches of Christ in general and Lomax in particular.
Elders had never been appointed. The congregation was governed by business meetings of the fifteen to twenty male adult members. The men were generally young and their young families were energetic. They were eager to take on any new work that would help the congregation grow.
In 1957, the congregation began construction of a new auditorium that would seat 250. Hershel Spears donated logs for the lumber and Charlie Anderson milled the lumber and dried it. Gravel was carried from Cane Creek for pouring the foundations. All work was performed by hand and the men of the congregation provided most of the labor. The total building cost was $9.050.81. The congregation also purchased a new communion set with individual glasses, which were used until the 1980's. The cups were glass, which had to be bleached and individually washed for each Sunday, but the members began buying the bread already made for the Lord’s Supper. The 1946 building was turned into five classrooms and a library, which allowed for a greater division of classes and more young people.
The 1957 building structure was modern for its time, with a glassed nursery in the rear, but the congregation could not afford all the modern amenities. Modern wooden pews replaced the straight wooden benches from the 1947 building. About three pews faced both sides of the stage for the “amen” corners. Men who were involved with leading the services sat in the “amen” corners while they waited for their part in the program. At first the congregation was not able to afford heat and at least once they went back to the older building to conduct services when the newer one was too cold. Within a few months, large gas heaters hung from the northeast and southwest corners of the ceiling; however, the classrooms did not have heat for about two years. and there was no air conditioning. In the summer, windows had to be raised and sometimes a bird or even a bat disrupted the service as one of the members chased it with a broom while the preacher continued speaking. A large ventilation fan was installed in the old building in 1958. The McDonald Funeral Home paper fans were widely used in the summer. Flies and other insects also came in the open windows and the Lord’s Supper table had to be covered with a white linen cloth. Folding and removing the cloth became part of the ritual of serving the Lord’s Supper each Sunday and later, when air conditioning made the cloth unnecessary, some older members had trouble accepting the loss of that tradition. Sue Annie Lawson said that because the Lord’s Supper represented the body and blood of Christ, it would show disrespect to leave it uncovered. Extra plates were purchased to serve as covers for the Lord’s Supper.
Brother Carmack Skelton, who began preaching on a regular monthly basis in 1957, introduced a number of new methods he had studied in college, and many of those methods are still followed today. He began publishing a bulletin called the Lomax Messenger, which was mailed to those interested for the stated purpose of “teaching and admonishing.”
Martha Chandler gathered the news from the congregation and Carmack added Bible lessons. Boosting attendance and giving were constant themes. Folding and placing stamps on the bulletins became a work of the young people and a social time following mid-week Bible study. A training class was begun for the young men.
A Vacation Bible School was started in 1957 as a two-week- long session of lessons and songs to reach out to children during their summer vacation. The public school system provided buses for transportation. Attendance the first year reached 201, exceeding space in the building, and a funeral home tent was set up outside for the teen classes. Bill Hall taught the teen classes during the day and held special singing classes for the adults in the evenings. The Lomax VBS would become a popular annual event with area children for almost the next half century. Students who brought the most visitors and memorized the most verses were recognized as king or queen for their age group. A car race was set up as a visual for classes to compete to get their cars to a small replica church building at the end. The VBS ended with a picnic at Memorial Park. In 1959, home movies of the 1958 VBS were shown as an incentive to encourage young people to pre-register for the upcoming VBS.
Brother Skelton believed that one of the best methods for encouraging church growth was to attract young people to the Bible School program and educate them there. Having a full-time job as a school teacher, he was able to develop relationships with the young people and invite them to Lomax. The large families in the Lomax area also provided a built-in core youth group. Also as a trained teacher, Brother Skelton introduced public school methods to the Sunday School program. Classrooms were set up with tables and desks for the children. Literature was purchased for teachers. Children were expected to do homework and carried home Bible School report cards to be signed by parents. Although new evangelism events were beginning to be introduced, revival meetings continued to be the focal point of the work for the year. Eleven baptisms were recorded for the 1955 August meeting and nine at the July meeting in 1960. The 1958 meeting had 298 in attendance.
Several in the congregation thought it important to improve their ability to sing. Melvin’s son Horace started a singing school in the auditorium using Melvin’s note charts. Guest song leaders came throughout the year to help with special singing schools. The congregation changed song books about three times over the 1950's to add songs available to be sung in worship. As a youth activity, young people met after services in the home of parents for singing. Up to forty three young people participated.
Yogie Spears began a teaching class of young adults that ended in the 1990's when they became too old to climb the stairs of the two-story education building. Paul Chandler began as a co-teacher in Carmack Skelton’s high school class and Paul continued as teacher of the class members until the students were about forty. In each case, the class became the nucleus of young adult members who were the main force behind future programs of the church. In the 1980's, the class contributed the funds to install a new sign in front of the buildings.
Brother Kelly Doyle served as the primary part-time preacher from 1960 to 1962. Brother Doyle was fascinated by automobiles and many illustrations he used in his sermons related to cars. Outside, young men from the community liked to see how fast they could drive through the church yard without hitting a tree.
By 1959, the congregation was ready to appoint elders and deacons. Following a great deal of discussion about what method would be appropriate to make the appointments, Sid Collins, Willie Rasbury, and Hershel Spears were appointed elders and Everett Hinson, Dan Kimble, Henry Lawson and Maryland Spears were appointed deacons. Dan Kimble and Maryland Spears chose to work with the young people. Henry Lawson took his father’s role as Treasurer. Everett Hinson began opening and closing the building, a job he continued until the 1990's. Hershel Spears oversaw building maintenance and construction.
Willie Rasbury became responsible for the education program and he and his wife Vesta set it up into departments and began to keep a roll of classes. They built on Carmack’s work and continued to hold quarterly teachers meetings and teacher training programs. Mary Helen Bell continued to teach the pre-school program in the center of the old 1947 building. Between the end of her class and the beginning of the worship service, children from her class were drawn to the auditorium stage and often sat around the edge. Everett Bates built a railing around the stage to discourage the young one from hanging off the edge. Education methods were enhanced with flannel board illustrations, film strips and classroom projects for the younger children. One popular craft was making clocks with moving hands from paper plates and construction paper. The mid-week Bible Study was changed from Thursday night to Wednesday night.
The cemetery contained only Melvin’s and his son Thomas Melvin Lawson, Jr.’s grave until the 1970's. The area just to the south of his grave was used for fellowship meals and Kool Aid and sandwich cream cookie breaks for VBS. Their tombstones provided a handy place for kids to leave their VBS Kool Aid cups while they chased each other around the area, a fact that probably would have delighted Melvin. “Dinners on the ground”, as they were called then, almost always consisted of fried chicken, country ham, canned or fresh vegetables and chocolate pies. Tables for the earliest dinners on the ground were made by stretching fence wire between trees and covering it with cloths. Later, tables were made from long boards and saw horses covered with cloths. Men went first through the lines for food, followed by women and then the children.
By 1958, a water line was extended to the building and the congregation was able to build two small side by side restrooms. However, the unheated restrooms were outside and the water had to be shut off in the winter.
In 1960, the Sunday evening worship service time was changed to 6:00 p.m. and in 1963, the Wednesday night Bible Study time was changed to 7:00 p.m. where it has remained.
Brother Fred Kittrell, a David Lipscomb graduate, worked as a part-time preacher from January 1962 to September 1966. He continued working full time in his local family auto dealership until June 1965, at which time he sold the dealership and started working on an MBA degree at the University of Mississippi so that he might teach full time at Freed-Hardeman College. He went on to finish a Ph. D Degree in Finance in 1970, teaching at Freed Hardeman College until 1968. He commuted to Lomax to preach each week end and on Wednesday nights, part of the time, until August, 1966. He later taught one year at David Lipscomb College and for 31 years at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN, where he still resides. During that time he preached at various congregations of the Church of Christ for some thirty-two years, as he had done at Lomax. Brother Kittrell had served in the Korean conflict and was aware of the needs of people in South Korea.
The Lomax congregation began participating in mission work in Korea with Brother Bill Ramsay when he started working there in 1964. One of the programs undertaken there was called “Cows for Korea” which sent registered cows to Korea to be given to farmers, with the future calves to be given to other farmers, with the goal of helping people feed themselves. Sister Gertie Roth heard a presentation about the program and said that she would take the money she was saving for a new chair for her new house and help to buy a cow if other members in the congregation would also give funds. The congregation met the challenge and sent a cow. A young Paul Chandler returned home from the Navy and began to lead singing in the congregation. He would serve as the primary song leader from much of the next sixty years.
In 1962, a portion of the porch on the 1957 auditorium was enclosed to create a small foyer and indoor restrooms. A sandpile left over from the construction in front by the parking lot became a constant temptation to children in their Sunday clothes.
In 1963, the congregation continued to expand its mission work beyond the immediate area. They helped found a congregation of black members on Allison Avenue in Hohenwald and a start up congregation in Wartburg, Tennessee. They also began supporting the Tennessee Orphans Home in Spring Hill and mission work in the Phillipines and in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem missionary work still continues.
Hershel Spears bought an old school bus and began transporting young people and adults to Gospel Meetings in other parts of the state. He was a few decades ahead of his time - such trips are common today.
A visitation program began in the early sixties. Using the Jules Miller film strips, members visited people interested in learning more about the Bible and the church. Over a series of visits, several lessons were completed. Several of those visited became members.
New Elders Appointed/ 1965 Building/ New Works Begin
By 1965, the congregation was again growing and ready to expand. Everett Hinson, Dan Kimbell and Henry Lawson, were appointed to serve with Willie Rasbury and Hershel Spears as new elders. Paul Chandler, Eddie Lawson, M.B. Leeper, Billy Gene Spears were appointed to serve with Maryland Spears as deacons.
They set out making plans to construct a new auditorium. Although the congregation did not pay off the note on the old building until 1964, in 1960 they bought envelopes for people to begin making special contributions for a new building. In 1965, fifteen men agreed to sign the note to build the new building and work began.
The new building would contain an auditorium that seated 560, and Lomax’s first baptistry and air conditioning. The building design was one widely used in the 1960's. The Elders saw a new building they liked at Waynesboro and asked Tom White to draw plans for the present auditorium, using the Waynesboro building as a pattern. Large laminated wood beams supported a wood ceiling lit with indirect lighting. Some members who had never heard of gluing wood strips to make beams stronger worried about whether they would support the weight of the roof. The seats faced a raised platform where the pulpit would be placed.
Once the main structure was in place, the men of the congregation worked up to four nights a week and weekends to complete the finish work. The congregation spent only $400 on labor for the building. After the concrete was poured, the fiberglass baptistry, which looked like a large swimming pool, was placed in the center of the auditorium until the second floor joists were in place. Boys chased each other by crawling through the air conditioning duct work along the walls of the auditorium. When the auditorium was ready, twenty benches from the old auditorium were moved to the center row of the new auditorium and new benches were installed on both sides.
Fred Kittrell presented the first sermon in the building. The 1957 auditorium was partitioned into eight classrooms, which allowed for an expansion of the Bible school program. A front classroom in the 1957 building was converted to an office for the preacher and Bible School program and the old nursery was used as a work room for running off bulletins on a mimeograph machine.
Carlos Gunter of Kosciusko, Mississippi was hired as preacher in 1966. He had just married Robena Wisdom, a former teacher from Lewis County, who had attended Lomax since 1946. Although Brother Gunter had preached at congregations in Michigan and Mississippi, he worked for most of his life as a factory supervisor. Then retired, he was able to make the job of preacher his full time work, the first Lomax preacher to do so. Dr. Akins donated a house to Lomax that was moved north of the cemetery to be used as the preacher’s residence.
The Elders worked with Brother Gunter to begin a number of new programs and to adopt newer methods to reach people. Their goal was to fill the new larger building for worship services. In 1967, the times of the classes and worship were moved to an hour earlier. The order of the worship service was changed to move the Lord’s Supper to the beginning of the service instead of at the end, because minds would be better able to concentrate on it. Some members who had always taken the Lord’s Supper after the sermon had to be convinced that no scripture prescribed an order of worship.
Brother Gunter stressed the importance of training young people to serve. A devotional period was recreated at the beginning of the Sunday Bible School hour. Everyone assembled first in the auditorium before class as three high school and junior high age boys led a scripture reading, songs and a prayer. A new Sunday 5:00 p.m. class was created for younger children as a training class. The congregation briefly tried holding its Wednesday evening devotional period before classes, but changed back to the old format after a few months.
Brother Gunter also started a Tuesday morning Ladies Bible Class, designed specifically for the needs of the older women in the congregation. Martha Chandler began teaching the class in 1973. Among the many works of the class was preparing fruit baskets to take to the nursing home and those who were to sick to out of their homes.
Brother Gunter was given the job of reviving the visitation program. It was difficult at first to generate interest and it would take about three years for it to become a program that involved most members.
New Programs Expand/ Growth
Around 1970, a used Greyhound tour bus was purchased for work with the young people. Yogie Spears took the lead in planning activities and trips. One trip to Nashville included participation in the Madison Church of Christ Amazing Grace Bible Class, which was televised the following Sunday morning. Of course, everyone watched. Other youth activities included hay rides and Halloween trips, a trip to Shiloh and to the Parthenon in Nashville. The Elders decided to make a special effort to invite young people to church who were not attending anywhere else. They hoped that once the young people became active, their parents might follow. The bus began to run routes through town. Some called the work the “bus ministry”, which was also a common work of churches in the early 1970's. The effort paid off as fifty or sixty young people began to ride the bus to attend services. During worship, the young people sat together in the front five or six center rows of the auditorium. Yogie Spears used the Sunday afternoon training class to teach the young people the practical elements of a worship service. In the summer, a group of the young people boarded the bus for a week of study and fun at Mid-South Youth Camp, a tradition that continues.
The 1960's were a time of social turmoil in the country. Parents worried about what their children would be taught at state colleges, and special classes were taught to prepare young people to defend their faith against arguments against religion. Mission work included sponsoring a new Middle Tennessee Christian Student Center at M.T.S.U. where several of the Lomax young people were students. The congregation participated in a campaign against atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. During the Vietnam War in the late 1960's and early 1970's, it was common for prayers to include “Be with our boys fighting in foreign fields.” In an effort to help members benefit from the studies and arguments of a number of ministers, church funds were used to provide every member a subscription to the Gospel Advocate.
The annual Gospel Meeting added a special Thursday night Youth Night, which included a topic selected for young people, a bonfire afterward and home made ice cream. In 1969, speaker Tom Holland spoke at the bonfire following services. To relate to his audience of young people, the young Holland told of going to the shoe store to try on a new pair of tennis shoes. His shoes were so worn out that the clerk asked him if he should take off the shoe or just roll it up his leg. The talk was a hit with the young people. Yogie Spears began developing his chicken house for more than chickens and hosted a Halloween costume get together for the congregation.
Increased numbers of young people created a demand for more classroom space. The teen class taught by Yogie Spears and Eddie Lawson packed the largest classroom in the old 1957 building. In 1971, the Elders developed a plan for a new education building just north of the auditorium. The building would also contain a basement for a fellowship room for meals. Again, much of the labor was provided by the men of the congregation and several of the teens also helped in the construction. The new building provided eight additional classrooms, most of which were larger than the classrooms in the old auditorium building. The first classes were held in the building in 1973. The basement was used for activities, although unfinished until 1974. Out of habit, meals were still called “Dinners on the Ground” for a few years after they moved into the basement of the two story building.
The basement was partitioned to separate a food preparation area and tables and chairs were bought for much of the room. A row of tables was placed in the center of the room for food and rows of tables set perpendicular to those tables lined the walls for eating. Over time, the room became so crowded during fellowship meals that there was little room for people to walk through the aisles between tables. The children were allowed to go first through the lines. They finished their meals first and then went upstairs to run through the classrooms, creating a loud noise on the ceiling below and keeping parents busy running up the stairs to calm them down.
Additional members also increased the need for other space in the building. In 1973, an addition was added to the front lobby. The new addition provided for a preacher’s office and study and moved the nursery downstairs.
The visitation program expanded under the direction of Eddie Lawson. Middle-age adults met monthly for meals at each other’s houses, and then made an effort to visit prospective new members. Those who expressed an interest in more information were offered a Bible correspondence course or classes conducted with the Jules Miller film strips. Several baptisms occurred following the courses.
Most members in the congregation were involved in at least one of the many programs going on at the time and a strong effort was made to reach out to the community. Regular attendance grew to about 350. Additional communion trays and song books had to be purchased.
When Hohenwald’s WMLR Radio Station went on the air around 1971, the congregation purchased the 11:30 time slot to begin broadcasting its services with an hour delay. Sunday morning worship service songs and sermons were coordinated to fit within the time limits of the broadcast. Brother Gunter also began teaching Daily Devotional lessons on the radio during a weekly morning slot.
Much of the congregations benevolence work was devoted to the Tennessee Children’s Home in Spring Hill. Children from the home periodically visited the congregation to lead worship services. Each week, the bulletin listed a pantry item members should bring to send to the home.
Active Members Grow Older and Work Slows
Charles Tidwell began work as the preacher in 1973. The number of young people continued to expand and crested about 1975, when the bus ministry ended, lowering the number of young people attending and decreasing the need for classroom space. When the energy crisis of the 1970's raised the cost of heating the buildings, the upstairs classrooms were closed, except for during Vacation Bible Schools, and classes returned to the 1946 and 1957 buildings.
The end of the bus ministry and the lower numbers had a dampening effect on enthusiasm for works that had already been started. When Brother Tidwell took a position at another congregation, the Elders began looking for a preacher who could motivate the members to get involved again. They selected Harrell Davidson as preacher in 1979. His preaching style was bold and aggressive. Brother Davidson’s first job was to focus on getting young parents involved with Bible School Classes. He began a 5:30 training class for children up to the fourth grade called the Faithful Bible Investigators Class - it was used to help train children in basic Bible facts. He also began training classes for young men who were new Christians and once a year, held a training class for all men in the congregation who were members. The visitation program was started again. Brother Gunter also returned as a part-time preacher in 1979. He revived his Lady’s Bible Class on Wednesday mornings. Brother Gunter would continue to teach until a month before his death in 1991.
Attendance began to rise again and went from an average of 210 in 1979 to 300 by 1981. The amount of contributions doubled.
The first Sunday in August annual Gospel meeting was changed to a fall meeting in 1980. After the 1960's, the annual revival meetings began to lose the same impact they had produced in earlier years. Non-Christians were less likely to attend as television programs of religious and non-religious nature provided alternate forms of entertainment and people who were interested in hearing speakers could find an outlet in televison weekly. The congregation continued to hold annual meetings. Most churches changed the name from “revival” meetings to “gospel” meetings. Beginning in the 1970's, most people attending the meetings were members of the congregation and of area congregations. In 1980, the meetings were sometimes mixed with a Homecoming for former members.
At the end of Brother Davidson work, there was another slowing in the number of new programs as the group of middle aged adults that had been so active in the 1960's and early 1970's grew older and some moved to other areas. The next group of middle-aged adults had not yet started new programs.
The Elders chose to hire young preachers in an attempt to motivate the younger adults to become involved. Terry Collins began work as the preacher in 1982. In 1984, Tom McLemore, another young preacher, was selected to follow him. In addition to maintaining programs that had been started earlier, the Elders focused on presenting lessons and programs to counter new social teachings and influences in the public school system.
In 1982, Yogie and Betty Spears began an annual Banquet to honor those 60 and over. The first year, they provided a meal and a group of young singers from the congregation named the “OK Singers” sang hymns after dinner. The following year, the program expanded to entertainment for the older group. The Banquet has continued to grow each year. Not only are the older members honored, but it provides an opportunity for the large number of younger members to work together to make the program possible.
The Elders searched for someone with a broad range of experience and in 1986, Carmack Skelton returned as a full-time preacher. Brother Skelton was familiar with the congregation for most of its history and he had been involved with a number of programs at larger congregations. After a short time at Lomax, he chose not to live in the preacher’s home, which made it available for other uses. One of Brother Gunter’s dreams had been to create a day school for preschoolers, where they could be taught Bible as well as the basics they would need before school. In 1987, the Lomax Christian Day School opened in the former preacher’s house, and Brother Skelton as its first director helped set up its organization.
Debates over fundamentals of church beliefs began to arise across the country in the 1980's as some preachers pressed a change of doctrine labeled the “new hermeneutics.” Classes and sermons were presented at Lomax to make members aware of the new doctrines and to reaffirm the reasons for the doctrine that had always been taught. When the work of some congregations pushing for changes in church doctrine became known as the “Crossroads Movement,” the Elders decided to drop “Crossroads” from the name of the congregation to avoid confusion.
By the mid to late 1980's, the congregation had undergone the same aging process that most congregations experienced at that time. (The 1950's and 1960's had been a period of great growth among the young that did not continue into the 1970's. The effect was called the “graying” of the congregation). The desire to take on new works still existed and plans were discussed, but during those years, the congregation lacked the critical active middle-age group to carry them out. It was of considerable concern as to whether younger generations would be there to take over the work as the congregation aged. In 1988, Glynn Dilbeck was hired as the first Summer Youth Intern to work with the young people. Tim Gunnells was hired the following year. Classrooms in the education building were re-opened. The young people became active by the end of the summers; however, their activities generally stopped when the summer interns returned to college. Family structures were also beginning to change - families had become smaller and young people who had more leisure time than their parents had at their age, began to want regular spiritual and recreational activities with other Christian young people. Several young people and their parents left the congregation to be part of full-time youth programs at other congregations. The number of High School age young people in the congregation dropped to about seven.
A Newer Generation Begins New Work
Against that background, in 1990, a group of young parents, many of whom had been in Paul Chandler’s high school class in the early 1960's, attended the Southeastern Church Growth Workshop in Huntsville and returned fired up with enthusiasm and ideas. 1990 became another turning point for the congregation.
The men met with the Elders in an all male meeting in 1990 and made suggestions for the congregation to take on a number of new programs. Several ideas matched plans the Elders had discussed for a few years. After considering the challenges posed by the aging of the congregation and the need to involve younger members, the Elders introduced a plan for new programs in four areas: benevolence, youth, missions and visitation. A new emphasis was placed on the worship service and avoiding allowing it to become a ritual. Concerned that not enough attention was focused on the Lord’s Supper, additional time was devoted to it as the member presiding began reading a scripture and making a few comments to focus the members’ minds on what they were about to do.
Taking a chapter from Ira North’s book Balance (used as a manual for the young adult and adult classes in the late 1980's) that a growing church is one that goes all out for its young people, the Elders announced that creating a youth program would be its number one goal for the year. A youth group was formed from about seven high school students and a larger group in the sixth grade and under. Youth leaders from the program in Huntsville held a Saturday session at Lomax to train the parents and Lomax youth workers. Song leaders were brought in for evening sessions over three summers to teach songs that were popular with young people. Sunday night devotionals and activities were planned just for the young people. A fifth Sunday collection was set aside for the youth program. Classrooms in the two-story education building were refurbished for full-time use. Special rooms were created for the high school and middle school groups, where young people would begin to feel that the space was their’s and where they would want to invite their friends.
The youth program grew slowly at first and activities such as county-wide devotionals were planned to put the small number of Lomax young people together with young people from other congregations. Over time, as Lomax young people began to identify with each other and invite their friends, parents of those young people followed. From retreats, special classes, father/son and mother/daughter camp outs and other activities, the number in the overall youth group increased to about sixty, with over twenty of high school age. Lock-in’s, an overnight of activities and Bible lessons at the church building, were used as an outreach that sometimes involved over 50 friends of Lomax children from the community. A twenty-four passenger bus was purchased to allow the young people to travel together and within a short time, an additional van was needed. The youth group built a trail in the woods on church property leading to an outdoor amphitheater for its devotionals. A separate bulletin called the Lomax Youth News was published for the young people.
In 1994, the first graduating seniors in the youth group were honored by the congregation with a graduation program and that tradition has continued and expanded for graduating seniors. Drawing on the large number members who were public school teachers, Bible School teachers for the Middle School and High School classes began developing their own lessons rather than purchasing literature for classes.
The congregation participated in the nationwide Church of Christ One Nation Under God campaign in 1991. Four and a half million homes were contacted across the country.
New Elders Paul Chandler, Bill Lawson Don Owens, Jeff Spears and Maryland Spears were appointed in 1992. Jerry Morton, Kenney Morton, Danny Spears and Lynn Tiller were appointed deacons. Jerry Barber taught a church growth workshop in 1992 and re-emphasized the need for the congregation to take on new programs.
During a several month period in 1993, when Lomax had no full-time preacher, the men of the congregation stepped up to preach the sermons and to conduct the services. Many of those men agreed to take on larger responsibilities as a result. A Sunday afternoon congregational retreat was held at Davy Crockett State Park to plan for new work, followed by a retreat the following year at NACO. The 1960's visitation program was revived in the form of Christian Service Teams.
From 1989 to 1996, a special spring meeting was created to deal with youth and family issues with speakers popular with young people; however, the format still followed the revival meeting approach that had been developed in the 1920's. In 1997, the Elders agreed to try a different concept of a two-day youth rally designed exclusively to meet the needs of young people. Speakers who were effective with young people, songs that expressed what was on the hearts of young people and topics that addressed the needs of young people were to be selected in a format with few distractions to help the young people remain focused on examining their spiritual lives. Networking with other youth workers, the goal of the first rally was to have an attendance of 300 to achieve the number needed for the singing and class sessions planned. When over 600 registered to attend, every member in the congregation was needed to support it. Almost every member of every age answered the plea for help and got involved. As a result, the rally had the unplanned benefit of pulling the congregation together and motivating them as almost every member worked together to create a successful outreach. The enthusiasm spilled over to other works.
The Lomax Youth Rally has continued to involve most members in the congregation. Attendance has reached as high as over 1,000 and often up to forty congregations participate
Van Vansandt was hired as the preacher in 1993 and served until 1999. Brother Vansandt’s young excitement fit the mood of the young adults who wanted the church to become more active. He encouraged the young people to participate in the Freed-Hardeman summer Horizons leadership training program.
In 1993, the congregation began mission work at a start up church in Menefee County, Kentucky. The youth group traveled there and helped lead its service. Later, the congregation began an annual clothing collection drive for the Menefee congregation to distribute to people in its area.
Malcolm George became a part-time minister in 1997 and immediately became more involved than he intended. His ministry was to focus on the needs of older and retired members. Malcolm began a Wednesday morning Bible Class that developed into a group of active seniors he called the “Primetimers.” In addition to helping storm victims, being part of the Disaster Relief effort, and helping underprivileged children, the group provides an important social network and activities for members who are retired. The group takes regular outings in Middle Tennessee and an annual trip to a resort-type area.
Toward A New Century
A congregation that was begun to meet the spiritual needs of a few households had expanded in the 1960's to reach out to young people, but many of the active adult members were still related to those early families. As the twenty-first century approached, the Hohenwald community as a whole changed and the congregation became diversified. Changes in technology and travel patterns also helped spread the focus of the congregation to areas beyond the community.
For the first time in the 1990's, most members were unrelated to the early families and the congregation was ready to appoint some Elders who had moved to the community from other parts of the country. In 1995, new deacons selected to carry out the work that would be needed for the future were J.W. Churchwell, Jeff Dye, Bobby Page, Larry Tatum, Danny Spears Walt Thompson, Steve Edwards and Lynn Tiller. In 2005, Steven Edwards and Rick Morrow were added as new Elders to serve with Paul Chandler, Bill Lawson, Yogie Spears and Don Owens. A large number of men were selected as Deacons to carry out the work that was planned. The men included Greg Amacher, Dale Askins, J.W. Churchwell, Ralph Conkle, Jeff Dye, Matthew Farr, Dave Guzy, Trent Hill, Mike Hinson, Pop Hinson, Darryl Holt, Danny Spears, Jeff Spears, Marty Spears, Larry Tatum, Walt Thompson and Lynn Tiller.
In 2006, Dave Guzy, Richard Amacher, and Dan Spears were also appointed as Elders. In 1998, plans were developed to build a new fellowship building containing a commercial kitchen that would allow large meals to be prepared. The facility makes it possible to host the large numbers for the Youth Rally.
The Primetimers group recognized the facility as a good place to begin weekdays with walking, exercise and socializing and their activities there helped form a bond within that group. Beginning in 2006, the Christian Service Center also began to be used at Thanksgiving and at Christmas to provide a meal for people in the county who may not be able to afford a special meal. Quarterly Friends and Family days began, in which visitors are invited to the worship service and to a fellowship meal.
The new century also witnessed changes in some long- standing programs. In the late 1990's the Vacation Bible School program introduced activities designed to recreate Bible stories. Teens and adults dressed up as Bible characters to portray such events as Noah’s Ark that then fit into the theme for the week. The changing work, school and vacation schedules brought about the decision to end the Vacation Bible School program in 2006 after almost fifty years. Unlike earlier years when young people had few competing activities in the summer, VBS was forced to compete with sports and school camps and activities. A one-day September Kid’s Rally for ages 6 to 11 took its place beginning in 2006. The Kid’s Rally features a speaker, songs and activities designed just for children in those ages, using a camp theme.
Devotionals for the young people were opened up to become all-age devotionals. In 1997, a committee of parents was formed to direct the youth program. In 2001, the focus of the youth program shifted to training as Lomax began to participate in the Lads to Leaders program. Each year, boys and girls learn to speak, lead songs and participate in a number of programs that help them develop skills they will need as leaders in the church. The group travels to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville to a convention of several thousand young people to compete in various areas of training.
In the early 1990's, young people requested that newer songs be sung during worship services, in addition to the traditional hymns. A supplement to the song books was printed at first. Then the congregation purchased “Songs of Praise,” which contained many of the newer songs. A projection screen was added later to project the songs on the screen so that the congregation could sing without facing their song books. Newer songs could be added without purchasing additional books. The screen is also used for projecting scripture and illustrations during sermons, a more modern version of the blackboard and chalk that was used behind the pulpit in the 1957 building.
The congregation adapted to meet the needs of women in the 21st century. In 2000, Lomax hosted its first Ladies Day. Exclusively for women, all speakers and song leaders are women and the topics are designed to meet issues faced by women in the church. Another program for women, Ladies Night Out, where the ladies meet for a devotional period and then a fellowship meal, began in 2002. Not to be left out, the men also renewed the annual cookout and camp out activity.
In 2001, David Salisbury began work as the preacher. Having received training from a different background than earlier preachers at Lomax, Brother Salisbury added a different approach to lessons. His lessons added studies from the Bible based upon the oldest Greek texts and put lessons into context with facts from historical writings.
Mission work was significantly increased. In 2005, Dr. Mark Landis and his family traveled to the Marshall Islands to begin a two year missionary work. Eric and Adrianne Pfaff moved to Russia to begin a seven year mission work there. By 2008, the congregation sponsors mission work in Freed-Hardeman University Bible Department, India, Magnolia Bible College, the Prison Ministry, Menifee County, Kentucky, Nazareth, Galilee, Latin America, Paraguay, Indonesia, Pacific Islands, Russia and East Africa as well as the Fishers of Men work and other local work
The congregation is just beginning to use the Internet as an opportunity for teaching. In 2006, it created a web site www.lomaxchurch.com to provide basic information about the congregation and in 2008 for the Youth Rally on the web at www.lomaxyouthrally.com Recorded lessons are now placed on the sites to be accessed by anyone around the world.
On April 5, 2008 the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the congregation was recognized as over 400 members and former members filled the auditorium for morning worship as Melvin’s great grandsons led singing and preached one of his sermons. On May 25, 2008 Brother Carmack Skelton returned to lead a devotional in the 1946 auditorium as the last service in that building. Classroom partitions added in the late 1950's were removed to recreate the auditorium space. The plaster walls were painted the original green color, the stage was recreated and chairs were placed in the locations of the pews. Songs sung in the 1940 era were selected. Brother Skelton recalled memories of the congregation that had met in that auditorium, recognized the growth of the congregation and admonished the congregation to continue to find mountains to climb in growing the work of the church.
Plans were announced for several phases of new buildings over the next decade, beginning with new classrooms in the area where the 1946 building was located. In late June, portions of the 1946 auditorium were carefully dismantled to be reassembled in a chapel or classroom space at the north end of the new classroom wing, preserving part of the heritage of the congregation, while preparing the facilities for the challenges of the future.
A written history of any congregation has to be limited to outward manifestations of what is going on inside the hearts of people. Buildings and programs are only tools used to carry out the work and numbers are only one way to measure progress. Much of the real work takes place in ways that cannot be seen. The greatest physical strength of the congregation has always been in its people and its real test will be in the difference it makes in the lives of its own members and others. Even then, no human can take credit for spiritual success.
The history of the Lomax congregation is inspiring, because it is the story of how a small group, faced early on with persecution, remained faithful and allowed God to use them to affect the lives of many others. Times when the vision of its leaders was matched with the energy and enthusiasm of young adults were periods when the greatest results were achieved.
Preachers at the Lomax Church of Christ
Carmack Skelton 14 sermons 1954.
John Bob Hall
____ Van Dyke
Kelley Doyle 1960-1962
(Other sermons by Bros. Jud, Deakson and McDonald)
Fred Kittrell 1962-1966
Carlos Gunter 1966-1973 (Part Time 1979- 1990)
Charles Tidwell 1974- 1978
Harrell Davidson- 1978 -1981
Terry Collins 1982-1983
Tom McLemore 1984-1986
Carmack Skelton 1986- 1992
Van Vansandt 1993-1999
Malcolm George- 1996- present
David Salisbury 2001- present
Summer Youth Ministers
Glenn Dylbeck 1989
Tim Gunnels 1990
Sid Collins -1966
William T. Rasbury
Billy Gene Spears -1968
AUGUST GOSPEL MEETINGS SPEAKERS
1948 Curtis Posey
1949 Curtis Posey
1950 Curtis Posey
1951 Boone Dauthitt
1952 Glen Mayfield
1953 Curtis Posey
1954 B.B. James
1955 Curtis Posey
1956 Riley Moore
1957 Glen Mayfield - July meeting
1958 B.B. James
1959 Joe Cook Van Dyke
1960 Glen Mayfield
1961 Riley Moore
1962 Flavil Nichols
1963 B.B. James
1964 Tom Holland
1965 Flavil Nichols
1966 J.A. Thornton
1967 Flavil Nichols
1968 J.A. Thornton
1969 Tom Holland
1970 Harold Neal
1971 Charles Tidwell
1972 Danny Cottrell
1973 B.B. James
1974 Neal Meredith
1976 Tom Holland
1977 Guy N. Woods
1978 Harrell Davidson
1980 Charles Tidwell - Homecoming
1981 Carmack Skelton - Homecoming
1991 Elvis Williams
1993- John Collins
1995- Adron Doran
1996 Dowell Flatt
1997 Ben Flatt
1998 Wayne Langford
1999 Bobby Daniel
2000 Dale Jenkins
2001 David Powell
2002 Ted Burleson
2003 Dr. Sam Jones
2004 Lance Foster
2005 Glen Colley
2006 Steve Lusk- Homecoming
2007 Doug Smith
YOUTH AND FAMILY SPRING MEETINGS
1991- Jeff Keele
1992- Bill McDonald
1993- Ralph Gilmore
1994- Van Vansandt
1995- Billy Smith
1996- Gary Bradley Jr.
YOUTH RALLY SPEAKERS
1997 MIKE TANARO
1998 ROY SHARP
1999 DAVID BAKER
2000 KEITH PARKER
2001 CHRIS WHITAKER
2002 DAVID POWELL
2003 KIRK BROTHERS
2004 DAVID SHANNON
2005 DANIEL HOPE
2006 JERRY ELDER
2007 CHUCK MORRIS
2008 LONNIE JONES
2009 JASON BEARD
JULY YOUTH SING SONG LEADERS
1993 Jim Bob Baker
1994 Jerry Elder
1995 Jeff Ingram
FALL MEETINGS SPEAKERS
1982 John Vaughn
1983 Flavil Nichols
1984 ____ McClish
1987 Bobby Duncan
1988 Tom Holland
1989 Ted Burleson
1991- Johnny Mack Young
1992- Jerry Barber
1993- Eddie Miller
1994 - Alan Highers
1995- Bill McDonald
1996- C.R. Bradley
1997- Ben Flatt
1999- Bobby Duncan
KIDS’ RALLY SPEAKERS
2006 Jon David Schwartz
2007 Jerry Elder
DAY SCHOOL DIRECTORS
1986- Carmack Skelton
1992- Debbie Rasbury
1993 Mitzi Edwards
SONG BOOKS - Dates are approximate
Choice Gospel Hymns 1930's
Songs of the Kingdom 1930's
Work & Worship 1930's
The New Wonderful Songs 1940's
Christian Hymnal No. 2 1955
The Majestic Hymnal 1957
New Majestic Hymns 1964
Sacred Selections 1975
Songs of the Church 1989
Praise for the Lord
Freed-Hardeman University Bible Department
Magnolia Bible College
Menifee County Church of Christ
Churches of Christ Disaster Relief
Jeremy Pierce – Memphis School of Preaching
Steve & Susan Waller
Fishers of Men