Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy 135th Anniversary to the Donelson Church of Christ

Yesterday was a really special day. At the Donelson Church of Christ--where I grew up--we celebrated the 135th anniversary of the congregation. I had received a call from one of the elders a few days ago, inviting me and my wife to be there. This is a congregation that will always have a special place in my heart.

They invited back two of our former preachers: Bob Hendren, who had preached at Donelson for almost 20 years, leaving around 1989, and Randy Harris, who preached for about 9 years, leaving around 1999.

Bob Hendren was the reason my parents began attending Donelson, a year or so before I was born. As the saying goes, "He can read Greek better than you can read English." A Greek Bible was all he ever carried to the pulpit with him. He even taught several of the members Greek while he was at Donelson, and many of them are quite good at this point. He is a brilliant speaker and thinker. I had been very young when he left, but it surprised me how familiar he felt. It was like I had traveled back in time. At Donelson, we always held our ministers in extremely high esteem, and I think Bob was a large contributor to this, if not the reason for this. He was very influential, but he was the type of person who could be trusted with influence. He wasn't pushing an agenda other than the cause of Christ. He almost always preached expository lessons, just trying to help the congregation have good theology and a good knowledge of Scripture. Under his leadership, the congregation was the largest that it ever was. Many of us still think of Bob Hendren's tenure as the "good old days." I've mentioned him several times on my blog, and have even retyped some of the things he's published about Grace and Baptism, which are really brilliant.

Randy Harris followed Bob. Randy is an interesting individual. While he preached for us, he was also teaching full-time at Lipscomb University. We take a lot of pride in Randy, because even though he's very widely popular now, he was much less known when he started working with us, and we feel like we helped him grow a lot pastorally, if nothing else. When he first arrived, he was a bit socially awkward. But by the time he left, he was the one who dressed up as the Easter Bunny for the kids egg hunt in the Spring! He even started an annual tradition of taking our 2nd graders bowling. He is single by choice--which I really wish we would do a better job of honoring in the Church. I'll never forget the time he invited some of us in the youth group over to his house. He had a portrait in his bedroom of Friedrich Nietzsche which he sometimes speaks to, vowing to fight the philosophies that Nietzsche promoted. If my memory serves me right, he also had a painting of a person who was chained under water to the ocean floor, about to give up his last breath. The purpose of this is to remind him of how helpless we would be without God to save us. He also collects monk figurines, chess sets, and lava lamps. Randy seems to always do everything the way he does for a purpose. When he was struggling early in his ministry, he commited himself to praying for Donelson at least one hour a day--and it might have been two, though I can't remember exactly. He is a very contemplative Christian, and a great spiritual mentor. Near the end of his time at Donelson, while Randy was trying to get me to go to Lipscomb and study under him, I was deciding to go to Harding, but when he suddenly decided to move to Abilene, then he couldn't give me too much of a hard time about it. He's been missed.

At Donelson on Sunday, Randy preached, then Bob taught class. As I listened to both of them, it hit me just how much each of these men has influenced me. I always grew up thinking that ministers should be Greek experts like Bob, and I ended up majoring in Biblical languages. I've also got a strong affinity for studying theology, and I've noticed I tend to be drawn toward the stuff that Randy would always talk about. I think I'm endebted to Donelson for giving me the opportunity to grow up hearing these two theological giants all of my life.

As a blog post this long is obviously much more for my sake than for yours, I'm going to list a few moments yesterday that really struck me.
  • The moment that hit me the most was at the beginning of Randy's lesson. We sang a newer song about Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord. In the last section of the song, it repeats the phrase several times that God "gives and takes away." Each time we sang those words, there were two images listed above them on the slides. One was of a newborn baby, and the other was of a person who has died in the last few years. I simply was not emotionally prepared for this, and nor were many of my peers. The second picture they used was of Dan Midget, who has always been one of my favorite people. He died very quickly of a brain tumor while I was in high school, and I still mourn his loss. Also pictured was Erdner Jones, who used to work with Dan in directing our church camp program. When I run my camp, I spend so much time thinking about, "How would Mr. Midget and Mr. Jones handle this?" They also pictured Sid & Bailey. These were two old men who were brothers, and were also slightly mentally handicapped. I always shook their hands every Sunday. They were so friendly and positive. I used to get tickled at them when I would pass the communion trays on their row. One or both of them would always be sound asleep, and then would have to wake up the other one. Then there was Cliff and Lil Balduff. Every single Sunday morning when I was little, they gave me hugs and talked to me, and gave me a little pack of gum. They both had thick northern accents, and I loved them so much. In appreciation for the gum, I used to draw pictures for them on the back of attendance cards. I had been gone for so long, the reality had never sunk in for me that they're both now deceased. They showed Tom Neil, who used to always run the show at fellowship meals, and used to always make us young ones stop playing basketball while people were trying to eat. Also they showed Doug Pippen, who died just a few years ago of cancer. Our family was very, very close to him, and his wife is one of my mother's best friends. That one was more than Carolina could handle, because Mr. Pippen died about a year after Carolina's mother did, and she spent a lot of time trying to encourage the Pippens, because she could relate to them. There were others, but seeing so many people I miss so much in short 3-4 second bursts was more than I could handle. I couldn't sing, my eyes teared up, and I had to look away. It was meaningful, but a little warning would have been nice. I hadn't realized how much I still miss these people.

  • Randy had some great thoughts about reflecting on the world we live in. He made the point that no matter who's elected, the world is always going to be messed up. He told us what he said to his students, "If you don't believe me when I say that this election really doesn't matter much more than any other election, I have two words to convince you: 'Chester Arthur.' They say, 'Who?' and I say, 'Exactly!' He was supposedly a really important President and you don't even know who he is!" The main gist of his message is that it's important to remember the past, but we've got to follow the example of Jesus in John 21. Peter's sin was a given, but in that conversation they focussed on the present and the future. We've got to be willing to let go of our shortcomings, and to decide that we are going to live like Christ right now.

  • Bob spoke about how we can find the best way to unite the world. He mentioned Fred Craddock's efforts to interpret Scripture doxologically, looking for reaons to praise God, rather than looking for ways to argue with people. He layed out several approaches that haven't worked, such as wisdom and power. Education is important, but it isn't the solution. Power seems like a solution, but it comes up short. He shared some great quotes from historical leaders like Napoleon. My favorite was something Napoleon said after he lost his empire. He spoke about how men like himself had built vast empires using power, and having the biggest battalions. But Jesus Christ was a peasant, and using love and mercy had established an empire of millions that was still standing. Bob has such a bredth of knowledge about so many things. As he talks, he constantly is throwing in little quotes from classical literature, from operas, from history, and some in other languages. The rapid fire fashion at which he's able to do this is really astounding.
It was a very good Sunday to have been there. There were a lot of people who haven't been around in a long time who were there, and it was great to see them. Not many congregations can claim a history as long and robust as Donelson's, and I'm proud to be able to claim them as part of who I am.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mark! You have a great home church heritage to take pride in. And, dang! How fortunate you were to grow up listening to Randy Harris.

    This got me to thinking & has sparked a whole other blog entry about my spiritual heritage. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, III. None of us can really claim to be self-made. We all have influences who shape us into who we are. If you make a post, I'd love to read about your influences as well.

  3. Just wrote it. It'll be up tomorrow morning. Look for it -- it'll be called "Standing on Their Shoulders."

  4. Randy is good and Bob is simply a great man. He has been a mentor and friend for a long time.

    Bobby V