in memoriam

This announcement comes from the Stone-Campbell e-mail list, courtesy of Mac Ice at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society:

Steve Wolfgang to the list,

Gospel preacher Robert Turner passed away this morning at the age of 90. He edited Plain Talk for many years…

Second, a reminiscence: 

For listers who may not know, RFT was, by Ed Harrell’s description, a “thoughtful voice” and “widely respected preacher whose non-institutional vision of the nature of the church left a deeper imprint on the non-institutional churches of Christ than the thought of any other individual” – an assessment with which I totally agree (quote from the Hailey biography, Churches of Christ in the 20th Century, p. 124).

When my grandfather and grandmother moved in 1920 from the family farm near Sheridan, IN to the “big city” (Indianapolis, in this case, thereby joining much of America in moving to urban centers – the 1920 census was the first in which more Americans lived in “urban” areas than “rural” areas as defined by the Census Bureau), they joined Englewood Christian Church (which I think is still an Independent congregation, perhaps moved to another location).  I’m sure CJ or other listers can clarify.

They continued there for several years, but became increasingly dissatisfied with the circumstances (just as Harrell describes HH’s feelings in the same period).  When they heard a preacher on the radio by the name of E.G. Creacy, who “rode the rails” each week from Horse Cave, KY, to Indianapolis, my grandpa told my grandmother, Dad, and my aunt, “we’re going to hear that fellow tonight – we haven’t heard preaching like that since we left the farm.” 

Creacy had rented the “Red Man’s Hall” on East Michigan Street, and after hearing Creacy and others preach for awhile, my grandparents and father (a teenager at that time) left Englewood and “placed membership” with the non-instrument group meeting at 40th and Capitol, closer to their home.  The young preacher there, a University of Illinois student from Scottsville, KY, who Creacy had convinced to make weekend trips to preach in Indianapolis, was Robert F. Turner.  Robert told me years later that my grandfather was the second person to “respond to the invitation”  in his young preaching life – the first being Dr. O.S. Jaquith, long-time and well-respected physician who, I believe, also departed Englewood.

My grandparents, father, and aunt later became members of the “Eastside” group that was meeting with Creacy but later became the Irvington Church of Christ, purchasing an 1890’s Methodist building in the Irvington community (where Butler University had been located, I think, before relocating to University Park on the north side of Indianapolis).  That building was my first memory of what a church building SHOULD look like – semi-circular auditorium with balconies and aisles sloping slightly down to the podium area, mahogany, cherry and other polished woods everywhere, enlightened by dozens of stained glass windows.  The Methodists had sold it to build an even more ornate structure few blocks east – say what you will, they knew how to build a building. 

Earl West, with whom my Mom and Dad went to Arsenal Technical High School (along with Earl’s first wife, Lois) was the preacher there after attending Pepperdine, and while doing his graduate degrees at Butler which became the first two volumes of  “Search for the Ancient Order.”  Earl West performed the wedding ceremony for my parents after Dad returned from “the War,” and I came into the picture a couple years later.  He was followed by Cecil Willis, when Earl went to Harding/Memphis to teach (or maybe F-HC), and then by Paul Dobson, under whom the Irvington church plunged headlong into the support of various parachurch agencies or “institutions” (thus the roots of the “NI” designation for those opposing, among whom were my parents and grandparents). 

When my dad, a deacon and the treasurer, was told under protest to start writing checks to various “institutions” or turn in the checkbook, they left (my grandfather had already resigned as an elder and left) and affiliated with the old North Indianapolis church which had long been under the influence of Daniel Sommer before his death in 1940..  They built a very nice (by the standards of the day) building on a main thoroughfare (Emerson Avenue, at 40th street), and it was here that I made the good confession and was baptized. 

Probably more than anyone wants to know, but I’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, even if no one else profits thereby.  It’s an account of what Harrell and others have described in the abstract – played out in the life of one family, and a young preacher, Robert Turner, whose paths crossed at a critical juncture.  I’m sure Terry Gardner can correct my fading memory on any hazy or mistaken details. 

Thanks again for your prayers and attention to my sister-in-law.

— Steve Wolfgang


3 responses to “in memoriam

  1. They announced last night at Winston-Salem Church of Christ in North Carolina that Robert Turner had passed away. I called my mother in Bloomington, IN, and we were trying to place him. I went on-line to see what I could find, and I found this. It’s a small world! I was at the 40th & Emerson congregation from ages 13-21. I was married there with LA Stauffer as officiant. Now, LA’s son, Ted, is being considered as an elder for the congregation at Traders Point in Indianapolis. I was there a few weeks ago, as my son, Marcus, and his wife, Kimberly, are members there. I told Ted I remembered having him in class when he was 9 and I was 19, and he was a smart, cute youngster. I have a daughter here, in NC, and one in Athens, AL, also. I always tell the children to get to know the people in the church. It is a family, and a fairly small one, and you meet those people, again and again. I hadn’t expected to meet Steve on the net, this morning, but mother and I were able to place Robert Turner, and we enjoyed reading about the two other James’ and their beautiful wives, Leatha and Jean.

  2. Hi Sandy,

    Just for the record, I’m not Steve. I have met him before — a wonderful man and a delightful conversationalist.

    Anyway, Winston-Salem… Did you, by chance, know Elmer and Toodie Bowers? Elmer passed away a few years ago, but most of his family lives in the Winston-Salem area and I recall him referencing that congregation a number of times. He introduced me to Bro. Turner’s writings.

    Well, thanks for the memories. I’m glad that this post could turn into something of a clearinghouse for remembrances of RFT.


  3. Chris,
    I did not know them, but I believe it was announced when Elmer passed away, so I am pretty sure others knew them. We have been here about 9 years. Winston-Salem is a bit of a crossroads. It is the only congregation in a large area, drawing from as far away as Lexington and Burlington, NC. We have a lot of move ins and move outs due to the changing nature of jobs. Yesterday, visitors from Bloominton, IN, the Thomas’, said they had heard about Robert Turner’s passing, and they talked about reading his writings. He must have been quite an encouragment through his publications!

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