Missing Persons Report

For much of its history, one of the chief features of the Gospel Advocate was its “News and Notes” section. By doing nothing more than watching how this section of the paper developed over the years one can learn a lot about the paper as a whole, as well as about the self-image of many in the Churches of Christ.

For the most part, “News and Notes” consisted of reports from preachers and congregations about gospel meetings, changes of address, and other newsworthy items. By and large, it makes for bland reading, at least for the casual reader.

Every now and again, though, a note of pathos breaks through. A few such items have appeared along the way in my Birmingham research. Here’s one from the March 6, 1930 issue of the Advocate:

Mrs. Harry L. Parker, Route 7, Box 76, Birmingham, Ala., February 20: “I am wondering if any of the readers of the Gospel Advocate could give us any information about a brother and sister in Christ, Mr. and Mrs. B. A. Austin. Brother and Sister Austin are young people about twenty-eight and twenty-four years, respectively. They labored with the congregation at North Lewisburg, Ala., for about one year. They were formerly from Southwest Missouri. They were members of the Christian Church there, but took up work with this congregation, knowing only the church to give God all glory. On December 26, 1929, they left here with household furniture on an open truck (White’s), bound for some place in Missouri, promising to even write us on their journey. But we have never had a single line from them and are anxious about them. We do not know their former home address. Any information through the Advocate or otherwise will be appreciated by the whole congregation here.”
Whatever happened to Mr. and Mrs. B. A. Austin? Did the good people of the Lewisburg church ever hear from them? We don’t know. There’s no followup, at least not in the Advocate. But the note of concern — something not heard very often in “News and Notes” —  in Sister Parker’s letter stands out. In it, we get a tiny glimpse into the lives and feelings of the people who filled the Birmingham churches in John T. Lewis’ day.
That’s been one of the real gifts to me of engaging in this research. It’s easy to get lost in chronological minutiae — Who was preaching where? When was a given church established? — or in the doctrinal conflicts that expended much of Lewis’ energy. Items like this, though, have the salutary effect of reminding me that there are flesh-and-blood human beings behind all of this. Countless people who never occupied a pulpit or wrote for the papers lived and died, married and raised children, in these churches. Our opportunities to hear their voices are rare and are a gift to be treasured.

3 responses to “Missing Persons Report

  1. Reblogged this on eScriptorium.

  2. I too have long been struck by the wealth of individual and congregational stories or jigsaw puzzle like pieces of stories in the two centuries of religious papers of our Stone-Campbell churches. I am thankful for your work in preserving so much of this part of our heritage. The story of B.A. Austin reminds me of being at Abilene for a ministers workshop I believe in 1985 when everyone was abuzz with talk of a missing minister (Barry?). This little piece from B.A. Austin’s life also points out the continuing contacts and interactions between a capella Churches of Christ and Christian Churches that by no means stopped in 1906. I have to wonder if B.A. Austin might have returned to a Christian Church in Missouri and for that reason did not write back to their a capella brethren.

  3. Here’s my grandfather’s obit at GA:
    ” H. A. Brandon was born June 15, 1890, at Clarksburg, Tenn. He departed his life December 1, 1949. He graduated from Dickson (Tenn.) Normal College in 1910, and was married in 1912 to Miss Kate Daniel, who survives. In 1915 he entered the Bowling Green Business University, and after two months was made bookkeeper of the institution. In 1922 he became office manager for the Continental Employment Agency, of which he was part owner and which operated in connection with the Business University. Since 1930 he has been a representative for the Southwestern Publishing Company, Cincinnati. He was a member of the Twelfth Street church of Christ in Bowling Green, and served as an elder of the congregation for a number of years. I never knew a more devoted Christian, and he was one of the most capable elders I ever knew. He was kind and firm, and his decisions were motivated by a deep love for the right. To know him was to love and appreciate him as a Christian. Twelfth Street Church suffers a great loss. The congregation is conscious of it. Surviving, in addition to his wife (Mrs. Kate Brandon), are one daughter (Mrs. Raymond C. Phillips of Bowling Green), a son (James David Brandon of Bowling Green), two sisters (Mrs. J. S. Laws of Bowling Green) and Mrs. Ernest Lewelling of Huntingdon, Tenn.), and four brothers (J. C. Brandon of Charleston, W. Va.; H. M. Brandon of Westport, Tenn.; Arthur Brandon of Huntingdon; and T. E. Brandon of Bowling Green). Funeral services were conducted at the Twelfth Street church of Christ by Charles M. Campbell, assisted by the writer, in the presence of a large crowd of friends and loved ones. Burial was in Fairview Cemetery, in Bowling Green.
    B. G. Hope.
    Gospel Advocate, February 2, 1950, page 79.”

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