W. E. Brightwell (1893–1957), “News and Notes” editor for the Advocate and minister of the Waverly-Belmont church in Nashville, contributed an introduction for the published volume of the 1938 Hardeman Tabernacle Meeting. In it, he says the following about N. B. Hardeman and the Ryman Auditorium:
“The affinity between the man and the building is interesting, if not unique. Possibly no other man has used this remarkable building more; certainly none has put it to a better use. On the other hand, the building has surely received the cream of the best thoughts of his life. He has received more from the building, and the building has received more from him, than from any other man or building. His every utterance there has been published.”
I was struck by Brightwell’s rhetoric. He almost gets carried away, it seems. We can follow his words out to the point where the Ryman takes a place alongside the Cane Ridge meetinghouse and the Bethany church in the pantheon of sacred spaces for the churches of Christ. In Brightwell’s rhetorical construct, the Ryman becomes not solely (as it would become later) “The Mother Church of Country Music,” but the Mother Church of the renewed and rebuilt Jerusalem of the churches of Christ.
I base that claim on a statement made by Leonard Jackson, minister for the Franklin church, in his introduction of Hardeman on the opening night of the meeting, October 16, 1938. Consider the analogy that Jackson makes to explain the place of the meeting in the history of the churches and of the city of Nashville:
“The church … needs constant admonition to ‘contend
earnestly for the faith.’ Christendom, my friends, needs more Nehemiahs to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. She needs more Ezras to restore the law of God. Christendom needs more Zerubbabels to rebuild the temple of God. In your selection of a preacher to lead you in your gesture here toward these ends, you have chosen a man who has combined in himself the qualities of the afore-mentioned three. Like Nehemiah, he would rebuild Jerusalem’s fallen walls; as Ezra, he would uncover and restore the ‘law of grace’; like Zerubbabel, he would rebuild the temple of God. In this all important work, Nashville for the fourth time becomes the field of assertion.”
As with other writers among the churches, Nashville is Jerusalem. But Jerusalem has been allowed to crumble and it must be restored. Hardeman is the man—the only man—for the job. As we see here, expectations for the meeting were high and the rhetoric of the speakers rose to meet those expectations—and to stoke them even further.