Samuel Henry Hall (1877-1961)
In the spring of 1924, S. H. Hall held a meeting for the young North Birmingham church. He was there for about two weeks (April 20 to May 2) and when he returned to Nashville he wrote an extended piece for the Advocate describing the condition of the work in Birmingham. Hall was the consummate publicist, as can be seen in the regular column he wrote for the GA during his time in Atlanta (1906-1920) and Los Angeles (1920-21). He has an eye for the details, which proves to be a real boon for the historian. That really comes through in this piece.
Here it is:
Beginning on April 20 and continuing till May 2, I had a most delightful time with the Birmingham saints. The twelve-days’ meeting was conducted at what they call the North Birmingham congregation, where Brother Hugh A. Price, Jr., labors. The meeting resulted in seventeen baptisms and one from the Christian Church. We had a packed house at every night service, with the exception of one or two evenings.
I found the work in Birmingham in a most excellent condition. Brother John T. Lewis graduated in the same class with me at the Nashville Bible School in 1906. He soon began work at Birmingham, and my lot was cast in Atlanta. We have been together but little since then. He was in a meeting at Selma, Ala., the most of the time I was in Birmingham, but got back in time to help add much to the pleasure of my stay. Finding in a room on the third floor of one of their up town buildings a mere handful of members, and some of these with cranky ideas that hinder instead of helping the cause, John T. Lewis put his hands to the plow with the determination of not looking back, and a great work has been done. Here is what we have there to-day: The West End congregation, with around three hundred and fifty members and property worth $8,000; the Woodlawn congregation, with about two hundred members and property worth $5,000; the North Birmingham congregation, with one hundred members and property worth $5,000, and about $1,000 cash in bank for a better and larger building; North Lewisburg, with about seventy-five members and property worth $2,500. This congregation is just out of the city. And at Ensley we have a colored congregation, with one hundred and twenty-five members and property worth $2,000. They have a mission in Pratt City, with property worth $3,000. They also have a mission in Tarrant City, with some money in bank toward a building. At Ensley they have in lots around $5,000, and are preparing to build there. They also run a mission at Bessemer, and are helping many other weak places out of Birmingham. This all looked good to me, and it shows what can be done by those who love the cause of Christ enough to work at it seven days in the week. Lewis knows no other way to work.
Just a word about others who have helped in the work. Brother Hugh A. Price is a most excellent church worker. He went there and worked with his own hands to help procure his support until the work could use him for full time. He is now giving his whole time to North Birmingham, which has every indication of becoming one of the strongest churches there. Brother W. C. Graves, whom I baptized at East Point, Ga., in 1912, also went to Birmingham with the Telephone Company and has been supporting himself and preaching all the time. It is due to his efforts that the North Lewisburg work has been developed, and he has helped much with the colored congregation and fills in at West End and other places when needed. These three men — Lewis, Price, and Graves — love and esteem each other most highly and pull together. While at times they differ in their judgment about some features of the work, they submit their ideas as a matter of mutual helpfulness to each other and push the good work onward and upward. Brother Lewis studied under Brother D. Lipscomb. Perhaps there is not a man among us who went through the whole Bible under Brother Lipscomb so often as did Lewis. He makes me think more of Brother Lipscomb in his ideas of things than any one I know. He has a headful of plain, old-fashioned common sense, and there is no greater blessing that can come our way. I would so much love to tell of problems he has solved and difficulties he has overcome, but time forbids this.
Brother Pullias has helped as local preacher at West End. Brother I. B. Bradley has also helped, but has been compelled to be away from the work for a number of weeks, due to the condition of his wife. These two brethren are held in the highest esteem. Brethren F. W. Smith and E. A. Elam have conducted revivals there and contributed to the success of the work, and maybe others, but these are all that I know of just now. Lewis, Price, and Graves are exceedingly fortunate in marriage, and their wives would hardly live with them if they did not make good, so they must have their share of the honors. The Lord bless them and multiply their number is my prayer.
— S. H. Hall. “A Delightful Stay in Birmingham, Ala.” GA 66.20 (May 15, 1924): 463.
We can glean a number of interesting things from this. First, we get membership numbers and property values for each of the Birmingham congregations. The building values give us a small window into the relative social status of the Christians who made up Lewis’ churches. For example, when First Christian Church in Birmingham built its downtown meetinghouse in 1904 (a structure that O. P. Spiegel would call “one of the completest and most beautiful in the country”) it did so at a cost of between $21,000 and $25,000 dollars. When West End, by contrast, left Fox Hall in downtown in 1910 to construct its own building, it did so at a cost of $8,000.
Second, note Hall’s comments about the relationship between Lewis and David Lipscomb. He writes, “Brother Lewis studied under Brother D. Lipscomb. Perhaps there is not a man among us who went through the whole Bible under Brother Lipscomb so often as did Lewis. He makes me think more of Brother Lipscomb in his ideas of things than any one I know.” Hall is not alone in his estimate of the theological similarities between Lipscomb and Lewis. This is a point that will be repeated by others in the pages of the Advocate, at least through the 1930s and 40s. When, in the 1950s, Lewis’ Lipscombite views on cooperation and institutional buildup became inconvenient for the Nashville establishment such expressions disappeared from the pages of the Advocate.
Along those lines, Hall’s report inadvertently attests to Lewis’ insistence that congregations become self-supporting as soon as possible. We see that in North Birmingham, which constructed a meetinghouse and secured the services of Hugh Price only as they were financially able to do so. Hall clearly sees value in this approach and writes approvingly of it in other places in the Advocate in the early to mid-1920s.