A Brief History of Central Avenue Church of Christ
by Gordon L. Teffeteller
The Early Years
The roots of that movement go back to the 1830s when groups of settlers began moving from the area of Savannah to the wiregrass area of south-central Georgia. Most of these persons, not far removed from firstwave immigrants, were of European origin. Some were of English descent, but a significant number had names of German derivation, such as Waldhauer, Bergsteiner, Dasher, Ulmer and Wisenbaker. Some were Salzburgers from central Europe; some had ancestors who had suffered persecution at the hand of Catholic authorities, but in spirit of the Waldenses, the Wycliffites, and the Hussites, they hunkered down, waited for an opportunity, and sailed to America.
The venerable Christian Herman Dasher was a prominent player in the rise of the Church of Christ in Valdosta. Four generations of this family named one of their sons Christian, beginning with "Elder" Christian, an immigrant; his son, born in 1733 in Europe; Christian L., born in 1756; and Christian Herman, born in 1786 at Ebenezer, Effingham County, Georgia. The latter and his wife, Elizabeth Waldhauer Dasher, had fourteen children, of whom six died in infancy. As a young man, Dasher proved to have an enquiring mind, and his religious thinking, as he eventually found, ran parallel with that of S. C. Dunning of Savannah, who came from an Episcopal background with leanings toward the Baptist practice of immersion. The two men agreed on the biblical teaching of immersion for the remission of sins, and Dunning accordingly baptized Dasher. Later, Dasher was instrumental in forming the Oak Grove Church of Christ, which continues until now.
In 1832, Christian Herman's family and others moved to Troupeville in Lowndes County. They met in homes for worship, and their own men preached and directed the policies of the congregation. In 1860, the entire population of Troupeville began moving three miles eastward to Valdosta, a new town driven by the coming of a railroad line. The church, now numbering almost one hundred and going under the names "the Christian Church" and "the Church of God", met for a time in a schoolhouse, then in a small edifice of their own on Dasher Street, and after outgrowing it, began to meet in a hall over a store located at Hill Avenue and Patterson Street.
Simultaneously, a kindred group formed around Corinth in south Lowndes County under the leadership of Richard Wisenbaker. Known as the Corinth Christian Church at first, it was congruent in practice and fellowship with the Valdosta Christian Church. Later, the community underwent a name change, and the congregation became known as the Dasher Church of Christ. Nevertheless, practices and differences among the disciples of Lowndes County were beginning to reflect a division that appeared in other restoration movement groups in America. The Valdosta church had employed preachers since 1868 and had constructed a frame building at 116 West Hill Avenue. In addition to questioning support for the missionary society, some members favored "self edification" or "mutual edification" as opposed to a hired or located preacher. The visit of J. A. Harding, a well-known evangelist, may have served as a catalyst for these opposition views that resulted in the complete separation of paths in 1888.
The twenty-two (or twenty-three) persons who withdrew to form the Church of Christ, later located on Central Avenue, drew up a document that explained their actions. They could no longer conscientiously accept the policies of the Valdosta Christian Church such as "the employment of a permanent hired pastor; the remitting of the church's funds to the Foreign [sic] Christian Missionary Society and the absolute disregard for the feelings and convictions of the brethren who may be in the minority." These protesters, who formed a small church with neither congregational property nor meeting house, soon began assembling for worship at the home of Charles H. Paine, located on Savannah Avenue next to the Doc Holliday house. They continued in this arrangement for a number of years, but their enthusiasm continued apace. Tragically, Paine died in 1901, leaving five sons and a daughter.
The early 1900's
After the emotions of the separation died down, the group began the work of consolidation that included obtaining the lot on Central Avenue and erecting a small wooden building. In the issue of April 22, 1905, a reporter for the Valdosta Times referred to the neat building with a steeple on top "where the Rev. Mr. Jackson preaches." Landon J. Jackson also conducted a Bible school in the octagonal building now located at the Crescent. It is unlikely that he was more than a speaker by appointment, but someone had to do the preaching, and in addition to Jackson, J. F. Love preached periodically for the small church. Love published a card in the Jesup Sentinel on August 10, 1893 in which he refuted the claim of J. A. Dasher, Sr., elder of the Valdosta Christian Church, that Love had been hired by the new church. Instead, he asserted, he "preaches and trusts in the Lord," but he was not hired.
Although systematic records are not extant before 1926, it is clear that the congregation was growing. The teachers taught Bible classes, a prominent part of the routine, in two rooms near the entrance and in small rooms behind the baptistry, as well as in the auditorium. Sometimes the classes met in a nearby boarding house and at the Winn House. According to several reports, students answered the roll by citing a Bible verse. Present-day members recall some of the outstanding teachers of the early period, including the senior M. L. Strong, Mr. And Mrs. Richard Allen, Mrs. Elsie Smith, Mrs. Pearl Strong, Mrs. Laura Claus, Dr. Jim Smith, Ben Gill, Richard Scruggs, and of course, many others. Gill also was an accomplished song leader.
At that time, members took communion by going to the front, where a tray and a goblet were prepared. Later, communion elements were passed around, and two goblets, still on display at Central Avenue, were used. Members gave their money offerings by walking to the front and depositing them in a plate covered by a cloth. They also frequently claimed their own pew; for example, Jim O. Wisenbaker sat on the left front seat; Tom Smith on the right front; Margaret Hendry sat on the fifth row; and so forth. A tendency repeatedly to sit in the same location still exists.
For a number of years, G. O. Taylor joined Jackson and Love in preaching for the group. About 1910, G. E. Claus, a Canadian, became a member, and he regularly utilized his considerable talents as a preacher. "He was not," said Hugh McIntyre, "a full-time preacher." Instead, he was a teacher, but when Strong began preaching also, these men set a standard of excellent itinerant preaching that served the church well until the mid twenties. Meanwhile, the congregation called on well-known preachers for annual meetings, including E. A. Elam, N. A. Jones, S. H. Hall, Flavil Hall, G. C. Brewer, Leon Harding, and W. A. Morgan. In 1914, according to Ashley McLeod, Jones conducted an impressive meeting that continued for four weeks and resulted in 50-60 responses. The optimum length of these events, however, was two weeks scheduled in August; in the earlier period, most attenders arrived by buggy or horse-drawn cart. R. E. Dasher succeeded earlier men as regular song leader, assisted by Eldrus Dasher, McLeod, and Strong. When these men were not present, Susie Smith Jackson and Mrs. Allen sometimes pitched the songs.
To stay together, the members not only prayed together, but they also played together. A small group of five investors had purchased the property known as Boyd's Pool in south Lowndes County, including the Smith and the Paine families. They renamed it Loch Laurel and began developing it for a private recreational facility. The Central Avenue members had a picnic there every year, for which M. J. Paine, Sr. was always the master of the lemonade. The lake was also the site of frequent baptisms, including some from Central Avenue, but especially by the Dasher church, which had no baptistry in their building. The Central folk also had egg hunts every spring. If the weather was unfavorable, they often moved hunts indoors at a residence on Gordon Street.
The congregation reached a milestone late in 1925 by the employment of an outstanding minister and leader, A. B. Lipscomb. A man of some means, he was formerly president of David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee and editor of the Gospel Advocate magazine. None of the present older generation of members can recall how such an outstanding man was hired; yet a more suitable candidate for the first full-time evangelist could not have been found, since in addition to his preaching skills, he was also a civic leader. When Lipscomb arrived, George Claus, who had preached at Central Avenue for many years, was serving as an elder together with Jim O. Wisenbaker, M. L. Strong, and R. E. Dasher. The deacons were Dr. J. M. Smith, S. A. Smith, M. J. Paine, G. R. McGowan, and W. L. Goodloe. Significantly, in 1926, in their first recorded meeting with Lipscomb, they discussed building up congregations in Bainbridge, Waycross, and Leesburg, Florida. Shortly afterward, Claus offered his resignation as an elder, although it was not immediately accepted, and took a preaching position in Tampa, Florida.
Evidently the coming of Lipscomb gave impetus to a movement to enlarge the building. In September, a building committee composed of Dr. J. M. Smith, M. J. Paine, J. A. Smart, and, a short time later, W. W. Dasher, was constituted to begin planning for additional classrooms. The present building, it was discovered, had been built over the property line, but T. M. Smith, the owner, said that they could get another twenty-five feet of land for expansion. The committee therefore made plans to add twenty-five feet to the length of the auditorium and eight classrooms. The cost of the project was set at $3,500, later increased to $4,000, and a committee consisting of M. J. Paine, Dr. J. M. Smith, C. I. Harrell, J. A. McLeod, R. E. Dasher, and G. R. McGowan began rising the money. Jack Smart served as the superintendent of construction. Within three months, $3,220 had been subscribed. The planners wanted to complete the work by May, 1927, so R. E. Dasher and others guaranteed collection of the full amount as the work proceeded. The completed structure was the brown stucco building that some present members remember. The effort strained finances a bit; in November, a small indebtedness remained, and the treasury had a balance of only $83, the smallest amount in two years.
Yet, resources were available for the various pursuits of the church. They maintained an account with Boone Dairy to provide milk for the children of needy families. Occasionally they provided tuition for indigent students at Dasher Bible School as well as funds for chairs and other equipment. The congregation turned its attention to missions in China in 1928, and soon expenditures began for Japan, Africa, and Cuba.
The paramount concern in efforts at evangelism were the areas of Georgia and Florida adjacent to Valdosta. The Christian Church in Quitman was about to lose their property and approached the Central Avenue elders about giving a deed in return for assuming some obligations that were in arrears. The elders agreed, appointed trustees for the property, and began paying the bills. Dr. J. M. Smith loaned money for repairs on the Quitman building, Jack Smart once more headed up the group making repairs, and the indefatigable Robert Lester, Sr. from Dasher began preaching there with continued financial backing. Support payments also flowed to Pinetta, Perry, Tallahassee, Greenville, and Jacksonville, Florida and to Bainbridge, Hazlehurt, Savannah, Cordele, Moultrie, Brunswick, and Waycross, Georgia.
A striking evangelistic success occurred when the congregation sponsored Marshall Keeble, an ingenious black evangelist, in meetings in the African-American community of Valdosta. Apparently, George Claus initiated the concept, and the results in 1930 were astonishing. Keeble, accompanied by Luke Miller, baptized 163 persons; Miller remained to work with the group, and within a year it grew by another 125 members; and when Keeble returned the next year, the young congregation grew by another 163. The Central Avenue Church then made a down payment on a building located on Adair Street, and the African-American church steadily expanded its presence in the city.
During the thirties, A. B. Lipscomb proved to be a valuable and generous minister and citizen. He served on the city school board, became president of the Rotary Club, and preached extensively in meetings throughout the south. He offered excellent advise to church leaders and frequently made generous donations, not to mention virtually the unthinkable - taking a cut in pay from $250 per month to $200. Many persons credit Lipscomb with the introduction of the unusual practice of taking the communion elements simultaneously. He believed that the method was "more reverent" and in keeping with the principle "when you come together to eat, wait for one another." He also probably influenced the leadership to issue a pacifistic statement in 1933 in which they claimed the right for Central Avenue young men to serve in non-combat roles in the military services similar to the Quakers. His health began to decline late in the decade, and O. D. Bixler, a former missionary in the Orient, took his place. Another precedent-setting event occurred during the years after 1930, the regular flow of funds for mission work from the estate of T. M. Smith. Other members made similar bequests in later years.
After Bixler's short tenure as minister, S. T. Lanier arrived in 1940. Although his health was tenuous, he showed great energy in evangelistic work. Concurrently, raido broadcasts, at which Irving Lee seemed to excel, began on the Wimpy station in Thomasville and on station WGOV in Valdosta. Lanier conducted a tent meeting on River Street that somewhat strengthened an effort to form a congregation there. After a small group met in rented quarters for a time, Ola Dasher Hill donated two lots on which a building was erected in 1945, and the River Street congregation, the core of the presently thriving Forrest Park church, began functioning.
Following Lanier's death and an interim ministry by William Potts, Charles Lemons became minister in 1945. The previous generation of elders gave way to the trio of Robert E. Black, Frank Smith, and Sim A. Wisenbaker; the deacons were J. R. Dixon, Travis Paine, and Jack Smart. Hugh McIntyre replaced W. L. Goodloe as church treasurer, and A. H. Paine and V. E. Dasher were superintendents of the Sunday School. Lemons was an effective minister, and the congregation of some 300 members seemed poised for progress.
Two men dominated the mid-twentieth century efforts of the Central Avenue Church. The first of these was Lawrence Hazelip. Charles Lemons moved on in 1948 and was succeeded briefly by Curtis Manor. When Hazelip and his wife Barbara arrived from Louisville, Kentucky, they quickly established a dynamic presence within the congregation. Not only was Hazelip a good pulpit man, but he was an effective planner and addressed the task of evangelizing outlying areas of sough Georgia, a task the church previously had embraced during the formative years. He pushed tenaciously a goal-driven approach to local attendance, and by 1950, the church completed a building addition that provided enhanced auditorium space and classrooms. Membership and attendance numbers grew steadily.
The leadership gladly endorsed Hazelip's projects of establishing and strengthening small churches in the region. A steady stream of young preachers such as Pat McMahan, Paul Cantrell, Tony Ash, Bob Owen, Richard Blackman, David Koltenbah, and others came on the local scene for a short time, and several went on to preach at Thomasville, Tifton, and other locations after the initiation period. Hazelip himself appeared in meetings throughout the area and was instrumental in baptizing dozens. He became one of the two or three most recognized preachers in Georgia, and his departure for Pasadena, Texas in 1958 could only be viewed as the beginning of a large void among area church of Christ.
Yet, that view would not be altogether accurate because Joe Gray, who previously preached in Durham, North Carolina, appeared and established himself as the second dominant figure of the era. Elder Frank Smith of Valdosta went to Duke University Hospital in Durham for treatment. He met Gray, who was working for the small Watts Street church. He found that Gray was interested in mission work, and when Hazelip left, contacted him about the Central Avenue position. When Joe and Harriett Gray decided to accept, another strong fit between church and minister emerged. Joe grew up in the family of an elder and was a graduate in Bible from David Lipscomb College. He was an articulate speaker, with a capacity for work, but perhaps his most telling quality was his attention to detail and organization. He established a good working relationship with the eldership, which expanded to five by the addition of Al Lineberger and Jim Spivey, Jr. Also the enlarged deaconship of the period included the talented group of John Dixon, Sr., Curtis Dixon, Walter Jones, Tom McLeod, Paul Lilly, Jr., Everett Force, Robert Lester, Jr., James Wisenbaker, Jack Smart, M. J. Paine, Jr., Leo Wells, Norman Sainz, and Ed Carter.
In 1960, the church once more undertook a building program that featured an auditorium seating over 600 and many new classrooms. Members donated over 2800 hours of labor, and the total cost of the new facility was $165,000. Attendance grew steadily, but the success of the annual Vacation Bible School was phenomenal. Attendance soared above 900 one year, although the questions of how they were accommodated is puzzling. Looking to the future, the congregation gratefully accepted property by donation from Redden Parramore and Frank Smith; the latter's will left the bulk of his estate to the church. Also, the church purchased the Winn House at 316 East Central Avenue, as well as obtaining the use of properties on Smithland Place. Clayton Speer joined the church staff as associate minister. Bill Long became the pulpit minister for a time before moving to Fort Worth in 1967. Francine Coppage became the first full-time secretary.
Gray turned his attention to New Zealand and led several evangelistic campaigns to that country. In 1969, his family, together with the Frank Culpepper and O'Neal Grant families, left for Dunedin, Interestingly, Lawrence Hazelip agreed to return to Central Avenue, and the quarter-century circle came full. Both men and their associates played important roles in the impressive expansion of the church in the fifties and sixties. The skills of individual members expanded; altruism, generosity, and motivation were high; and the potential for gaining new ground seemed exceptional. Eventually, over $1,500,000 was funneled into the new churches in New Zealand. The esprit
The 1970's to the present
During the past quarter century, Valdosta and Lowndes County have undergone great growth, and the influx of new persons into the congregation brought about new emphases and approaches. Teaching programs and missions remained as vital pursuits, but persons who were not native Georgians began to fill leadership positions, and specialized ministries began to develop. Several tendencies appeared to modify the previous mode of operation.
The first tendency was for ministers to stay for shorter tenures of service. Lawrence Hazelip stayed for only about a year before going back to Texas. Roger Dill, whose work had been principally in Alabama, came for the following three years during which Jon Hazelip was assistant. Jim Gammon, another Texan, assisted by Dan Dozier, followed with a five-year ministry, 1973-1978. G. R. Holton moved to Central Avenue from Oklahoma, and John Chick came from Texas as youth minister, but Holton resigned after two years to head up Georgia Christian Home, now known as Raintree Village at Dasher. Chick then became pulpit minister for three years, with John Klimko as youth minister. Ron Clayton, preacher, mission worker, and personal evangelist, moved from St. Petersburg to Valdosta where he was assisted by Klimko and Bret Smith. In 1985, when Clayton left to lead a mission team for India, headquartered in Birmingham, another Texan, Lonnie Gentry, came to Valdosta for an eight-year work. Only twenty-seven at the time of his arrival, and Central Avenue's youngest minister, he and his family moved to San Antonio in 1993. The Gary Hampton family moved here to minister with the congregation, and continued until 2001. In February of 2002, The C.J. Moffatt family began their ministry at Central – they continued until 2006. In 2004 Jeremy Harrison began working as Campus Minister for a year. In 2006, Chris and Jenny Petty began working with our teens. As a group, these men possessed great abilities.
Another factor was that men of more diverse backgrounds entered the structure of leadership within the congregation. Until the seventies, almost all of the elders were home grown, but since that time, men whose roots were elsewhere have begun to serve. With the passing of Robert Black, Frank Smith, and Sim Wisenbaker, the remaining core of Lawrence Dasher, Jim Spivey, Jr., and Al Linegerger was expanded by the addition of Ernest Green, Bill Turner and Gordon Teffeteller in the early seventies. The first recent resignations of Central Avenue elders occurred in 1976 when the latter two left office. Everett Force, Richard Hamlen, and David White became elders in 1982, G. R. Holton, and Teffeteller in 1984, and Don Seat in 1988. Force, Hamlen, and Seat have since resigned. Meanwhile, Jim Spivey, Jr. died in 1977, and Al Lineberger and Lawrence Dasher resigned. With the addition of Buddy Braswell and J. C. McMullen in 1991, six-man eldership contained only one man, McMullen, who grew up in Valdosta, and in his early years, he had no connection with this congregation. Byron Brown, Randy Cooper, and Leon Weeks were installed as Elders in 1997. Cooper has since resigned. Another addition of Elders took place in 2004 when Jerry DeLoach, Graham Fiveash, Bill Malone, and J.C. McMullen were added as shepherds of the flock. Graham Fiveash has since resigned. Another addition took place in 2009 as Homer Anderson and Kevin Boyd were added to the eldership roster. J. C. McMullen resigned in December of 2009 after many honorable years of service.
With the resignation of Hugh McIntyre after 37 years as treasurer and the passing of the old-line elders, in terms of leaders coming primarily from the original families, the old order faded. Members of these families, however, still represent great strength at Central Avenue.
The third tendency in recent times has been the proliferation of programs. The New Zealand campaigns and other efforts were enormous ongoing tasks. Joe Gray's Project Good News at David Lipscomb University with Central Avenue backing was a large undertaking of the seventies. Women's projects have expanded, starting with a ladies' retreat in 1981 in which 80 women took part. The women's nursing home flower project, formed by Grace Green, has gone on for twenty years and the hospital pediatric ward gift work, originated by Elizabeth Hills, for several years. Membership by African Americans has increased over the years. The Valdosta Christian Student Center, adjacent to the university, founded mostly by members at Gonwood in the sixties, came under Central Avenue's sponsorship in the seventies. Three campus ministers, Neil Binford, Bret Smith, and Jeremy Harrison, served full time and the previous volunteer efforts of Norman Sainz, Herman and Teresa Story, Mike Paine, Bill Frech, Byron Brown, Wes Force, and many others has been commendable.
The added programs also included a full-time youth ministry since the seventies. Nursery schools have operated at various times, including 1994-1995. Emphasis continues on mission work, including New Zealand and other stalwart projects such as extensive mission expenditures in Georgia, India, Australia, Yugoslavia, Kiev, France, and James Judd's work in Malawi, which Central Avenue has supported continuously since 1972. The church erected a new combination fellowship hall-educational annex in 1976 at a cost of $170,000. Adjacent properties have been obtained and developed for parking lots, a benevolence warehouse, and other uses. In the late 1990's, the congregation was given the opportunity to purchase the property formerly owned by Lee Street Baptist Church – this was done and has been renovated to serve as a large fellowship area. The congregation began sponsoring prospective preachers at Christian colleges, including Earl Jack Wilkerson, Ben Vick, Bill Carter, David Adams, Reinhart Schelert, and Stanley Spearman. In recent times, a youth program known as the Little Hearts Bible Hour added interest to child education, as did the Lads to Leaders classes for youth. New programs arise regularly, such as the Spiritual Enrichment Groups (SEG) ministry, designed to serve the needs of individual members.