Matthew Henderson

college station, tx

Death of a Mother

Nov 19, 2021

A mother has died in Central Texas. She was 151 years old. While she had birthed many daughters and granddaughters (who both owe their existence to and benefited from her labors) she weathered her last and greatest health crisis as she began – alone. Indeed, an argument could be made that some insensitive, though doubtless non-malicious, pilfering of her estate in more recent years ensured the diagnosis was terminal. Most worrying of all, however, is that “no love lost there” would surely be unsurprising words to hear from the lips of those watching the events unfold. The mother’s name: The Columbus Avenue Church of Christ in Waco, TX.

What became the Columbus Avenue Church of Christ was formed on the campus of Baylor University, in a chapel loaned out for the purpose of the holding of an extended Gospel meeting held by B. F. Hall. Hall was enlisted by two women, Phebe Moore and Sallie Skidmore, who had a vision for evangelizing central Texas. Having to cross the Brazos River over the recently constructed suspension bridge, and personally traveling over 200 miles by wagon to retrieve an evangelist did not deter them. The congregation formed from their efforts has been in continuous existence since, and meeting in the present-day facilities at the corner of Columbus and 16th for just over 97 years.

Family situations can be the most complicated. Indeed, at times they can prove themselves the most painful and heated. There are almost always two sides of a story as well, and this is not at all an article intended to condemn any of the area congregations related to the present situation, nor to excuse blame on the part of Columbus Ave. But all I can seem to think in this hour of loss (and it is a loss) is ought we to do better than this? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). Is this what His love looks like, and what does this mean for the future of other congregations? I have assisted several area churches over the last ten years pinched in the throes of death. When it hurts, when it is inconvenient, when it is frustrating; isn’t that when it begins to just approach the sort of love about which Christ spoke?

From my perspective in central Texas, it seems that in the course of a lifetime we have not only continued to shrink in size but, worse, we have retreated further and further into our own congregations. Silo-ing our memberships away from any chance of contact with one another is assuredly not a rich sign of good health to the outsider (or the insider). It creates a situation that is rife for new schisms to take root in yet ever more distinctive ways, involving differences of opinion that would once have been charitably overlooked in many congregations. More worrying still at the personal level is that Christ’s under-shepherds, the men voluntarily commissioned with looking out for the best interests of Christ’s church, will actually stand before the throne of the Good Shepherd and be measured against His plain-spoken expectations of sheep watching, herding, healing, and protecting. Do we love them enough to keep them accountable to that reality? Among our membership, do we pay homage to fellowship and brotherhood with our lips, yet find that many of us are in actual practice living under the banner of an unspoken motto reading: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Columbus represents a real loss for Waco. Tears would not be inappropriate. What sort of congregation is your area losing? Where are the visionaries like sisters Moore and Skidmore today? Anyone? Anyone?