REMINISCENCE OF A BAPTIST MINISTER
C. E. Azbill
IN THE LONG WATCHES of a night when sleep was far away and memories rushed in I began to count — not sheep but churches — Churches where I had served that tried to reach the lost sheep for the Master. To my amazement I counted 53. Could that be a record?
Some of these groups were easily led. The joy of building and working for God was enough. God bless the memory of each of these loyal servants. The fruits of their efforts and mine are now visible in many strong rural Churches.
But there are those that have not grown. The weeds of indifference and the thorns of selfishness have long since choked the harvest and as a result one sees churches with windows broken, steps sagging, paint gone a picture of physical and spiritual decay.
Remembering Paul’s admonition "Therefore my beloved Brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," I battled on for nearly a half century.
This folder contains pictures of the 53 churches where I have labored. Some of these — I have labored with my open hand to build the structure, and with my mind and heart to plant His blessed truth. In the hope my experience will inspire and encourage others, I humbly compile this booklet.
An Interesting Souvenir
WHEN JESUS GAVE THE PARABLE of the mustard seed, He presented a lesson which all too few Christians have fully grasped. It was given to reveal the nature of the expansion of His kingdom here on earth, which was to take place through organizations of His followers (we call them churches) each representing a plant whose works would drop the seed of the kingdom into new soil and thus eventually produce other plants.
The result of wise planting, which was done during the years since I first met Brother Azbill, some of which was due to his wise ministry, has become evident to all who know Baptist life in the Volunteer State. Some of the organizations whose buildings are pictured in this brochure would, probably, not be here now had it not been for his wise and persistent direction when he served them as pastor.
He and I have reached the age when churches consider a man to be incapable of serving as pastor. So the closing years of our stay on earth must be spent doing "odd jobs" in the kingdom and for churches, and in rejoicing over the fruitage of the more active years.
This booklet is a souvenir of real merit, and I congratulate the author upon his being able to reproduce the pictures of so many church buildings in which he once labored. How rich will be his reward in heaven and how varied will be the topics of conversation when he gets there, can readily be seen from reading this booklet.
When I served as his editor (of The Baptist and Reflector) and later as his Executive Secretary (1925.1943), he was always a good and willing servant of the Lord Jesus, a cooperating worker indeed. I take pleasure, therefore, in adding this word to his souvenir booklet.
JOHN D. FREEMAN, Nashville 4, Tenn.
Memories of Other Days
A — The home of my childhood. My father, F. Azbill, built this humble home in Lexington on Clifton street before the first railroad was built —1886-1887. I was a tiny tot.
How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood,
When fond recollections present it to view
The orchard, the meadow, the deep tangled wild-wood,
And every loved spot that my infancy knew.
B — Church home of my father and mother, Lexington, Tenn. It was here I made my first attempt in a public way to serve the Lord. I was appointed Superintendent of Sunday school 1902-1903. I have an old Bible presented to me as a gift from my Sunday school with this tribute to the Bible on a fly leaf: Your Bible. It is a mine of diamonds. Enter it and gather them. Its precepts are a chain of pearls; bind them around your spirit’s neck; it will guarantee your access to the moral treasures of this life; it will open to you the gates to the city of God. From your Sunday school, Dec. 24, 1903.
C — First Baptist Church, Lexington, 1913, where I was ordained.
D — One of my horses and buggy; long before good roads. E & F street scene public square, Lexington. F — My first T model Ford. G — My humble home, 226 Hamilton St., Jackson. H, I, and J baptismal scenes: Open stream. I — 53 from Ebenezer church in river at the close of the fifth revival in succession.
H — Cold winter weather in Illinois. Note the heavy wraps.
When after years of indecision, I finally accepted the call to preach the gospel, I knew the road ahead of me would vary. I expected mountain-top experiences and I have had them. I counted on entering sloughs of despond and I have spent many hours in them. But the sweetest memories I find as I go back over the road in my thoughts have to do with the people who traveled the road with me — plain people from every walk of life, without whom my ministry would have been impossible.
The men, women and children, whose faithful attendance to the services in all kinds of weather and in the face of real obstacles, was a light beckoning me on from one appointment to the other. The very young, many of them now leaders themselves, whom I had the joy of winning to Christ, and into whose hands I entrust the fields which are still white unto harvest. I treasure even the luke-warm and difficult people I recall, because their lives have been a constant challenge to me to work harder — to do more for the Master.
This little book would fall far short of its real purpose if it did not include my warm appreciation for each person whose life has touched mine on this long road. Each contact has had a significance for me and I like to think the feeling has been mutual. It has been my prayer that these humble efforts of ours, as we worked together, will reap bounteous rewards for the kingdom of God!
No words of appreciation would be complete which did not include my co-workers and fellow laborers in the ministry. The personal touches which come to ministers by the way, in group meetings, in conventions and other gatherings are as refreshing to the soul, and by far the most heart-warming of all were those seasons together in revival meetings: in the ministry of the preaching of the word itself. They are unforgettable hours. "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
To you younger brethren in the ministry keep a warm place in your heart for, cultivate the deep and abiding friendship of, your fellow ministers as you march out to meet the challenge of the future.
Certain convictions have laid hold of me in the course of a long ministry which I wish with all my heart that I could share with other Christian friends for whatever instructional value they may have, and especially as an encouragement against despair and a sense of defeat in the Lord’s work. How does one get a desirable and vigorous church in such a situation?
Rarely does the man of God step into a choice one. There are usually many heartbreaks before there is any outbreaks of gladness. The young evangelist, Titus, ran into a situation at Crete he did not like. He wrote a letter perhaps to Paul. Paul admitted that there were "many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers—whose mouths must be stopped. Indeed, one of their own number said Cretans are always liars, evil beasts. This testimony is true. For this cause Paul said "I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are lacking."
Here is a description of the situation in which many a pastor has found himself. Especially those who have pioneered and labored in rural and small town areas. How many a field has in the beginning looked not only unpromising but even hopeless. Yet some one has taken hold and gone to work. Pastoral fidelity has been met by the grace of God. Many a such place has been transformed. Men and women have been brought under the influence of the gospel. They experienced the New Birth. They have brought New Birth to almost entire communities. It is a continuing testimony to the ancient promise of our Lord: "And I, if I, be lifted up will draw all men unto me.
How, then, does a church grow? How does one get to be pastor of a church that is the pride of his heart? By taking such material as he has and working with all his heart. To be sure, a Christian Church is a gift of God. But He has chosen to use such fallible human instruments as ourselves to get his work done. Hard work, then, is the first secret, if not also the whole secret.
For unpromising fields there is need for the minister with a dedication such as will make him willing to plant himself in a community, self-forgetful on honor and advancement, to the glory of God, and the good of men. God will in due time honor that man’s work and bring forth a harvest. "Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not."
No. 1 Union Hill Church Beech River Association
No. 2 Mt. Zion Church Beech River Association
No. 3 Jacks Creek Church Beech River Association
No. 4 Perryville Church Beech River Association
No. 5 Unity Church Beech River Association
No. 6 Second Baptist Church Beech River Association
No. 7 Central Grove Church Beech River Association
No. 8 Old Hepzibah Church (Now known as "Sand Ridge," Beech River Association)
No. 9 New Hope Church Beech River Association
No. 10 Luray Church Beech River Association
No. 11 Pleasant Grove Church Beech River Association
No. 12 Mazes Chapel Church Beech River Association
No. 13 Jerusalem Church Beech River Association
No. 14 Chapel Hill Church Beech River Association
No. 15 Huron Church Beech River Association
No. 16 Sardis Church Beech River Association
No. 17 Rock Hill Church Beech River Association
No. 18 Old Union Church Beech River Association
No. 19 Darden Church Beech River Association
No. 20 Zion Hill Church Dyer County Association
No. 21 Fruitland Church Gibson County Association
No. 22 Levenia Church Gibson County Association
No. 23 Newbethlehem Church Gibson County Association
No. 24 Beech Grove Church Gibson County Association
No. 25 Northerns Chappel Church Gibson County Association
No. 26 Idlewild Church Gibson County Association
No. 27 Spring Creek Church Madison County Association
No. 28 Woodville Church Dyer County Association
No. 29 Beech Grove Church Madison County Association
No. 30 Friendship Church Madison County Association
No. 31 Cotton Grove Church Madison County Association
No. 32 East Laurel Church Madison County Association
No. 33 Toon Church, Toon, Tenn., Hardeman County Association
No. 34 Parrens Chappel Church Hardeman County Association
No. 35 Middlesburg Church Hardeman County Association
No. 36 Ebenezer Church Hardeman County Association
No. 37 Chewala Church McNairy County Association
No. 38 Providence Church Crockett County Association
No. 39 Enon Church Dyer County Association
No. 40 West Hickman Church, Hickman, Ky.
A High Point in My Christian Ministry
Dr. G. M. Savage, D. D., the Mercer Baptist Church
and the T. C. Mercer Home, Mercer, Tennessee.
THE JOY OF WORKING in a revival with Dr. G. M. Savage is one of the high points of my ministerial experience. His great character and leadership of the Mercer Church for 30 years is well known.
Being aware of his scholarship, I reluctantly accepted his invitation to hold the revival in Mercer in 1934 which proved to be his last engagement before retiring.
When he began his introduction of me to his people I became cornfortable and was anxious to get to the requested task. These are his words of introduction that I will carry to my grave:
Brother Azbill, said he, "these are my sheep, I have been feeding them all these many long years, but you will feed them this week. There will not be a moment of the time you will be preaching to my people that I will not be sitting here praying God’s blessing on you and the message. I have had only one home most all these years I have been coming down here, and that home will be your home this week. The home of my dear friend T. C. Mercer. I never knock when I go there, neither will you do that. It will be wide open to you this week. I have had only one room and that will be your room. That couch that I have rested my tired body on for all these many years will be your couch this week. And there by that couch where I have knelt to pray so many times and with so many problems and burdens on my heart will be your privilege and joy this week. And let me say though I have bowed there so many times I never found my Master asleep; He was always awake."
Turning to his people he said "I told you I had never heard this man preach, but that we have been in many a prayer meeting together. I have always felt that any man that can pray as this man prays, could do a good job preaching." We had a great revival, several were saved and joined the church. I did the baptizing for him.
One day during the week Dr. M. E. Dodd and wife, daughter of Dr. Savage, called from Atlanta, Ga. Because of a fire which had destroyed some of the equipment Dr. Savage could not hear Mrs. Dodd very well. Dr. Dodd then spoke louder, saying, "We are on our way to Europe. Letter mailed today, you will get it tomorrow." I heard distinctly as I supported him. I told him what was said. Tear drops fell, and never shall I forget the expression of disappointment that came over his face as he said: "I would have been so glad to have heard that voice, it may be a long time before I hear it again."
There’s only a few that made the investment of time, talent and substance as did the Grand Old Man, Dr. G. M. Savage. God bless the memory of such fellowship as I have enjoyed with this servant of the Most High God.
There is not a preacher that knew him that would not count this experience a high point in his ministry.
No. 41 First Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Illinois
No. 42 First Southern Baptist Church (Calvary) Cairo, Illinois
No. 43 First Baptist Church, Carrier Mills, Illinois
No. 44 First Baptist Church, Clarksville, Arkansas
No. 45 South Royal Street Church, Jackson, Tennessee
No. 46 East Chester Church, (Parkview) Jackson, Tennessee
No. 47 Puryear Church, Puryear, Tennessee
No. 48 Grace Church Big Hatchie Association
No. 49 Zion Church (near Brownsville) Big Hatchie Association
No. 50 Enville Church, Enville, Tennessee (Organized this church)
No. 51 Emmaus Church Dyer County Association
No. 52 Parish Chapel Church Dyer County Association
No. 53 Atwood Church, Atwood, Tennessee Carroll-Benton Association
Resolutions adopted by the East Chester Baptist
now known as Parkwiew Church,
UPON THE WILLING SHOULDERS of our unselfish pastor, Clarence E. Azbill, under whose guidance the church was organized, has fallen almost wholly the responsibility for securing means for and personally supervising the first unit of our church home. He has wrought with Trojan courage for the spiritual welfare of the people of our section of the city and the establishment of a church of the Lord Jesus. The above picture is of our pastor and his loyal son, Clarence Rowland, attired in the garb of laborers, which they really are, standing in the door of our first church unit which with their own hands they aided in building.
CHURCH IN CONFERENCE APRIL 4, 1928
B. A. Bayliss, Church Clerk
The first pastor gave up the work at this stage broken in health, undergoing three major
operations. Brother James Farror is pastor at this date. He lead in the finishing structure.
The finished product of Parkview Church. The first pastor lived to see
the full grown flower from the seed he planted.
A word of greeting and exhortation to the younger generation of those churches I have been privileged to pastor.
Many of the noble men and women with whom I have worked in 53 churches are no longer active. Some have passed on to their eternal reward. Among them were such as spared no toil and no pains in their loyalty to the pastor and to their church. Of their time, toil and means they have given liberally and cheerfully to the cause of Christ and to the good of their community. The church and all it has stood for in your community owes much more to them than any one can count.
With all the earnestness of my heart, let me exhort you not to treat lightly this heritage. Do not let die what they helped to bring to birth and nurtured all through the years. "Others have labored, and you have entered into the fruits of their labors." Yours, then is the solemn obligation to pick up where they left off, and carry on manfully from there.