A Brief History of the Goodwood Boulevard Church of Christ in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Restoration Movement, emerging on the Allegheny frontier, gained a foothold in the deep South during the 1840s. Preaching the restoration of New Testament Christianity and the unity of all Christians upon belief in the Bible alone, the “Reformers” or “Disciples,” as they were know, followed the advancing frontier from Virginia and Kentucky to the Western Reserve. But Baton Rouge, a well-established community, steeped in old world tradition, particularly Roman Catholic, proved to be rocky ground for the “restoration of the ancient order of things.”
In 1847 John Allen Gano came to Baton Rouge on a preaching tour and found a small group meeting under the leadership of Charles G. McHatton, a landowner and businessman. With McHatton’s help, Gano obtained a meeting place and organized a congregation of eleven members – the first church established on the restoration plea in Baton Rouge. John T. Johnson held a meeting in Baton Rouge in 1849 which resulted in 48 baptisms. By 1850 the membership had grown to about 120 members; in 1853 they constructed a building on the corner of Laurel and Fifth streets. On a tour of the South in 1857 Alexander Campbell, arriving via steamboat from New Orleans, delivered several lectures in Baton Rouge and was Governor Robert C. Wickliffe’s house guest for three days. This pioneer congregation unfortunately was short-lived, probably dying during the Civil War. The next sixty years are a lost period for the Church of Christ in Baton Rouge.
The earliest direct antecedent of the present-day Goodwood Boulevard congregation was a group of eight or ten people who met in the Dufrocq School from 1922 or 1923 to 1926. They included William Broun, Dewey Slater, William A. McVea and their families, and Mrs. L. W. Braud. In October 1926, J. Emmet Wainwright held a meeting for them, but soon afterward the Slaters and the Brauds moved away, and the group broke up. Mrs Braud went to the Central Church of Christ (instrumental); the McVeas to the Wyandotte Street church. Then in 1929, Mrs. Bernie H. Moore, who had just moved into Baton Rouge, was pointed out at Central one Sunday to Mrs. Braud. Encouraged by each other, they decided that same morning to begin looking for other members and make a new start. They immediately turned to William McVea and his family. Assembling in the McVea home, this small group conducted its first service on January 20, 1929. Miss Aselea Stevens (Mrs. Senn) and Mrs. W. S. McAndrew came the next Sunday; that brought the number to ten.
The small group continued to meet in the McVea home for two months, keeping an eye open for a more formal meeting place. In March they began meeting in Wolf’s Bakery auditorium, a social hall which was used free of charge, although they had to clean it up before each service. The young congregation placed their first notice advertising regular services in the State-Times May 9, 1929. After having met in Wolf’s Bakery for nine years, they moved in 1938 to the Magnolia School on the corner of Florida and Dufrocq. Here the rent was $25 a month.
It is hard to appreciate the difficulties the small group encountered during the 1930s. Very often they did not have a preacher, so the men of the congregation took turns giving talks. Sometimes, with no men present, the women had to conduct services on their own. Services were conducted on Sunday mornings only. At first attendance ran from five to seven; in 1938 about twenty people were attending regularly. The contribution doubled after the move to Magnolia, but it was still only around twenty dollars a week.
Throughout the decade there were several men who preached for the group on a part-time basis: Charles R. Hobgood, R. B. Maner, R. J. Mayer, Rush Netterville, George Emptage, A. K. Ramsey, Sr., and others. The congregation was beginning to acquire men who could provide leadership. Ambrose (A. K. Jr.) and Richard Ramsey moved to Baton Rouge in 1934, Joseph Pryor and Maxwell G. Allen in 1937, and Houston Karnes in 1938.
Still striving to improve, the congregation by 1939 had saved $1,800 with a view toward erecting a building. The brethren found a like location on the corner of Convention and Kernan. The purchase of the property, construction of the building, and furnishings, cost $3,300. On April 18, 1940, A. K. Ramsey, Sr., preached the first sermon in the Convention Street building.
The congregation now turned its attention to acquiring a full-time preacher. Since they were unable to support a preacher, Houston Karnes went to Nashville, Tennessee, for help. Trinity Lane and five other Nashville congregations agreed to contribute $150 a month. Waldrop Johnson, the first man to preach full-time for the Convention Street church, came to Baton Rouge in 1941. The church assumed full responsibility for his support the following year.
Bill McCowan preached temporarily after Johnson left in 1942. The successive preachers over the next decade were Carroll Ellis (1943-1948), Ira North (1948-1952), and D. D. Woody (1952-1954). This was a period of growth and expansion as more families moved to Baton Rouge, and their children grew up. The Convention street building was doubled in size, and the house next door was purchased for more classroom space. A minister’s home was also built. In 1952 R. C. Carter and Hal D. Payne were appointed the first elders of the congregation. The first deacons were J. D. Anders, Sr., James Laird, R. B. McCoin, Joseph E. Pevey, and Robert W. Sanderson.
The Convention Street church now began to show an interest in mission work. They joined forces with the Carrolton Avenue congregation in New Orleans to establish a congregation in Hammond. Another church was begun in Jackson, Louisiana, also. Buildings were constructed in both places. The Baton Rouge church also established a congregation for the city’s black population. Later, in 1958, they helped start a church in Gonzales, and the next year began supporting Ivan Rude as a missionary in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
By 1954 the congregation had outgrown the Convention Street building. It became necessary to hold two services on Sunday mornings just after Harold Baker (1954-1956) moved to Baton Rouge. Total attendance was usually about 400. To remedy the problem, in 1957 the building committee obtained the lot at 4040 North Boulevard, and in 1957 the new building was completed at a cost of $155,000.
Earl Smith became the minister in 1956, Orlan Miller in 1957, and Harold Baker again in 1961. Paul Brown (1957-1963) served the congregation as educational director and song leader. Robert Sanderson and Joseph Pevey were appointed to the eldership in 1960. The new deacons appointed were A. D. Carter, Carl Crouse, Sr., Hollis Lee, George Lyles, and Ambrose Ramsey, Jr.
Ministry on the campus of nearby Louisiana State University began around 1954, when weekly classes were held in the old Huey P. Long Field House. In 1962 the North Boulevard congregation launched a fund-raising drive to build a student center on the campus. Weldon Hatcher, the first director of the ministry, and his successor, Raymond Buchanan, spoke before many of the Churches of Christ in Louisiana on behalf of the project. The final plans called for an investment of $106,000. The “Christian Student Center,” located in a facility on Dalrymple Drive and supervised by the elders, went into operation in September, 1965.
Robert Hendren became the congregation’s minister in 1964, with Ron Moon as song leader and personal evangelism director. At this time, there was a membership of some five to six hundred and close to one hundred students at LSU. Both congregations continued to grow and thrive, and North Boulevard became known as one of the leading congregations of Churches of Christ in Louisiana.
From the beginning this congregation has had many outstanding Christians who have helped spread the gospel in Baton Rouge and South Louisiana. One man, Dr. Houston Karnes, stands out as the main guiding force of the Lord’s Church in Baton Rouge. When he accepted a position in the Mathematics Department at Louisiana State University in 1938, the Church in Baton Rouge was truly blessed in many ways. Dr. Karnes was a Bible scholar and also well known and respected in the Brotherhood, serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Harding University. Being from the Nashville, Tennessee area, Houston was well acquainted with the faculty at David Lipscomb College. He made many trips there to get help for the South Louisiana Mission Fields. He was influential to the elders and ministers of this congregation by giving them sound counsel and encouragement. He also was responsible for persuading many outstanding young men to come work and preach in Baton Rouge. We are thankful for this outstanding Christian man.
In 1976 the elders decided to build a new building on a plot of land at the corner of Goodwood Boulevard and Sharp Road. The North Boulevard facility was sold to Baton Rouge General Hospital, and the group began meeting at the Student Center until the building could be completed. Howard Emerson was hired as minister and Jerry Savage as assistant minister. The congregation thrived while meeting at the LSU location, and excitement over the new building brought increased enthusiasm.
In April of 1977 the first service was held at the Goodwood location. Designed by well known Baton Rouge architect Bill Brockway, the new facility was contemporary and impressive. The building committee consisted of Howard Emerson, P. Y. Hayden, Jack Roberts, Mack Lovering, and Steele Pounders. The move into the new building marked a time of growth and renewed enthusiasm for the congregation, which is now known as the Goodwood Boulevard Church of Christ.
Subsequent years have seen the Baton Rouge economy go down and up. The church attendance was directly affected. Even with the “ups and downs,” Goodwood has started three congregations in Walker, Comite, and New Roads. Much effort has been expended in South Louisiana works, along with support for work in Honduras, Haiti, Romania, and Brazil. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, we housed over 150 New Orleans residents for a month, providing them with shelter, food and other resources to help rebuild their lives. We collected over $672,000 in donations for relief efforts and continue to disburse these funds as families and churches along the Gulf Coast rebuild.
We currently are about three hundred in regular attendance. Bryan Kirby serves as Pulpit Minister. We have four elders: Clayton Goodrum, Tom Kelso and Jim Lackie, and our deacons are: Scott Adams, Bobby Chelette, Mike Chivleatto, Kyle Franklin, Danny Hedglin, Mike Gulino, William Hill, Jason Keith, Pat McGibboney, Chris Randolph, Bert Ruckstuhl, Chris Salter.
We still have some of the original members of the small group from the 1930s with us and they believe that their original mission of trying to base our doctrine and worship on the Bible alone remains in effect today.