Troost Avenue Gospel Hall, KCMO

From BrethrenPedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Troost Hall.JPG Troost Avenue Gospel Hall conference, courtesy Florence Wakefield.

Troost is regarded as the first assembly planted by Charles W. Ross in the early 1880's. It also served as influence of many other assemblies planted in the region, the only ones that remain in Kansas City is The Bible Chapel of Shawnee, on the Kansas side, and the Kansas City Gospel Hall, on the Missouri side. The latter assembly were the last Brethren to occupy the Troost building, before another denomination took over.

More history will be forthcoming, but the following are excerpts from an unpublished biographical manuscript by C. Donald Cole:

Intro

"For many years I considered myself a native of Kansas City, and to this day after a lifetime of living elsewhere I like to tell friends that I was born in Kansas City. I am like the apostle Paul who, remembering Tarsus, boasted that he was born "in no ordinary city." Memories of Kansas City are centered in two places: Chestnut Street, where we lived... and Troost Avenue, site of the local Brethren assembly."

The Cole family later relocated to Chicago in 1932 when Donald was nine years old, as his father had been out of work, and accepted a job offer from his brother Will, a sales position with a paint manufacturer. They were in Chicago for four years, and were in fellowship at Austin Gospel Hall (now known as Woodside, located in Maywood), moving in 1936 again to Detroit, where they were in fellowship at Central Gospel Hall, the first Open Brethren meeting established there. Donald later served as radio pastor of Moody Radio, in fellowship with Lombard Gospel Chapel for the remainder of his days. Excerpts of Donald's bio continue:

Design of Building

  • "The Troost Avenue Gospel Hall was our life. The Hall, as it was called, looked like a church except that it had no steeple. It was designed and built for the Brethren who, in those days, repudiated "churchy" symbols, including steeples. The Kansas City Brethren were determined not to look like “denominational” churches. But the joke was on them; their architect also designed a Jewish synagogue that looked like a copy of the Troost Avenue Gospel Hall on the outside. If it is still standing, the synagogue is located near 56th or 57th and Prospect."
  • "The Gospel Hall in Kansas City was a 2-story dark-red brick building with granite quoins and other

ornamentation on the front. A narrow slab of stone or concrete over the second-story windows still reads, "Gospel Hall." The builder could not resist the urge to dress up the building a little. He installed stained-glass windows, much to the disdain of a few traveling preachers; they had no use for the trappings of the "sects and systems," as they termed other denominational churches.

Inside, on the main floor was the sanctuary (though the Brethren did not use that term) -- a high- domed, wide auditorium with, at the front, a platform nearly as wide as the auditorium itself. A balcony ran along two sides of the auditorium, but on one side doors covered the balcony to create space for Sunday School rooms. The space below the Sunday School rooms was also separated from the sanctuary by a row of doors, providing room for the adult class. Inside, there were collapsible pews like those in the main auditorium. Like all collapsible pews, they squeaked. Eddie and I could raise a terrible racket by coordinating our squirming. Behind the pulpit, on the wall where in many churches large wooden crosses are suspended, was hung a wide canvas chart titled Two Roads and Two Destinies.

Two Roads and Two Destinies

The chart was a pictorial depiction of the history of the world from Creation to the Eternal State, with the Cross of Christ dividing history into BC and AD. The chart showed a time-line that began in the Garden of Eden and led eventually to two alternative destinies: heaven and hell. Two places on the time-line are registered forever in my memory: Calvary, where Christ was crucified, and Death (with a capital D) where the two roads -- the wide road that lead down to hell, and the narrow road that led up to heaven -- diverged and reached their respective terminus. Hell was depicted as a bonfire.

The chart, which was copied by many evangelists and used extensively around the world, was designed by Caleb J. Baker, a member of the Brethren assembly on Troost Avenue. C. J. Baker was a manufacturer of tents and awnings. My mother, who always spoke of him respectfully, told me that it was at his urging that the Ross family moved to Kansas City from Chicago; evidently he and my grandfather were good friends. C. J. Baker died in February, 1918, and his friend C.W. Ross, our grandfather, published a memoir in a periodical he edited, Our Record. Preachers who knew him spoke of him respectfully, affirming that that C. J. Baker was a "giant," meaning a man of parts, a man of ability.

Mr. Baker undoubtedly knew that the Brethren pioneer missionary William Maitland took one of his charts to Angola and used it in preaching the Gospel in Chokwe villages. Even Ovimbundu people knew about that chart. I remember hearing an Otchimbundu preacher describe it (he didn't have one but had seen it), and warn the audience in stentorian tones that if they didn't believe, they'd end up "right here!" At that, he whirled and smacked a place on the wall where hell would be if the chart were still hanging there. It wasn't, but the preacher didn't need it to scare his listeners. They could "see" hell on the wall. Though dead, like Abel Caleb J. Baker still speaks.

Basement

The lower level of the Gospel Hall in Kansas City was the basement, which, like many old church buildings, was used as a dining room during conferences. There was a kitchen and a pantry and, of course, the "facilities." The men's room was small and chilly (it was always chilly, winter and summer), and the basin (it was more like a sink) had only a cold water tap and a bar of Ivory soap. The soap looked like a tiny glacier with crevasses; it had deep dark cracks.

The men's room was not only cold; it was also damp, and it had a distinctive smell. Exhaust fans had not yet become standard equipment in rest rooms. A blind man could have found it easily. Every Sunday I made a trip to the men's room to see if the soap had been changed and to run icy water over my hands. Curiously, in fancy men's rooms in modern churches, I often have a flashback to the men's room in the Troost Avenue Gospel Hall. What triggers it, I think, is the modern liquid soap dispenser. When dispensing soft, liquid soap, I see that hard, cracked bar of Ivory in the Troost Avenue Gospel Hall.

Alfred P. Gibbs

  • Traveling preachers came regularly to the Christmas Day conference – an annual event. I attended many of them. My favorite preacher was A.P. Gibbs. He was a South African, a twin whose brother married my mother's cousin (Dorothy Fee) and returned to South Africa as a missionary after attending Moody Bible Institute. A.P. Gibbs also attended Moody, but he stayed in the States and, though he never married and had no children of his own, he specialized in children's meetings. When he came to Kansas City, he resided with us, usually for the entire month of December. We Cole children thought he was our uncle and called him Uncle Alf.

Uncle Alf had a knack with children. He liked kids and he didn't believe in thrashing them, as did so many parents in that generation. Instead, he withheld treats. Uncle Alf knew more about children than did many of his married peers. To help us eat our vegetables, he established the Clean Plate Club -- the CPC. Members who cleaned their plates at dinner-time were rewarded with a piece of paper-wrapped hard candy. Members who refused to eat their spinach or other abominations forfeited the candy. Difficult though it is to believe in these days of surfeit, we choked down the most objectionable things imaginable, even turnips. However, I recall a night when Eddie flatly refused to eat his spinach. He sat at the table gagging. After supper, when the candies were distributed to Rosie and me, Eddie had to walk away empty-handed. He looked so forlorn that Dad – who had a soft spot for Eddie – quietly slipped him a piece of candy. I saw him do it. Uncle Alf did not. He would have protested; he believed in making good on threats. So did Dad, of course, but not necessarily on somebody else’s threats.

A much-loved ritual when Uncle Alf came to town was his taking us downtown to see Santa Claus. It was our only acknowledgment of the approach of Christmas. Uncle Alf loved butterscotch candies and bought bags of the flat, round, golden candies for each of us. I cannot recall seeing Santa Claus, but I shall never forget the sticky butterscotch candies and the mess we were when we finally got off the street-car and walked a block or two to our home. Though she knew that Uncle Alf would buy candy for us, and let us eat it as if we were famished, Mother always protested the mess on our jackets. We looked like lost orphans, she sighed. But lifelong bachelor Uncle Alf usually looked worse. One year, he arrived wearing a sailor straw hat and a raincoat he himself had dyed. The raincoat was streaked and the straw hat looked doubly absurd in December. Mother refused to accompany us when we went downtown. Of course, we kids didn't crave her company on those excursions. For that one day of the year, Uncle Alf provided all the parenting we wanted.

Pilgrim's Progress

Every year, it seems, as I reflect on that period of my life, Uncle Alf showed lantern slides of Pilgrim's Progress. The lantern-slide machine was a crude version of a slide projector. The slides were not filmstrips; they were made of two four-inch square pieces of glass, taped together around the edges. On the "in" side of one of the squares was painted a scene illustrating an episode in the story. Uncle Alf used our bathtub in the process of making slides. I can still "see" the clawfoot bathtub with glass slides floating or standing in four or five inches of water. But in those benighted times nobody bathed every day; a bath was a weekly occurrence, scheduled for Saturday night, and to permit that ritual Uncle Alf fished his slides out of the water Saturday morning.

The pictures were scary. In fact, much of the story called Pilgrim’s Progress is scary. I knew it well. One of the most fearsome was the picture of Appolyon attacking the pilgrim called Christian in the “Valley of Humiliation.” Another depicted flames shooting out of the door to hell at the side of a mountain. Hell could not contain the roaring fire. A scene on the television is no more vivid in my mind. But my favorite scenes were those that showed Christian struggling through the icy river of death, and crying out that he was sinking "in deep water where there [was] no standing." He managed to cross the river, and there, waiting for him on the golden sands were throngs of angels who escorted him up a shining staircase, at the top of which stood the throne of God and of the Lamb.

In Uncle Alf's depiction of the last scene, Christian's head was lifted up and his face was filled with rapturous expectation. The armor was gone. He would not need it in heaven.

Breaking of Bread

  • The central service in Brethren assemblies was (and is) a meeting for the Breaking of Bread, sometimes called the Lord's Supper. I love these terms; I like them better than Communion, a more popular term in many places. My earliest memories of church are of the Breaking of Bread at Troost Gospel Hall. I can still hear the creaking of the wooden folding pews. The Brethren liked to arrange the chairs or pews in an irregular square surrounding the table on which the bread and wine were placed. The square was called a circle. Later, we joked that of all the thinkers in history, only the Brethren managed to square the circle. When the Lord's Supper ended, the pews were rearranged for the preaching service. To this day, a similar arrangement is made in nearly every Brethren assembly.

The custom of making a square with the pews had its roots in the King James Version rendering of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." The key words are "gathered together," and "in the midst." Brethren hymns echo nearly every word in that text.

Hymns

A favorite hymn was penned by Robert Chapman of Barnstable, England. The first stanza describes the environment at the Lord's Table:

"With Jesus in our midst, we gather round the board; Though many, we are one in Christ, one body in the Lord. When bruised on Calvary; With Christ we died and rose again, and sit with Him on high. Faith eats the bread of life, and drinks the living wine; Thus we, in love together knit, on Jesus' breast recline. Soon shall the night be gone, and we with Jesus reign; The marriage supper of the Lamb shall banish all our pain."

That hymn, like many other hymns sung in the Brethren assembly in Kansas City, is a little compendium of theology. The four stanzas in Chapman's hymn hang together thematically. Probably most hymns written in the 19th century were written as poems or "meditations," and then set to simple music lest the music detract from the message.

A hymn that was sung often at the Lord's Supper was penned by a woman identified only as Mrs. Thompson (no initial): "Jesus, Lord, we know Thee present, at Thy table freshly spread, seated at Thy priceless banquet, with Thy banner overhead. Precious moments at Thy table, from all fear and doubt set free; Here to rest, so sweetly able, occupied alone with Thee. Here rejoicing in Thy nearness, gladly by Thy Spirit led; Calmly in the blest remembrance of Thy precious blood once shed. Lord, we take each simple token in fond memory of Thee; Muse upon Thy body broke and Thy blood shed on the tree.

O what joy it is to see Thee, in these emblems gathered here! In the bread and wine of blessing, bread to strengthen, wine to cheer. Lord, behold us met together, members of our risen Head; Thus to take the cup of blessing, thus to share the broken bread. Lord, we know how true Thy promise to be with us where we meet, when in Thy loved name we gather to enjoy communion sweet. Dearer still that looked for promise to each waiting, yearning heart, that we soon will be with Thee, Lord And forever where Thou art."

From one boy's perspective

  • From a boy's perspective, not much happened in a Breaking of Bread service. Since nobody was in charge and there was no program, there were long silences. Mrs. Thompson would say the saints were musing. If so, their musings were interrupted every time the Spirit led some of the men to pray or call for a hymn. None of the women were Spirit-led; they had to maintain silence. Whether I knew a rule of silence for women was in place, or not, I cannot say. It would not have mattered; if Aunt Ottie, whom Eddie and I loved to sit with, had stood up to pray she'd have disturbed my musings. When growing up, I never heard a woman preach or pray in public, or "give out" a hymn. [To "give out" a hymn is Brethren jargon, like "taking the funeral," which means to officiate at a funeral.] Much later, it occurred to me that women had gotten even with their male overseers by writing some of the finest hymns in the Brethren hymnbooks.

When I was a boy sitting with my grandparents at the Breaking of Bread meeting, my own immature musings were centered in earthly things: Aunt Ottie's fox fur piece, the aroma of fresh bread and, when the wooden lids on the two chalices were lifted, the sweet smell of wine, a dollar bill folded into a small square that Aunt Ottie let me or Eddie drop into the velvet bag as it passed from hand to hand, and, above all, Mr. MacPherson's prayers.

During the 90 minute service (it was called a meeting) I liked to play with Aunt Ottie's fox fur piece, rubbing its fur, polishing its glass eyes, and snapping its jaws. How well I remember that fox! But there was magic in the air when it came time to break the bread. On the table was a huge loaf of bread. It was a loaf that had risen high in the pan and spilled over the edges, not like the commercial sliced bread we ate at home. If I were an artist doing a still life painting, I wouldn't paint a bowl of apples and pears; I'd paint a big loaf of bread like the bread used in the Lord's Supper in the Troost Avenue Gospel Hall.

The minutes dragged until time to break the bread. But when one of the men -- an elder, I suppose, though I didn't know an elder from a janitor -- stood up and gave thanks for the loaf the pace picked up. An elder moved to the table, picked up the loaf of bread and broke it in half. I loved to watch the breaking of the loaf. The man doing it moved as deliberately as the high priest entering the Holy of Holies. All he lacked was a robe with pomegranates and golden bells sewn on the hem. He placed the bread on silver plates, as delicately as if he were handling eggs, and he handed the plates to men assigned the job of delivering them to the rear pews on each side of the table. As the plates passed from hand to hand, each adult took a morsel of bread. It was just a pinch, not enough to eat, just enough to suck until ready for swallowing. I watched the plates pass, knowing that the meeting was winding down. Eddie and I knew also that the bread was not for us. We were little sinners – not saved and not baptized.

Mr. MacPherson

For me, a high point in the Breaking of Bread service was prayer by Mr. MacPherson. He inspired awe. Mr. MacPherson had snowy white hair and a craggy face that commanded attention. But he was blind and his arms ended at the elbows. I remember his sleeves pinned up lest, empty, they dangle and flap as he walked. Before the accident that blinded and maimed him, Mr. MacPherson was a mining engineer in Colorado. He was inspecting a charge of dynamite when it blew up in his face, destroying his eyes and ripping off his arms.

The blast also seared Mr. MacPherson's lips, so that he could not read Braille with his lips. Instead, he read with his tongue. I once saw his Bible -- a huge stack of very thick volumes. As Mr. MacPherson grew old reading the Bible, his tongue thickened, giving his voice a muffled quality. In my ears, though distinct and as easily understood as anybody else's speech, Mr. MacPherson's voice sounded as if it were coming from deep inside a cave, or like the rumbling of far-off thunder at the beginning of an African dry season.

The quality of his voice caught everybody's attention, but what held attention was the content of Mr. MacPherson's prayers. He knew the Lord, as the Brethren put it, and when he gave thanks for the bread or the cup he talked to God. Though I was only a boy, I sensed that Mr. MacPherson knew God. Even now, remembering him, I feel a rush of emotion. I have known great men and women of God in my lifetime. My mother told me that Mr. MacPherson was once persuaded to stand on the platform at a Sunday night gospel meeting. Mother never forgot the occasion. There he stood, bent -- as are many blind people -- a man with a deeply lined face and a voice like muffled thunder. But it was what he said that lodged most deeply in her memory. He talked about darkness. He told how, when he awakened in the hospital, his face was bandaged. He could see nothing, only feel the pain of a man whose eyes had been blown out of their sockets. And when the bandages were removed, he knew that what he had feared was true: he would never see again. He was blind; he lived in perpetual, total darkness. And darkness, he said, "the outer darkness," was how the Bible portrayed hell.

The last time I saw him – shortly after World War II, I think -- I was inordinately pleased to hear him say that he remembered us Cole children. "You were good boys," he said. Blind Mr. MacPherson had never seen us tearing around the place. But perhaps he was thinking about Rosie. She was only five years old when we left Kansas City.

Christmas

Until my Ross grandparents died, we visited Kansas City every year, usually during Christmas week. The Brethren did not believe in the usual Christmas celebrations. Not until I was a teenager did my mother buy a Christmas tree. Yet our parents did not deny us Christmas presents or, as noted already, the thrill of seeing Santa Claus with Uncle Alf. On Christmas morning, we found presents – articles of clothing, usually, but they were not under a tree and they were not wrapped. We found them in the parlor on the sofa or one of the arm chairs. After breakfast, we went to a conference “meeting” at the Gospel Hall, the first of many until the final meeting on Sunday night.

Prologue

Sources

  • excerpts from previously unpublished autobiography of C. Donald Cole, deposited in my archive a few years before his death.