1990 – 1999
As is always the case, the Lord’s church existed in an ever changing world. The decade of the nineties exemplified this in typical ways…and created its own events to make the point. The American period began with the first Gulf War and wound down with instances of public immorality engulfing the American Presidency. Along the way financial scandals permeated the economic world, war touched life around the globe, riots erupted in American streets, natural disasters left carnage in their wake, religious cults grabbed headlines…well, you get the idea. Things were often ugly; and this is only a short list of what happened. If one stopped with this list, despair would rule. Thankfully, other positive influences offset the bad things…at home and around the world. Good people went about making a positive difference in their individual homes and communities.
The Washington Avenue congregation entered the decade fully engulfed in this national and world environment. But its mission, like in the decades before, was different. It would be counted among the “good people.” While the Christians worshiping with the flock had to live in this world, they chose not to be “of this world.” To that end the congregation engaged in telling the story of Jesus, along with supporting each other and making a difference in the community. What follows tells a part of the congregation’s story and casts a different perspective on the decade.
For the first time since the 1940’s, the congregation experienced a period where no elders served. After a lingering illness, Thurman Liles died in 1990 and the number of elders was reduced to two. Subsequently, Willard Tucker became ill and resigned in September, 1992. Consequently the eldership was dissolved. The congregation was without an eldership until December, 1992 when it appointed Richard Egerton and Ray Justice to the role. In 1994 five additional elders were appointed. The congregation weathered the short period without elders and by decade end was again adequately served by men in this role.
Responding To Divergent Views Among the Churches of Christ
Few things challenged the Church in the 90’s as much as the ongoing erosion of commitment to the authority of God’s Word. Congregations and leaderships of the Lord’s church continued to draw different and divergent conclusions about what the Bible instructed on a variety of topics…and incidents of this occurred with growing frequency. Simply stated, teaching error within the fellowship of the Churches of Christ became widely accepted. Though this was not new in 1990’s, it seemed to be more pervasive. Fundamental Biblical teaching was compromised widely…and, in the view of the Washington Avenue elders, frequently set aside God’s Word at will among many congregations. To communicate basic Biblical principles on several key topics and to strengthen the congregation, in mid 1994 the eldership published a statement reinforcing its belief in the sanctity of the teaching set forth in the scriptures. This practice had the added benefit of informing visitors of the congregation’s intent to hold sacred the Word of God.
Missionary Outreach Activities
The congregation’s involvement in missionary effort was alive and well in this period. Old relationships continued and new opportunities were found. The Washington Avenue congregation’s commitment to telling the story of Jesus took on new energy.
Internationally, the support of Dean English in Scotland continued until 1994 (at which time he returned to the States). The long relationship with Eddison Fowler in Belo Horizonte, Brazil continued. On the home front, Washington Avenue continued to support the relatively new congregation in Huntingburg, IN.
Relationships were opened, or continued, in Stroudsburg, PA; Albemarle, NC; Springfield, IL; Holland, MI; Conway, NH and, for a short term, with Darrell Simon in Archangel, Russia.
The major missionary effort during this decade was focused on the emerging opportunities to evangelize in countries of the former Soviet Union. In late 1994 an investigation into the possibility of working in Molodechno, Belarus was started and in early 1995 the congregation’s first missionary team to that country was formed. There were 12 members prepared to go on that first trip, although constraints eventually limited the number making the inaugural trip to 6. During the 1990-99 period, 17 mission teams (consisting of 89 team members) visited Belarus. Twenty nine different individuals participated in those 17 trips. Work in the country was difficult and often tense in the early going. The political environment, while relatively open in many of the former Soviet Block countries, was largely constrictive in Belarus. In the beginning years it was possible to teach and preach publicly. Later this changed when the government returned to former policies of prohibiting the actions of foreign missionaries and religion in general. Nonetheless, progress was made and several individuals became Christians. A congregation was formed and regular worship assemblies began to occur. Barry Green, a member at Washington Avenue and a repeat team member, elected to stay in Belarus and became the Molodechno congregation’s first minister. The work was solidly started and the course charted, but it would not be easy. Going forward, gaining recurring entrance into the country was difficult and the wide use of humanitarian aid proved to be the vehicle that made this possible. Productive relationships were established with influential Belarusian individuals who assisted with the “official paperwork” associated with gaining entrance. As the political climate worsened, those relationships became invaluable. On the home front interest and commitment to the work grew. The practice of having periodic “special contributions” to partially fund the work was initiated. The Washington Avenue congregation hosted a Belarus Mission workshop that was attended by congregations having similar evangelistic interests. By decade end the congregation had six years of experience in dealing with missionary outreach in the very difficult environment of Belarus…and was ready to take on the new century. The Belarus Oversight Committee (BOC) was formed to guide the efforts looming ahead in the year 2000 and following. It would not be for the weak hearted…but it would prove exciting. This story continued into the next decade.
Youth Group Missionary Activities (Summer Campaigns)
At Washington Avenue missionary zeal was not confined to the “old folks.” Starting in 1990, the congregation’s Youth Group began making summer campaign trips to various locations throughout the USA to tell the story of Jesus. Activities included conducting Vacation Bible Schools, assisting with disaster relief clean-up functions, door knocking, hosting youth rallies, visiting nursing homes…by now you get the idea. The list goes on. They were, and are, a busy group of people reaching out in service to the Master. During the nineties the group conducted campaigns in Stroudsburg, PA (1990); Ligonier, PA (1991); Middleburg, FL (1992); Albemarle, NC (1993); Evansville, IN (1994); Marshall, TX (1995); Evansville, IN (1996); Murfreesboro, TN (1997); Waverly, TN (1998) and Murfreesboro, TN (1999). The Evansville campaigns coincided with the local community outreach initiatives of the same year and arose from the commitment of young people being in tune with the evangelistic need of their home community.
Local Community Evangelistic Outreach Activities
Evangelistic campaigns were conducted by the congregation in the Evansville community in 1994, 1996 and 1998. These outreach activities were held at the Washington Avenue building with Stephen Rogers presenting the messages. Membership involvement in promoting these activities was intensive, especially during the first year. Adults and children conducted community wide door-knocking efforts to distribute literature and invite people to attend.
Periodically, gospel meetings were held to augment the community wide evangelistic campaigns. Willard Collins conducted a meeting in 1990 and David Sain presented a series of lessons in 1991. A marriage seminar was presented in 1999.
In the mid-1990’s an evangelistic movement titled “One Nation Under God” drew interest among area congregations. The thrust of this effort (originating with the Sycamore church in Cookeville, TN) was to mail literature to homes all across America, purchase advertising in leading publications and broadcast television programs nationally. The Washington Avenue congregation explored the value of supporting the effort, but the initiative did not materialize on a national level and the effort was not engaged.
The use of broadcast media (radio and television) as a means of evangelizing was discontinued in 1994.
And, during every week of the decade, Bible based lessons were presented from the Washington Avenue pulpit and in each Bible School classroom. Bible study sessions were held with individuals, taught by multiple personal evangelism teams. Efforts were made to raise the community awareness of the church at Washington Avenue. All in all, Washington Avenue members went about living the life of a Christian and telling the story of Jesus.
While not having an identifiable evangelistic component, the congregation continued to foster positive community relationships with St. Mary’s Hospital. On several occasions the church’s parking lot was made available to the hospital for employee parking during times when hospital construction projects were underway or special hospital events caused overflow parking conditions to occur.
In 1992 some members actively engaged in voters’ registration activities and the congregation’s facility was used as a registration site.
In 1993 Evansville community leaders received permission to build a casino (Riverboat Gambling facility) and elected to present the idea to citizens in the form of a referendum to support the proposition. Although the proposal was approved, it was not without opposition. The congregation joined with others in raising its collective voice in a stance against Riverboat Gambling and openly opposed the construction of the Casino in Evansville.
Continuing the practice of “being good community citizens,” occasionally various community organizations were allowed to use the Washington Avenue church building for meetings or other appropriate functions.
Area Congregational Cooperation And Interactions
On a broad sense, relationships among area congregations stabilized somewhat during this 10 year period. Though some conflicts persisted, the intensity of the previous decade diminished.
The first Ladies Day at Washington Avenue took place in April of 1992. This was the beginning of an outreach to the area congregations and a source of encouragement for the ladies who attended that was to last for many years. Topics of interest to Christian women were chosen and some years were presented by ladies from Washington Avenue while other times the speakers were selected from other congregations. In addition to the presentations our ladies were built up by the fellowship while making the preparations.
For several years Warrick County, Indiana (contiguous to Vanderburgh County) had been the fastest growing area in the State. Evansville residents migrated to Warrick County in significant numbers. Consequently many Christians lived in Warrick County and attended worship at Washington Avenue (and, it should be noted, that other Evansville congregations had members who resided in Warrick County). For a number of years these Christians had been interested in seeing a congregation formed to serve the Newburgh area. In the late 1980’s some Washington Avenue members (along with members of other congregations) began to verbalize their interest in a Newburgh congregation. This movement gained traction in 1990, leading to a congregation of the Lord’s people having its beginning in Newburgh in early 1991. As would be expected, a number of Washington Avenue families elected to move their membership to the new congregation.
Involvement With Regional Children’s Homes
The long standing support of Potter’s Orphans Home in Bowling Green, KY continued. A new relationship was established with Schulz-Lewis Children’s Home in Valparaiso, IN and the focus of the association with Child Place in Jeffersonville, IN changed. During this period Child Place engaged in a ministry to provide temporary care and support for unwed mothers. Some Washington Avenue members became directly involved with this Child Place program when they provided temporary homes for the children of these unwed mothers. This congregational connection grew when a partnership to assist in the placement of children was established. The congregation’s attention was drawn to the Schulz-Lewis Home’s expanding focus on caring for troubled adolescents and some Washington Avenue families had occasion to seek their assistance. The core mission of Potter’s Orphans Home, reflecting the shift in the needs of our society, began to undergo change during the decade and Washington Avenue remained a contributor. The compassion of members at Washington Avenue was everywhere evident in their support of these three widely different means of caring for children.
Things Happening Within The Church Family
This 10 year period will, by no means, be described as “the church going about doing business as usual.” Remarkable things were happening, needs were being met and the story of Jesus was being told.
A significant amount of the ongoing success Washington Avenue experienced in telling the story of Jesus during this decade (as well as previous decades) was attributable to its many ministries. Those programs were, for the most part, managed by dedicated deacons committed to living effective Christian lives and serving the Master as best they could. However, changing times and environments had resulted in some ministries outliving their usefulness; others, while valid in concept, had become ineffective in application. Recognizing this in 1990, the congregation moved to revise programs, reorganize responsibilities and establish new goals and responsibilities. The work was successful and resulted in renewed energy among program leaders and throughout the congregation. That reorganizational effort set the stage for much that was to happen in the coming 10 years.
During the 1990-99 years the Rainbow Bible School activities followed a roller coaster pattern. Early in the decade class enrollment grew, community involvement increased and the overall reputation of the school solidified. While measurable evangelistic outreach was marginal, children attending the school were effectively taught the story of Jesus. And, who could know what long term impact that would have on their lives. Students in the school learned to care for others by participating in food drives and raising money for the annual Easter Seal Drive. But these positive things were short lived. Economic issues, along with staffing and space requirements became a challenge by mid-decade. Changing social patterns (notably young families requiring two full time working parents) increased the need for full day child care and, with these changes, the community need and emphasis shifted to programs operating on that level. While, for a time, Rainbow Bible School continued to operate at capacity, it was evident that a fundamental organizational change was needed in order to survive. Changing to a full time school (the only viable alternative) required far greater regulatory compliance, a substantial increase in congregational funding and more staffing. These were significant issues and it was decided that addressing them was not in the best interest of the Washington Avenue congregation and that it would not effectively promote the Master’s cause. So, after more than 20 years of operation, the school was closed at the end of the 1999 school year. The history of Rainbow Bible School is a rich one. It, through the efforts of a dedicated staff and the grace of God, made a positive difference in the lives of many children. Its legacy will long be recognized and remembered.
In the early nineties a new program, targeting children grades two through five, had its beginning. This activity, named KPT – Kids and Parents Together – (although originally know as Kids Praise Team) focused on bringing children and their parents together in a setting that emphasized devotion, fellowship, service and fun.
The efforts, started in the previous decade to reorganize the Brother’s Keepers Groups (now under the umbrella of the Agapé Program), took on new energy in 1992 and began to show positive results by 1994. By 1997 this effort had matured and the program was now completely executed on a congregational wide basis. Wedding and Baby Showers were organized by the Agapé leader as was bereavement assistance for families and food service for those who were ill or new parents.
In 1999 the Washington Avenue congregation began a relationship with Churches of Christ Disaster Relief, Inc. (a brotherhood organization located in Nashville, TN) to pool funds and resources for the benefit of individuals suffering as a result of disaster events (for example, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and the like). Members of the congregation regularly contributed funds to be sent to this organization for the benefit of individuals who had been impacted by disaster events…Christian and non-Christian alike. This relationship would directly benefit individuals in the Evansville area in the coming decade when the congregation responded to the needs of citizens harmed by severe tornado and ice storm disasters striking the community. Details of these events will be set forth in the history of the next decade.
On the “let’s have fun” level, a practice of having a fall hayride was started in the early nineties. It became an instant success and grew into an annual tradition. The hayride location started at the J. C. Farms, moved to Bauer’s Grove for a period on time and then the Mark Porter family became its annual host. It was, and is, a great period of fellowship, augmented by a meaningful devotional period of singing and inspirational comments.
Property and Facilities Related Matters
The Washington Avenue facility was significantly renovated during the 1990-99 period. Classrooms were enhanced with new carpeting and cabinetry, the auditorium lighting was improved, carpeting was replaced in the auditorium and foyer, handicap accessible restrooms were added and the foyer upgraded to better extend a warm welcome to visitors. Office space for the ministers and office staff was upgraded to improve efficiency. And, an elevator was installed in 1997 to make it possible for all members to have access to the second floor spaces.
Minor annoyances competed for attention: birds took up residence in the ductwork, wasps found a home in the second floor storage space (and ventured out from time to time during worship services) and a storm destroyed the church steeple.
Attempts to find a way to construct Senior Housing continued from the previous decade. Various solutions to the challenges confronting the project were explored, but none of these alternatives proved to be viable. The project did not become a reality.
Numbers For The Decade
Average attendance at assemblies during the decade was:
Sunday Bible Study 243
Sunday Morning Worship 369
Sunday Evening Worship 227
Wednesday Bible Study 225
The average weekly contribution during the period was $5,181. In 1999 the weekly contribution average had grown to $6,002.Ministers, Educational Director and Elder Information:
1985-present Stephen Rogers
1990-present Alan Bush
1988-present Alan Bush
1963-Sept. 1992 Willard Tucker
1974-1990 Thurman Liles
1982-1984 & Dec. 1992-2010 Richard Egerton
1982-Sept. 1992 & Dec. 1992-2018 Ray Justice
1994-1997 Don Clem
1994-2006 Bob Shirel
1994-1995 Bob Terhune
1994-1995 & 2003-2010 Butch Edwards
1994-2004 Bill Westerfield
1997-2014 Danny Weddle