by Robert Earl Houston
On this past Sunday, October 26, 2014, I had the joy of going back to my adopted church home, the Westwood Baptist Church, University Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where Minister Barton Elliott Harris is the senior pastor, as they celebrated their 94th Church Anniversary.
Jessica and I were joined by the people of First Baptist Church, Frankfort, KY, who made the trip from Frankfort to Nashville and what a time we had! In worship, the Men of Praise of FBC sang and the WBCUC Fruit of the Spirit dance ministry performed. The Spirit of the Lord was, as the saints of old used to say, “was high” and from Praise to Worship to Benediction, God’s spirit was moving. The Lord “was kind” to the preaching moment. I preached from Revelation 3:8 with the subject, “The Doors of the Church are Open.” God blessed Westwood with the addition of two new members. God be praised!
I have a very special warm spot in my heart for Pastor Harris and Westwood. After pastoring on the West Coast for over 15 years and experiencing a painful, wounding transition in ministry, it was this pastor and congregation that ministered me back to spiritual health. I became introduced to Westwood by one of their associate ministers, Minister Brian K. Wilkins, who knew me through my internet ministry. At the time he was over the Men’s Ministry and they brought me in to do a Men’s Revival during the summer of 2005. After preaching there for a weekend, Pastor Harris called me to ask me to come back and preach for their Church Anniversary.
During the call he extended to me the idea of becoming his second full-time assistant pastor. My job description was complimentary to the other assistant pastor and he flew me to Nashville to discuss the matter face to face. At the conclusion of our meeting and after prayer, I agreed to accept his gracious offer and as of October 1, 2005, I began my ministry as Assistant Pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, University Center – my first time living somewhere other than the west coast.
Admittedly, it was a culture shock. People from the south take church differently than on the west coast. I had never been a part of what was a literally 7 day a week congregation. Every morning at 6:15 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., prayer was held at the altar. I had never seen such a large Vacation Bible School and seen the kind of planning and investment. I had never witnessed a pastor who was comfortable in his skin to share his pulpit with two assistant pastors and a plethora of associate ministers. It was a teaching and learning environment and I learned more about pastoring in four years than I had ever in my life.
Pastor and First Lady Carolyn Harris modeled what a Christian marriage looks like and it made a tremendous impact upon me and my wife, Jessica. Jessica and I were engaged during the summer of 2005 and while we were making wedding plans, I was candidating at congregations in Richmond, CA, Oakland, CA, and Stockton, CA – however, God had other plans for us and after I had driven/moved across country to Nashville, I flew back to California for the wedding on October 22 and after our honeymoon in Reno, Nevada, we flew to begin our new life in Nashville.
I was faithful at Westwood. Never complained publicly. Never took issue with leadership, because I knew the secret of leadership – a leader follows and then becomes a leader. Pastor Harris gave me tremendous opportunities. He entrusted me with the Mid-Week Adult Bible Study (after 100 students in the class), the Young Adult Sunday School class, VBS (photographer), Graphic Art flyers, leadership of the Men’s Ministry, leadership of the Evangelism Ministry (and we set a record by the help of the Lord and He added 100 new members), and then finally, I became the music director for the Men of Praise Choir, which grew from a handful to a choir stand full. I enjoyed the MOP and we rehearsed every Wednesday evening after Bible Study. I consider these men my dear friends even to this day.
Westwood was organized in 1920 in a small storefront building on the corner of an alley between Albion and Alameda Streets at 26th Avenue North. As they grew, they called their first pastor, Rev. James Tunstill in 1920. A succession of pastors followed including Rev. S.M. Wright (1922-1924), Rev. J.H. Lawrence (1925-1928), and then the church proposed under the leadership of Rev. Ambrose Bennett, who was a major religious and civic leader in Nashville. After his passing two American Baptist Theological Seminary students served – Rev. W.O. Wells (1957-1959) and Rev. Alphonso R. Blake (1959-1960). Rev. George W. Brown (1961-1965), Rev. J.W. Watkins (1965-1969), and Dr. Amos Jones (1969-1986), who led the church in acquiring properties, revolutionaztion of Christian Education and Missions, and building its current edifice.
On December 1, 1987, Pastor Harris returned to Nashville from Boston, MA, to become the current pastor. He was reared, baptized, licensed, ordained and married at Westwood. Under his steady and prayerful leadership, Westwood has grown exponentially. Now Westwood is a major landowner in North Nashville, having purchased 20 different properties and currently rents 22 units inclusive of homes, duplexes, and apartments. The Church has expended its physical plant to include the West (Brick) Annex (where my old office was located), the East (White) Annex and the Youth Annex – each housing offices, classrooms and meeting rooms.
Westwood has completed 94 years. There are continual plans for modernization and what I learned most of all at Westwood was to continually evolve. They taught me that hard times and difficult days should never stunt your growth, but enhance it.
Happy Anniversary Westwood!