2020 has been a historic year, to say the least, but rather than get bogged down by the present, Dr. Steve Hoskins has looked to the past for answers.
Hoskins, associate professor of religion at Trevecca, instead immersed himself in the Nazarene history books, alongside Chet Bush, (’96) a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Mississippi and one of Hoskins’ former students, to take on the task of nominating the Fitkins Memorial Church of the Nazarene in Meridian, Mississippi, as a historic site in the Church of the Nazarene.
Both Hoskins and Bush are elders in the Church of the Nazarene and members of the MidSouth District.
“Fitkins Memorial Church of the Nazarene was founded in 1946, and it was among the first African-American churches organized in the Gulf Central District. The church hosted the first District Assembly of that group in 1948,” Hoskins said. “The ministry of Dr. Charles Johnson, pastor of the church since 1961, has been exemplary in both the Church of the Nazarene and the Civil Rights Movement.”
Trevecca, which itself was founded in 1901 by J.O. McClurkan, is listed in the national register and is the only site in the state of Tennessee to be recognized by the Church of the Nazarene’s Denominational Historic Sites and Landmarks division.
Hosksins said the nomination process began with his and Bush’s joint effort in writing the proposal, which passed in the MidSouth District.
“The church is now listed as a Historic Site in the MidSouth District, and it will be presented to the Church of the Nazarene’s General Assembly in 2023 for consideration to be added to the denominational register,” he said.
To complete the project, Bush and Hoskins traveled to Meridian, visited sites associated with the church and its history, and met with Dr. Charles Johnson, who has pastored the church for 60 years.
“This church was Dr. Johnson’s first appointment out of the Nazarene Bible Institute, and he faithfully nurtured the small and struggling congregation to become a vibrant, active church in the community,” Bush said. “Under his ministry, nearly 40 parishioners were called into pastoral service. Through tumultuous times of racial unrest in Mississippi, Dr. Johnson remained faithful, leading his flock forward within the Church of the Nazarene. Deeply committed to the holiness message of the church, he persisted in forging a path for Black Nazarenes.”
According to Bush, Nazarene historic sites are determined by their role in the Nazarene legacy. For Trevecca, that role lies in the University’s earliest days. Fitkins Memorial meets the requirements for several reasons, Bush says.
“Fitkins Memorial Church of the Nazarene holds historical significance, first and foremost, for its role as a host site for the inaugural Gulf Central District Assembly in 1948, which spanned several states and consisted of the African American churches within the denomination,” he said. “Black Nazarene churches assembled separately in meetings segregated from white churches for district business and annual conventions until about 1968 when the denomination began incorporating Black churches into their corresponding geographical districts.
“The church also holds historic significance at the District level, having operated on three separate districts — the Gulf Central District, Mississippi District until 2014, and currently the MidSouth District,” Bush continued. “[Fitkins Memorial] offers an important mainstay that has weathered significant restructuring over the years, and we can learn a lot from the ways a church narrates its commitment to the greater mission in the midst of these changes.”
Fitkins Memorial, Bush added, also played a role in the Civil Rights Movement.
“The church served as an important site for promoting voter registration and for training volunteers who worked to gain Black Mississippians their civil rights,” Bush said. “The importance of Fitkins Memorial goes beyond denomination—it is of national historical significance.”