At Nashville's Black Churches, It Still Feels Like 'Home'

Rev. 'Tex' Thomas.jpg
According to the sign outside the door, Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church is the place "where everybody is somebody."

"When you come to Jefferson Street, you are coming home," said the Rev. James "Tex" Thomas, longtime pastor and veteran of the civil rights movement. "Everyone who comes here knows they are free."

The church had about 150 members when Thomas, who turns 73 this month, became pastor 42 years ago. Since then, Jefferson Street has grown to about 500 members and has become one of the most influential congregations in Nashville. Mayors, governors and at least one presidential candidate have visited the church. When new Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover took office, one of the first things she did was hold a prayer service at Jefferson Street.

"Jefferson Street represents the community, in every facet of life -- social, political, spiritual," Thomas said.

A graduate of American Baptist College , Thomas jokes that he was a little rough around the edges in the early days. He wanted traditional worship, with piano and hymns. No women were allowed to preach, until the day that Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., visited the church about 30 years ago.

"She was the first woman in my pulpit," he said.

Thomas said he eventually changed his mind after months of study and now endorses women preachers. But it wasn't easy to admit that he had been mistaken.

"I lived with the guilt for about a month," he said. "Then I stood up and told the church that I'd been wrong."

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SOURCE: The Tennessean
Bob Smietana
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