“Rebecca Writes” About Carl & Avas Carlson and the Chicago Mission

Carl & Avas Carlson, long-time leaders at the Brethren in Christ Church's Chicago Mission. Courtesy of Rebecca Stark.

Over at Rebecca Writes, blogger Rebecca Stark shares some recollections of Carl & Avas Carlson, two Brethren in Christ church leaders who oversaw the denomination’s work on the south side of Chicago for many years. In another post, she recounts the trips that she and her family took to the Chicago Mission when Carl & Avas served there.

As a non-Brethren in Christ person, Rebecca has a unique perspective on the Chicago Mission in the 1960s. Here’s a taste:

. . . We’d sit for what seemed to a child to be an unending service. We may have had Sunday School, but if we did, I remember nothing of it. I do remember the church services: Organ accompanied dragging hymns sung feebly by the few, and then a sermon. Sometimes my dad preached. He wasn’t Mennonite in his theology, but Carl Carlson told him that as long as he stuck to preaching the scripture, that shouldn’t matter.

After the service, we always stayed for lunch. Upstairs, above the church, was the apartment where the Carlsons and a couple of single women mission workers lived. As a middle of the block storefront building, the only windows in the whole apartment were at the very front in a small sitting room and at the very back in the kitchen. In between were the bedrooms and a dark dining room with a huge table that filled the room and seated twenty or so. Maybe that’s an exaggeration–I was just a little girl, remember–but it at least seated the Carlsons, the ladies, my family and a few other families.

The Sunday spread was what made the long drive, the long service, and the long wait in the sitting room paging through old Reader’s Digests while the women prepared the food worth it for me. That’s where I learned to love cooked cauliflower–cauliflower with cream sauce, to be precise. My parents say that once I more or less ate a whole bowl prepared for twenty all by myself, to the amusement of the adults, who kept sending the bowl of creamed cauliflower back round past me to see if I’d eat more.

Both of these essays underscore, for a cultural historian like me, the importance of memory in the telling of any historical narrative. Sure, we can understand the institutional significance of the Chicago Mission by scrutinizing old copies of the Handbook of Missions. But by reading reminiscences like these, we get a glimpse into “everyday life” at the Mission: a place Rebecca remembers as “a storefront mission in a very rough area of Chicago.”

Of course, reminiscences don’t paint the entire picture — but they often give us information that official organs like the Evangelical Visitor simply can’t.

Read both of Rebecca’s posts here and here.


About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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