About Our Mother

“Cops Start to Swarm City’s At-Risk Areas” read the headline on Friday’s paper. While the National Guard patrols the largely deserted eastern section of New Orleans, watching for suspicious characters and on the alert for looters, NOPD patrols are being freed up to focus on areas like Central City where the five teenagers were shot down a week ago. A debate rages on the editorial page as citizens express their thanks for the assistance or their convictions that the presence of more cops is not a deterrent to crime.

Page 1 of Section B carries a color photo of the remaining walls of Coliseum Place Baptist Church after Thursday morning’s fire. “An early-morning fire tore through the historic Coliseum Place Baptist Church in the Lower Garden District on Thursday, destroying a 152-year-old mother church for local Baptist congregations and landing a fresh emotional blow in a neighborhood where the old Coliseum Theater burned in early February. ‘The more vacant land we have in the historic districts, the less historic it’s going to be, and it’s happening now with major buildings,’ said Banks McClintock, a writer and Coliseum Square Association board member.”

According to the paper, CPBC’s building was designed by architect John Barnett, and is believed to have organized Christian worship services for African slaves long before the Civil War. “It was used as a staging point for Confederate and Union soldiers during the war. In 1917, it became the meeting place for Baptists organizing a training institute that would later become the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Gentilly.” The writer points out that while neighbors have noticed vagrants breaking into and sleeping in the “mostly idle” church at 1376 Camp Street, firefighters have not determined the likely cause of the fire.

According to the article, church leaders had asked the N.O. Historic District Landmarks Commission for permission to tear down the imposing brick building. Church leader J. T. Curtis, son of longtime pastor Rev. John Curtis, is quoted as saying an engineering firm had determined the building was in danger of collapsing. That commission, however, disagreed and required the congregation, now numbering only 75, to file a formal demolition application and face a review by a landmarks board. Curtis said, “What we were having to do was go through a long, tedious period of having to contact all of the people in that area, to notify them that we were going to apply for a demolition permit to get the structure torn down.” As anyone who lives in a historic district will tell you, it’s a mixed blessing. As to the danger of the building’s collapse before the fire, all one had to do was take one look at the cracked building. You felt vulnerable even standing on the sidewalk in front.

Records of the landmarks agency do not show the church applying for such a permit application, but instead reflects concerns of city inspectors that the church was engaged in a policy of “demolition by neglect” because it did not repair broken windows, replace missing gutters, or fix shifting masonry. McClintock says the church was left open to vagrants, and that he ran people out, finding their bedrolls inside. J.T.Curtis admitted that break-ins were a problem, but that they had indeed tried to protect the church building, using padlocks and fencing and boarding up openings. My own two-cents-worth to this controversy is that all over this historic city one will find small groups of valiant members struggling to keep up ancient church buildings, but losing the battle due to a lack of finances and the aging demographics of the members and the neighborhood. Having a grand, imposing, old church structure is a mixed blessing. Ask anyone.

We pause here to thank God for one of our mother congregations, the wonderful Coliseum Place Baptist Church. Well done, dear friend. Our heartfelt thanks.

(Saturday morning post script. A showdown of sorts took place Friday as the demolition team arrived with their machines and preservationists stood in the way with their lawyers. Apparently, they felt that even the standing walls could be preserved some way and incorporated into any future structure. Engineers for both sides verbally sparred and disagreed, and at one point Banks McClintock, mentioned above, ran into the building, such as it was, in order to obstruct the machines. “That man…who is refurbishing a Coliseum Park house with his girlfriend, was removed from the church without incident.” Eventually, engineers who believed the church was unsafe, particularly in a hurricane-prone city, prevailed and the walls were knocked down. “McClintock said he was pleased to see that, for all the talk about how unsound the surviving structure was, the sides held up pretty well under the assault by heavy machinery.” He pointed out that it took massive blows to get the walls down, “with a touch of admiration for the brick.” The fight ended when the building was down, but as parties began to disperse, someone pointed out that the next fight would be against the condominium tower some developer would no doubt be planning for that site.)

We posted a note here Friday about the July 12 pastors’ planning meeting, as we look at the 25 zones of this metropolitan area in order to lay the foundation for church groups from across America coming to assist us in ministering to local needs and spreading the message of the Lord Jesus Christ. The headline about cops swarming into at-risk areas suggests a similar take on what we plan to do. “Christian workers swarm at-risk areas; bear witness to at-risk people.” Because every man, woman, and child without Jesus Christ is at great risk.

My wonderful mother, Lois Kilgore McKeever, turns 90 on July 14, and it occurred to me someone reading this may want to drop her a birthday note. Her address is 191 County Road 101, Nauvoo, Alabama 35578.

Mom told me a joke the other day and I wish I could remember what it was so I could tell you here. The fact that she is still laughing, still remembering the funny stories of life’s oddities, that tells you a lot about her. Margaret pointed out to me once that while I always gave my dad credit for my sense of humor and so much more, it was Mom who remembered jokes and kept us laughing.

Thanks to the wonders of cell phone technology, I call Mom almost every morning. The conversation starts the same. She checks “caller i.d.” and picks up the receiver. “Hello, Joe.” I say, “What’s for breakfast.” She laughs and says, “Same old, same old.”

Mom was born in the old house just over on the next ridge, built there by her father, J. W. “Virge” Kilgore, a hundred years ago. The house still stands, as do the surrounding out-buildings even though Grandpa died in 1949 and Granny in 1963. Mom and Dad (he’s now working toward age 95) are like those old buildings these days–still with us, thankfully, but showing their years and feeling every day of them.

For most of her life, Mom celebrated July 21 as her birthday. Perhaps 20 years ago, she asked for a birth certificate from Montgomery and discovered she had been born on July 14. Pop said that might be grounds for annulment, that he had married an older woman than he thought. But don’t be fooled. He knows how well he did, marrying this 17-year-old in March of ’34. Every day, he tells her he loves her and how glad he is they found one another. Their children know what a good match it was, and are grateful to God for their love and for leaving them with us so long. They’ve about out-lived all the people they ever knew. Mom reaches for the morning paper, The Daily Mountain Eagle out of Jasper, first thing after turning the coffee on, and turns to the obituaries on page 2. Increasingly, she doesn’t know a soul there. Of all her friends and buddies over the years, she and Pop seem to be the last ones standing. Only having their large family with plenty of grands-and-greats, cousins and inlaws, plus an active church family, only that keeps them from feeling the loneliness.

“Did you go to church Sunday?” I asked Mom Monday. “Yes, I went,” she says, “but I hurt all over.” It’s the knees that haven’t healed completely after the surgery months ago, and it’s the aches and pains any of us get as we age. “Even though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” II Corinthians 4:16.

I tell Mom and Dad of a conversation Chancellor Conrad Adenauer of Germany had with his young doctor. The medic said to the 90-year-old statesman, “I can’t make you younger, you know.” Adenauer answered, “I don’t want to be younger. I just want to go on getting older.”

Mom and Pop are pulling that off.

Last night, as I write this, David Letterman told of a man who sent his estranged girlfriend a dozen roses to try to win her over. “Who is Lois?” she demanded. He said, “What are you talking about?” She grew irate and threw the card at him. “It says the roses are from ‘Lois’.” He looked at the card and said, “You have it upside down. It’s your room number: 5107!”

Any way you look at it in this family, it’s Lois. She’s the best. Happy birthday, wonderful Mom. We’re all proud to be yours.

1 thought on “About Our Mother

  1. I don’t know how I missed this Saturday but I did. Thanks for the update today. I do enjoy sharing in your parents special days. Our Mom is turning 75 July 10 and we are having friends and family send her cards. There are other things taking place for Mom’s birthday and I guess you might say I have been taking care of getting it all together. It is lots of fun. She is going to have lots of surprises. We love doing things for she and Daddy. They have done so much for us. You take care and do have a great day. May the Lord continue to bless and use you and all your brothers and sisters right where you are for His glory. His name will be proclaimed and magnified when we are open to His call and sounds like nothing is going to stop you guys!


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