Freed-Hardeman Bible Lectureship: History, Tradition and New Additions

Lectureship // February 5, 2016

Freed-Hardeman University will host the 80th Annual Lectureship Series, “In My Place: The Servant Savior in Mark,” on the Henderson campus Feb. 7-11, 2016. While this year’s event will add new programs for the needs of today’s audience (, it will build on a rich history.

1926 – Present

This year’s lectureship will continue a legacy that began in January 1926, when an event known as the Preacher’s Course was launched. That gathering included sessions covering church history, Bible geography, young preachers’ meetings, sight singing and even English and spelling. To further enhance learning opportunities at the month-long event, the library remained open around the clock to allow attendees to research the topics discussed in the lectures.

The Great Depression brought about a ten-year lapse in the continuity of the Lectureship, but courses resumed in 1937 with approximately 70 preachers from 17 states attending. A special feature of the 1937 event was the burning of a mortgage that had been placed upon the school. A banquet was held in the dining hall (now the first floor of the Draughon building), with Mr. and Mrs. N.B. Hardeman presiding.

College officials had started the courses because of Freed-Hardeman’s “earnest desire . . . to render every help possible,” according to the 1943-44 Bulletin. The article explained, “We know that there are a number of preachers who cannot spend an entire session in school, and who, being largely isolated in their work, feel the need of contact and discussion of the various problems.”

These courses were repeated through 1942. Around 1943, the length of the courses was reduced from a month to two weeks. Since 1961, the FHU Bible Lectureship has been held annually during the first full week of February.

Although circumstances have changed and preachers are not nearly so isolated as they once were, the Lectureship still fills the need for “contact and discussion,” and many of the features of the early sessions continue today, perhaps in a somewhat altered form. For example, in 1942 a series of debates were held. Even now, the program usually includes a mock debate on some issue, and Open Forum still includes discussion of various issues.

In the 1940s, preachers could secure room and board at the college for $1.50 a day. In 1946, planners almost canceled the event because there were not enough accommodations in Henderson for guests; local homes were already housing the regular student body. Two men, Frank Van Dyke and Howard Parker, came to the rescue by securing lodging for 100 visiting preachers in Jackson homes. That allowed the lectureship to proceed. During contemporary lectureships, Henderson’s accommodations are typically filled, and hundreds of guests stay in Jackson and the region, as well. In keeping with tradition, however, many Henderson and Freed-Hardeman families still open their homes to visitors for the week.

In the 1950s, Mrs. D.E. Mitchell served tea to visiting ladies on Thursday afternoons. Later, the cafeteria offered free coffee each afternoon for Lectureship visitors. Today’s attendees spend time together in the Brewer Sports Center Lobby with Beloved F.H. Brew, the FHU Associates’ coffee shop. There they enjoy doughnuts, warm baked pastries, desserts and snacks, along with café au lait, hot tea, hot caramel apple cider or a signature flavor coffee: Bell Tower Blend, Three Swings and a Ring or The Lion Sleeps Tonight. 

In 1954, Lora Laycook, a dorm supervisor and teacher of children’s Bible classes, broke new ground for the FHU Bible Lectureship when she conducted a demonstration class for teaching preschoolers. It’s likely that she was the first woman to appear on the program. Current lectureships feature many classes taught by women and sessions for improving Bible schools.

Memories from John R. Hall

One person who has witnessed many of the changes in the Freed-Hardeman Bible Lectureship is John R. Hall, who plans to attend his 55th in February 2016. Between 1966 and 2004, with an absence in the middle, Hall was the director of the A Cappella Singers at FHU. He also was a member of the staff on two separate occasions, including a stint as director of alumni relations and public information.

His lectureship history, however, began much earlier. He attended his first at age two, when the school was still known as Freed-Hardeman College. He recalls the 1950s, when the largest building in Henderson was the auditorium of the Henderson Church of Christ. Chapel and evening lectures were held there, including memorable lessons from the late, much revered Marshall Keeble. Hall remembers the “wonderful” singing led by Billy Nicks and his father Tommy Nicks. 

The grandson of Freed-Hardeman professor W. Claude Hall, John Hall remembers fondly the times his grandfather invited lectureship speakers to gather around his table for “good time talks.” The guests included the likes of L.L. Brigance, L. R. Wilson, H. A. Dixon, C. P. Roland, Robert Witt, Gus Nichols and others. Getting to sit around the table and hear those guests talk made the young Hall feel like an “insider,” he said.  His grandfather spoke in joyful anticipation of "Old Brother Puckett from Kentucky" coming to spend the week with them. The only problem the younger Hall saw with this was that "Old Brother Puckett" was about 10 years younger than his grandfather. 

Music has long been a feature of the lectureship. In the early 1940s, former Freed-Hardeman president H.A. Dixon taught sight singing, vocal music and theory. In 1951, Kelley Doyle directed the FHC Chorus in a performance, beginning the tradition of choral group presentations during the week. Performances by the Freed-Hardeman University Chorale, the Ambassadors and the Lectureship Chorus, comprised of alumni who have been a part of various campus groups and others, are slated for this year, as well as periods of congregational singing.

Hall’s most treasured lectureship memory is attending the 2015 series with his granddaughter Abby. That week, Abby attended classes, rehearsed with the Alumni Chorus and sang in the Thursday evening concert with her grandfather.

For the past several years, Hall and three of his colleagues have taught a week-long class on singing in worship and will do so again this year. Hall will be working with John P. Wiegand from San Francisco, editor of the Praise for the Lord hymnal; James Tackett, creator of The Paperless Hymnals; and Leon Sanderson from Memphis, son of songwriter L. O. Sanderson. 

On Thursday evening of the 2016 lectureship, Hall, along with his former student  and current FHU faculty member Dr. Gary McKnight, will conduct the Lectureship Chorus and the FHU Chorus in a valedictory program. Hall invites singers of all ages and abilities, alumni or not, to participate in the Thursday evening program. The repertoire will be classic hymns in honor of the 80th anniversary and a few contemporary songs.

Tradition and Addition

According to the 1943-44 Freed-Hardeman Bulletin, organizers of the first gathering in 1937 were pleased with the result of their labors. It stated, “The interest manifested and the good accomplished were beyond our fondest hopes.” Dr. Doug Burleson, who is directing the FHU Bible Lectureship for the first time in 2016, and the Lectureship committee look forward to a similar assessment of their work.