East Sunshine, formerly South National, has a rich religious history. In 1930 L.O. Sanderson instigated a move to create a new congregation at the edge of Southwest Missouri State Teachers College and use that location as an outreach to college students. On July 6, 1930 the first official meeting of South National Church of Christ took place with 104 people present. The congregation immediately launched a gospel meeting with G.C. Brewer, one of the leading evangelists in the churches of Christ at that time with L.O. Sanderson, a growing influential figure in the music environment, leading the singing. So, the congregation began enthusiastically, but immediately confronted challenges with the murder of one of its leading members, Marshall Mason, who was killed by an unstable man in Arkansas where he was conducting a meeting. An enthusiastic beginning, but an auspicious omen the future could be challenging.
So, after an unsteady beginning, a decade long depression where members had to make many financial sacrifices to keep the congregation functioning, a major world war, the South National congregation emerged in the late 1940s experiencing slow, steady numerical growth but owning their facilities. During the initial two decades, South National members suffered, feared, hoped, sacrificed, dreamed together and were led by strong leadership in its pulpit. Some of the men who served in this capacity were L. O Sanderson (1930-1935, 1950-1959), known for composing the hymn “Be with me, Lord”; C. E. McGaughey (1935-1937); C. L. Wilkerson (1937-1938); Cecil Wright, Roy Cogdill, Glenn Wallace, and Oscar Ellison during the 1940s.
The 1950s was a decade of uncertainty with factional problems, splintering into a new congregation, working together to resolve internal conflicts, while reaching out locally to the Springfield black community and helping establish new churches in surrounding communities including Bolivar and Branson.
Growth and Expansion
The 1960s and 1970s were decades of numerical growth and continued creative ministries—from a campus ministry outreach to Southwest Missouri State University, the inauguration of African and Brazilian foreign ministries, the creation of the first Family Life Center among the churches of Christ, and continued expansion of properties and building facilities. These decades ended with a view to the future and a potential relocation from the original location next to the university to a larger site in Springfield.
John Alley provided stability and served as pulpit minister during the 1960s. Then, Dr. Prentice Meador arrived in 1975 and filled this role for the next 13 years. During his tenure the congregation grew to >1000 in attendance.
A Time of Transition
In the late 1970s the leadership recognized the need to develop a strategy for a potential relocation because of space demands and the university’s plans to acquire additional property around the campus. In the late 1970s property was purchased near the intersection of two major routes—highway 65 and Sunshine. A beautiful piece of property, it provided not only a scenic site for the congregation, but the potential to build adequate facilities for further growth. Southwest Missouri State University purchased the original church properties in 1993 and the congregation began the transition process including constructing new facilities on its present location.
Mike Brazel, following a brief tenure by Ken Durham, served as pulpit minister until 2002 during this transitional phase. On December 10, 1995 the new educational and all-purpose facilities were dedicated and the current construction phase ended with the completion of a new 1400 seat auditorium in 2001.
The East Sunshine family anticipates serving God and the Springfield community faithfully in the 21st century and carrying on the rich tradition and history of the South National church of Christ.