The Reverend Paul Grubb was laid to rest in Memorial Park on Monday afternoon. Brother Grubb, as his many followers and friends called him, had been the pastor of Faith Temple on North Trezevant for more than half a century. He was also married to the Rev. Lula Grubb (left), and the obituary in The Commercial Appeal made no mention of his wife’s remarkable adventure — one that made her a national sensation in the late 1940s.
Lura Grubb died and visited heaven for five hours. Then she came back to earth to tell us all about it.
At the age of 17, while living on a farm in Mississippi, Lura supposedly “died” of meningitis. A doctor, she said, declared her dead. As she later recounted in her very popular book, Living To Tell of Death, she woke up in heaven, surrounded by angels who wore “unimaginably sheer, cobwebby robes.” During her brief visit, Lura says, “A fountain was opened above me, as if by the magic touch of a controlling switch on the arm of God’s throne. Then a warm, soothing oil began to run down over my body, healing me as it flowed.” Although she desperately wanted to stay in heaven, as you might imagine, Lura told believers, “God sent me back as a help and a warning to mankind.” All of her ailments, she claimed, vanished: “As the soothing oil of Heaven reached my internal organs, I had the sensation of a ball — the size of a baseball — uprooting in my abdomen and rolling rapidly upward until it came out of my mouth and disappeared.”
Sister Grubb spent the rest of her life telling this amazing story, and “she became the subject of wonder and firm belief from the pious farm folk.” That I can certainly understand. But what seems really strange is that Lura apparently visited stores across the country looking for the same material worn by the angels. “I’ve searched the stock of the hundred largest department stores and fabric centers, from New York to Los Angeles,” she told one newspaper reporter, “and have not yet found material to compare to the angel-spun robes of the sainted throng.” Why on earth would she think she could find such heavenly things — on earth?
Lula died — this time for good, I guess — several years ago and is also buried in Memorial Park. Maybe what she encountered was true. Who’s to say, really?
But I’m not making fun of them here. The Reverends Paul and Lura Grubb devoted almost their entire lives to their ministry, and they believed passionately in what they did. They established the Central Assembly of God Church in Memphis in the late 1940s, originally holding services in a home on North Manassas. In 1948, for a sum that was “less than $100,000″ they purchased the magnificent Gage Mansion, originally constructed in 1913. Designed by George Mahan and James Broadwell, two of our city’s most distinguished architects, the 22-room Gage Mansion was unusual because it actually housed two separate families: the Gages and the Proudfits. A huge reception hall was flanked by matching living rooms, spiral staircases, baths, and suites of bedrooms.
Members of the Hein Park and Springdale civic clubs raised a storm of protest over the purchase, saying the church would lower property values and “destroy the peace and quiet of their community.” This was not your typical Baptist or Methodist congregation, you understand. According to a Press-Scimitar article, one neighbor said services “were of an emotional and demonstrative nature, and are held at irregular and infrequent intervals.” There were also accounts of faith healings and other “miracles” performed by the Grubbs (mainly Lura) that apparently upset non-believers.
City officials eventually decided the Grubbs’ church could indeed use the old Gage property, but only if they made the entire mansion fireproof. That was probably an attempt to scare them away. Instead, the Grubbs announced plans to build a 2,000-seat Colonial-style sanctuary in the front yard. The mansion, tucked away almost out of sight behind it, would serve as an education building. The new building, renamed Faith Temple (below), opened in the mid-1960s, though construction continued on it for another decade — a good deal of it conducted by Brother Grubb himself (below), always clad immaculately in a coat and tie.
But the church’s troubles weren’t over. On the night of June 23, 1968, in the wake of citywide violence following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. two months before, an arsonist hurled a firebomb through the windows of the mansion, burning it to the ground. The site of the old house is now a parking lot behind Faith Temple.
Brother Grubb retired from preaching in 2002, but I believe services were still held in Faith Temple for several years afterwards. I wish I could tell you more about the current status of the building, but I just don’t know what will happen with it.
PHOTOS OF PAUL AND LURA GRUBB COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES