In the last column, I wrote about
the management of current, inactive and archival records (April
1998). Now I would like to be more specific and explore the what,
the when, the where, the who and the how of working with congregational
records. Here is one church's experience.
In progress: East
Goshen Mennonite Church
At East Goshen Mennonite Church, where I attend, a few interested
persons met recently to discuss this task. The church had celebrated
its 50th anniversary in 1992 by having a reunion of former pastors
and members. But little work had been done with the older records.
Now was an appropriate time also to do something because there
was a change of pastors and a church secretary.
The interested persons included the current and former congregational
historian and myself. We also quickly solicited the help of the
chair of the Property Commission, the Administrative Assistant
and the new Pastor, in making some decisions.
One of the first things was to take a tour of the church to see
where the current and older records were located. The first stop
was the church secretary's office. Marcella showed the committee
three four- drawer filing cabinets that contained current and
older records. She said she was in the process of cleaning them
up. She was putting older materials, which dated from about 1986
to 1997, into the beige filing cabinet (four drawers) and keeping
more current records in the two black cabinets (eight drawers).
She also indicated that a part-time secretary had gone through
these files earlier and pulled out the much older files, which
dated from 1946-1986. These filled up seven Archival Banker Boxes.
The year 1986 was a natural cut-off point, since it marked the
change of pastors from Cliff Miller (1973-1986) to a team ministry
of Dave Miller and Bob Keener, plus several shorter term ministers
After hearing about this work, the committee felt it would be
important to have some historical records remain in the main
church office. It was a central and natural place of activity
for the church, where persons like the pastor, the secretary,
church officers, and members could have quick access to the heritage
and history of the church.
They thought the beige four-drawer filing cabinet would be ideal
for this, and that it could then be marked "Historical Files."
The top drawer, for example, would include such things as a sample
of old church bulletins, an old church directory, the constitution,
newsletters, etc. The other three drawers could be a place where
the inactive records from 1986-1996 could be stored. Although
these records were not needed on a day-to-day basis, they provided
an important memory for the church.
The committee tested this idea with the church secretary and
the pastor, Steve, and received their green light. They also
seemed grateful that someone was figuring out how to work with
the older records of the church.
The next step would be to go through these four drawers and make
a list of file titles found in this cabinet. This list would
be the base from which one could discern what files were of long-term
An Archives Room
The next stop in the tour of the church was a storage room in
the basement, which was located off the side of one of the Sunday
school rooms. It was filled with the old church pulpit, Sunday
School curriculum, trophies from several sports events, several
unidentified boxes and some photograph albums. The congregational
historian indicated that the photograph albums were valuable
and should be kept. These albums were the result of the work
of designated church photographers, paid by the church to take
pictures at special events.
John, the chair of the Property Commission, then showed the committee
another smaller room in the basement across from the elevator.
It was 3' x 5' by 9' tall. It also had some shelves in it, and
had a door with a lock on it. The committee agreed that this
would be an ideal place for the beginning of an East Goshen Archives
Room. Here is where the older and bulkier church records could
be stored. A key could be provided to each committee member for
access to this room.
The committee then decided to transfer the seven Archival Banker
boxes of records into this room. These were the boxes that were
being stored in the church office. The photograph albums would
also be transferred here, plus any other older church records.
Dan, the congregational historian, reported that he had done
a cursory inventory of these boxes. They contained: 1) Church
Bulletins, 1946-1996, but with a gap for the years 1960-1984,
2) the newsletter called Church Visitor, 1960-1996, but with
a gap from 1960-1978, 3) several Church Directories, 4) Official
Church Records, 1946-1986, filed alphabetically from A-Z, and
found in four boxes, 5) MYF Photograph Album, 1979-1990, and
6) Special Events Photograph Album, 1987-1989.
The committee thought the next step would be to complete the
set of church bulletins and newsletters, and to make a file folder
listing of official church records, 1946-1986. This listing would
be filed in the top drawer of the Historical Records filing cabinet
in the church office, so the pastor, secretary and church officers
would know what was in the Archives Room.
Tape Recordings of
Special Events and Worship Services
I reported that I had recently received a whole bunch of older
cassette tapes from the librarian, when she had cleaned out the
library. These tapes were of worship services. They had been
cataloged into the library and used by church members. But now
most of the older ones that were over a year old were no longer
needed, and the librarian wanted to know what to do with them.
I reported that he thought this would be a good opportunity for
him to go through these tapes and see if there were any that
should be kept.
The librarian found a total of 342 tapes dating from 1975-1997.
There were however only 91 tapes from the period, 1975-1993,
and most of these tapes were of special church events. The committee
decided to keep half of these older tapes, plus the tapes that
focussed specifically on East Goshen church events. We discarded
tapes of conferences and special speakers that took place outside
of the church.
Which of the 250 tapes from 1994-1997, when the church regularly
recorded and kept tapes of all worship services, should be kept?
In going through this list of tapes, the committee decided to
keep only representative tapes of various speakers and services.
This amounted to 25 percent of the tapes.
Old Record Books, Video Tapes
Other older materials began surfacing. Melvin indicated that
he still had some old photographs that he had collected during
the 50th anniversary of the church. He also had done some research
and had written a chronology that listed pastors, changes in
the church building and membership. John noted that he had found
an old Mennonite Youth Fellowship minute book when they had repainted
the MYF room. Dan said that he knew that some videotapes had
been made of several special events of the church. He noted further
that I had collected those 120 cassette tapes.
The committee felt good that they could now say they had two
places to put these materials. They could go either into the
Historical Files in the main church office, or if the materials
were bulky, they could be placed in the Archives Room downstairs.
Directory of Archives
Besides finding a place to put the records, an end result of
this work would be to make an inventory of the church's Historical
Records. A good example of such a listing is the one given me
by Roscoe Miller, historian at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church,
Ohio. In the preface, Miller writes:
"The first effort at documenting records of the church does
not claim perfection. Materials have been found at unlikely places,
others have been donated during the recent past. We hope this
initial effort will help anyone doing research. We are grateful
for a separate and rather adequate room. Members should feel
free to use the archives."
The Table of Contents lists the various categories of materials
that have been collected. The next 15 pages lists the individual
I found materials in the directory dating as far back as the
1850s, and as recent as the 1980s. There were also some historical
articles that reached back to 1703. This directory provided me
with a quick glimpse into the rich documents from the faith and
heritage of the Walnut Creek Mennonite congregation from its
beginnings in 1862 to the present.
What then is the relationship between the congregation and the
regional archives? What is the purpose of the regional archives?
I would emphasize that a congregation should be in touch with
their regional archives. For many years, it has been the Historical
Committee of the Mennonite Church and the Conference Historians
of the various conferences that have actively collected, organized
and housed the archival records of their areas. This has included
collecting congregational records.
For example, the Archives here at Goshen has been the repository
for the congregations of the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference,
including East Goshen Mennonite Church. In checking East Goshen's
congregational box, one finds a complete set of church bulletins
from 1946-1997. One also finds several old photographs and a
few tape recordings. This is the result of the regional archives
actively collecting these records.
It would be advantageous for each congregational historian to
go to the regional archives to make a list of what is found in
their congregational box. Some things in that box may duplicate
what is found at the church, but that means that the church has
a second insurance set available to them.
In the end, it is an encouragement to the persons at the regional
archives to see historians from the local congregations actively
collecting records. The regional archivist would be able to provide
further guidance on what is of long-term value, how best to store
the records, and how to organize and make a list of them.
With the great amount of paper generated by congregations since
the 1950s, I think it will also prove helpful for both congregational
historian and archivist to put their heads together to decide
what materials are of ultimate historic and archival value. This
value is not uniform for every congregation, since each has its
own history and way of collecting their records.
Space can also be a premium at a regional archives, which is
not equipped to handle the large amounts of paper generated by
a congregation. So it is advantageous for the church to take
responsibility in collecting its own records, and together with
the regional archives, deciding what records are of most value.
At some point a congregation may decide to transfer certain older
historical records to the regional archives. For example, the
Holdeman Mennonite Church, Wakarusa, Indiana, has deposited its
old Membership Record Book in their congregational box at the
Archives. In the end, a regional archives may become the main
repository for the most valuable older church records.
Another reason to visit the regional archives is to see the broader
history and life of an individual congregation. For example,
at the Archives of the Mennonite Church in Goshen, one can page
through the record books of the Young People's Christian Association
of Goshen College to find that these young people held Sunday
Schools in East Goshen from the 1920s-1940s. This is the background
to the official founding of the church in 1942.
The Task of the Congregational
I can not begin to cover all the aspects of this work in this
one article, but hopefully the examples above will offer some
encouragement and guidelines. I would also like to point you
to the 20-page booklet The Task of the Congregational Historian
(1994), available for $2.00. It includes sections on a) collecting,
2) preservation, 3) interpreting your church's history, 4) directory
of regional archives, 5) suggestions on writing a congregational
history, and 6) conservation supplies.
Another good resource put out by the General Conference and Mennonite
Brethren Churches is the 30-page Heritage Preservation,
by David A. Haury (1993), available for $5.00. It covers almost
all aspects of this work. Both these books can be ordered from
the Archives of the Mennonite Church, here in Goshen.
The Story of Your Congregational
In my work, I keep hearing stories of how various churches have
worked with their records. Yesterday I heard that Salem Mennonite
Church, near Goshen, Indiana, had built cabinets upstairs in
the men's coatroom, which was no longer being used. This is a
natural place to start housing some of the older records. This
spring I received a telephone call from Southside Fellowship,
Elkhart, Indiana, asking how one decides how long to keep sermon
tapes. I did not hear the final results.
This spring I also saw the display case that Forks Mennonite
Church, Middlebury, Indiana, had built. Here the story was told
of all the missionaries that have been sent out from this congregation.
Several years ago Roscoe Miller had shown me the Archives Room
at Walnut Creek (Ohio) Mennonite Church.
Last year I talked with Joel Troyer over the telephone, and discussed
his efforts at the Parkview Mennonite Church, Kokomo, Indiana,
And I heard that North Main Street Mennonite Church, Nappanee,
Indiana, has a Homer North Historical Library, named after a
When I visited with Illinois congregational historians at a workshop
in Metamora two years ago, my impression was that it is easier
to have anniversary celebrations than find a handle to work with
older church records. But I also sensed an eagerness among the
24 workshop participants to start working with their church records.
I would invite you to send in a report of the work that has been
done with your church's records. I would then incorporate it
into this column. This can be one way we can encourage and help
each other preserve and tell our story of faith and heritage.
I will end with a story. When I was in my teen years and showed
some interest in our church's history, my father took me to church
and showed me a room that had been specially built to house the
church's records. He opened the door, and when I walked in all
I saw was an empty room. My father explained that it was going
to become a place to house older records. That was thirty years
ago. I wonder what that room now contains.
In the next article for this column (April 1999), I plan to write
about the current, inactive and archival records of the boards
and agencies of the Mennonite Church.
Dennis Stoesz has been an Archivist at the Archives of the
Mennonite Church since 1989