Kay Bradt and Stan Ingersol give tips on what churches should keep for their archives. (photo by Susan Cooper)
By Susan Cooper
Communications associate director
EMPORIA—Church memorabilia can be items to treasure. However, determining which items to keep, how to store them and where to keep the treasures can seem a daunting task.
A recent church history workshop at First United Methodist Church in Emporia tackled those quandaries. In a series of break-out sessions, attendees were given practical advice for preserving local church history.
Kay Bradt, of the Baker University archives, and Stan Ingersol, a United Methodist who works for the Church of the Nazarene archives, led a session called, “What to Keep and What to Toss.”
“There’s no ‘right way’ to do archives,” said Bradt.
However, there are guidelines to follow.
“You need to remember that not every record produced by your church has historical interest. Documentation needs to be those things that have historical interest,” she said. “Be aware of your church’s history because context is critical.”
Church records are the easiest items to archive, according to Bradt. The first step is to determine which records are still active. Those are records that are frequently consulted and having immediate access to them is still important.
Examples of active records are:
Only active records should be in the church secretary’s hands.
Some records can be tossed eventually. It’s important to review them annually. An administrative person, not just the archivist, should make decisions on financial and employment records.
Bradt cautioned that old records should be destroyed responsibly. They could contain confidential information.
Records to archive should be of historical interest and illustrate the life and activity of the church. Some examples are:
“All things that touch on membership are of a permanent nature,” Bradt said.
Archivists should work with the church office staff to determine what archival material might be missing and find out how securely the records are or will be kept.
Don’t move things off site that people are still using or looking at.
“‘Preservation’ and ‘access’ are two words that encapsulate archiving,” Ingersol said. “Preservation is about assembling collections, storage and security. Access should be able to be done in a timely manner and encompasses check-out and return accountability.”
There should be a designated person to act as the gatekeeper of the archives, he recommended.
“To determine what should be archived, ask yourself, ‘If I was to write a history of this church in 25 years, what materials would I need?’ Let this guide your thinking about archives,” Ingersol said.
He believes the backbone of archival records is the minutes from administrative council meetings because not only do they reflect the main business matters of the church but other committees usually report to the council. The minutes give an overview of the church’s monthly activity.
Minutes from the trustees’ and United Methodist Women’s meetings also are valuable.
Ingersol advised that churches keep:
He further recommended storing all bulletins for a year or two, then reviewing them and keeping only the important ones.
“But always keep some bulletins from every year. They document worship styles,” he said.
Video media can be valuable to archives. Ingersol suggested filming a typical worship service, a Christmas service and an Easter service every five or 10 years.
“Think of these in terms of samples of worship,” he said. “And get it onto digital media if it’s on film or videotape.”
One attendee said his church films each pastor’s exit interview and keeps it.
Ingersol recommended getting pastor interviews and other videos transcribed as a backup.
For more information on record retention, go to http://www.kansaseast.org/pages/detail/1225.