Church History

Looking After Your Church History

Here are some suggestions about safeguarding those areas of church life which can get overlooked until a crisis occurs, perhaps a theft or some form of damage and the need to submit an insurance claim. Alternatively, when a church closes, a systematic approach to record keeping may make the event a little less raw.

The written word– Until relatively recently the phrase, “people of the book” would have had immediate resonance, and although electronic systems aid communication in wonderful ways, there is a continued need for formal Minutes and Accounts. A record of any organised activity within the congregation is essential. Add to these lists of members, special events and church magazines, all dated. Marriage registers should normally be kept in a safe, and it would be sensible to store any internal record of baptisms/services of thanks giving for the birth of a child, and of funeral services alongside these. Grave stones will not come within the purview of most congregations, but where they do some kind of listing should be made.

The visual reminders – Digital photography is a boon when it comes to making a record of the fabric whether furnishings, lighting fixtures or stained glass. Wall tablets and plaques may mean very little to the contemporary congregation, but those in pursuit of their own family history will be delighted to receive confirmation of lives well lived. War memorials deserve special attention, particularly at a time of many significant anniversaries of events around the two major world wars. It might be worth turning out that cupboard in the vestry to discover if any architectural plans are stored there, or photographs of the old fashioned sort, especially if there have been alterations to the building. Such pictures are of limited value if the event, place and person(s) cannot be identified – enlist the older generation.

The memoir – Recollection can take different forms. Congregational histories which mark the big moments of church life give glimpses of persons and priorities, but an audio/visual recording is equally valuable, in presenting a snap shot of church life at a particular moment in time, provided that recording medium can be updated as the technology changes. (This will affect digital photography further down the line too). Such engagement also provides opportunities, with some skilful interviewing, of involving the entire age range in a church community. Nor should groups who use the premises be overlooked, mums and toddlers, the Keep Fit class, etc.

The family silver – Communion ware will usually be stored securely, and care taken to have it valued at regular intervals. Here again a photographic record is important, and such a record should not be stored alongside the pieces! And if the doors do close for the last time, URC congregations are advised to seek help from the Synod Office over any material connected with trusts, charity endowments or ownership of property. The County Record Office for the area will be happy to advise on the deposit of most of the material mentioned above, while some University Libraries, where there is a Local History Department, are interested in oral history. On no account allow a well-meaning member to take something home for “safe-keeping”, a simple rule to avoid the possibility of loss.

Margaret Thompson