Southern Chautaugua Presented to SEJ Historians During Annual Conference

The SEJ Historical Society meeting continued Tuesday morning with a prayer followed by a presentation on the Southern Chautauqua tradition at Monteagle, TN.

Ridley Wills is an author and historian of, alas, Presbyterian heritage, but he mearried Methodist and is an authority on both Chautauqua and Monteagle, TN.

Ridley Wills speaks on Monteagle Chautauqua.

SEJ Historical Society Annual Meeting Underway at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville

The Southeastern Jurisdictional (SEJ) Historical Society Annual Conference is now underway in Nashville. Andy Miller, chair of our Conference Society welcomed members from many conferences, both historical societies and Commissions on Archives and History.

Andy Miller addresses Conference during Opening session.

The conference will focus on Twentieth-Century Southern Methodism and  the Popular Culture. Speakers will cover a variety of subjects as well as have round tables to discuss issues related to the role of history in our mission.

Arthur Warren opens the first session of the business meeting for the jurisdiction

More to come as we commemorate our history during this, the Tennessee Conference’s 200th Anniversary.

Tennessee Conference Historian and recently appointed Historian and Archivist, Von Unruh.

Staff Improvement at the Historical Library and Archives

The Tennessee Conference historical library and archives (currently officially the archival depository) has been blessed with a change in staff that will greatly increase access to our collections. Von Unruh, past archivist and present Conference Historian, has been appointed to the position of Historian and Archivist. The position is part time as Von will also be serving as a local church pastor. The position is currently being referred to by a combined title, Tennessee Conference Historian and Archivist, although the role of conference archivist is actually a separate position appointed by the Commission on Archives and History while Rev. Unruh’s position of historian and archivist  came as a conference appointment.

The Historical Library and Archives will begin a new schedule, being opened most weekdays in the mornings through very early afternoon. The exact hours will soon be posted. (Please note: we are still short staffed and Rev. Unruh has many pastoral duties, so it is always a good idea to call first to be sure the depository is open before coming down to do research.) As always, the archives may be opened by appointment on a staff availability basis should a researcher be unable to  make the usual times. Staff restrictions also make only limited research requests to be answered from a distance.

Von brings with him an intimate knowledge of the library and archives, as well as an extensive knowledge of Methodist (in general) and Tennessee Methodist History. He is a trained historian and researcher in addition to being an elder of the church. His appointment bodes well for an increased energy in the Conference’s “ministry of memory.”

Jim Havron will remain as an archivist, although he will now be under the direction of the historian and archivist. We will also still have the services of various volunteers and our administrative assistant, Jackie McFarland.

Growing Stronger in Our Ministry

Just a note that the Tennessee Conference Commission on Archives and History, which has suffered several setbacks in recent years because of sickness, injury and death among its members, has added several new faces who have joined because of a strong passion for history in the church. Leland Carden is serving as president as we have worked to prepare budgets, address staffing needs, prepare for our role in the SEJ Historical Society Meeting that will be held in Nashville in a few weeks, and generally coordinate the work of the committee.

The CAH has also had joint meetings with the leadership of the Conference Historical Society while planning the SEJ meeting. These meetings have been productive enough that there has been talk of continuing in this format to further extend the connection between the two entities. (Of course, any official business by either group is conducted solely with the votes of the members of the group involved.)

Celebrating Archives Month! – 10 Reasons for Methodists to Save Documents and Historical Objects

October is both National and Tennessee Archives Month. I have spoken with a good number of church historians (sorry if I haven’t gotten to you; feel free to email me at archivist@tnumc.org) and encouraged them to establish records management programs and archives if they did not already have them. I have also encouraged them to use this time to make a concerted efforts to recover the church records that were in “Granny Williams'” trunk and celebrate their return. I also noted that the Conference archives will gladly take copies of such records for preservation or keep the originals, if the charge has no ability to do this.

One thing I found, (not surprisingly, actually) was that many folk do not see the importance, in the grand scheme of things, of keeping all that stuff. Will it help feed someone? Will it bring someone to Christ? Will it support someone’s faith as they deal with the death of a loved one or some other tragedy? Is it that important?

As someone who wrestled long and hard with the idea that a person could be called to “memory ministry,” I answer unequivocally, “Yes!” (I will cover this idea later in another piece, as I have written a more extensive document on the subject and will extract passages to make it appropriate for this forum.)

There are many reasons I give this answer, but below I have a sort of “Top 10 List. They aren’t necessarily the top reasons, but they are quick, easy to understand, and cover several areas of use of records. They come, with the exception of number 10, from the conversations I have had with church historians and staff of different kinds, secretaries, clergy, and laity, regarding this topic. I particularly like the last one, which is just a quote, but which I use frequently enough to have printed on a business card. So here they are. For Tennessee Archives Month:

“Ten Reasons Why Methodists Should Actively Pursue Keeping Records and Preserving Their History”

1.       Records and church documents are testimony. Can you imagine the Bible without the testimony of Peter and Paul through the Epistles? Our historical documents are the testimony of saints.

2.       What is not history today will be tomorrow; what is not important or unusual today, may be tomorrow.

3.       Preservation of our history is a gift to our descendants. I have seen tears of joy in the eyes of many people when they found evidence of the activities of their ancestors or the early days of their congregation.

4.       Documents may help us discern and explain the truth. In a world where our youth (and older folk as well) are bombarded by opinions about all manner of things, through all manner of media, there must be some place that they can go to see original sources, allowing them to base their opinions and beliefs on less filtered information. It is amazing how many people get incorrect ideas about Christianity and other things from the opinions of other people whom they have never met and about who they know little.

5.       Record preservation helps resolve disputes. More than once in the past few years disputes regarding past actions of the church were resolved by consultation of records. By the same token, I have seen the absence of records leave arguments unresolved and seen dissension grow.

6.       Historical documents show our relationship with the Methodist Church as a whole and the Church Universal. They also help us see our relationship with the world at large and how we both affect and are affected by it.

7.       Maintenance of church records is part of our tasks as Methodists, outlined in the Discipline and further defined by the actions of various Commissions and Committees.

8.       Maintaining our records is a good idea for very practical reasons. As of this writing, 3 times in the last 6 months, I have been asked as conference archivist to search for records that would prove changes in the structure of a congregation or support actions they have taken with distinct legal and monetary repercussions.  In none of the 3 cases had the records been deposited with the archives, so I was unsuccessful. In 2 cases we were able to find some things that helped, but in 1, there was nothing.

9.       In many cases, records maintenance is required by law. In many more cases, a well implemented records management program may save a church from severe consequences in a legal action. The presence of such a program is a defense, its absence a tool for a plaintive against the church.

10.   “Biblical faith takes history very seriously because God takes it seriously”Frederick Buechner

One last thing. I work in the secular world of archives. In the past several years I have had the pleasure of doing outreach, helping people with their own programs, and just generally working with folk regarding history on different levels. In a secular world (e.g. working for the Nashville Public library, my former employer) if someone looks at you and thanks you for your ministry, you know it makes a difference.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. He holds a Masters in History and is a Certified Archivist, working in the public sector in addition to his work with the church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with practice focusing on religious history, oral history, and user advocacy. His primary area of historical expertise is the creation, preservation, perpetuation, dissemination, and use of information and technology, as well as religious history. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org. He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

Damage Response and Planning for Your Collections at Church or at Home: Part 1

Nashville and surrounding environs have been hit hard in the recent floods. I have had more requests for individual assistance than for institutional assistance. I have never seen or heard of more family, or otherwise “special,” Bibles in need of salvage at one time. I have promised to put some links up so people can find sources of information useful to both plan for and react to disaster. I have some here, but first I a few tips that come from my experience and that I have found helpful:

  1. Plan. Like having insurance, an escape route, knowing your doctor’s phone number, etc., a disaster plan needs to be in place before disaster hits. In most cases, 48 hours is the outside time to take action if you wish to salvage things. In some cases, it is less. A good disaster plan includes prevention and reaction/salvage.
  2. In the past several weeks, I have discovered that this really needed saying. Review your plan; practice your plan; and make sure everyone who needs to know it does know your plan!!! The people who were on site at my shop were supposed to call me in an emergency, but did not. Our damage was not something that I would have known about had someone else in the building not informed me. Several people told me the same thing or something similar has happened to them. Others told me they had a plan, but had forgotten where some of the things needed to carry it out were. Ooops. We got stung.
  3. Have a Plan B. And prioritize. Make sure you decide  what is most important to get done, what resources you have available to do what tasks, and plan on what you will do if you can’t get it all done. Decide what you will do if things don’t work. For that matter, it can’t hurt to have a Plan C, Plan D, etc.
  4. Plan for your plan not working! Our local church has most of its records copied on microfilm backups and kept at our conference archives in case we cannot recover the originals. Many of my family records have been copied, digitized and spread around the family so there are copies. They won’t be the same as the originals, but they are better than nothing. We have also donated some items to archival repositories, both to make them available to others, and because we know the repositories have a better chance of preserving them than do we.
  5. Learn from your mistakes. Drill. See what happens. Get someone else to review your plan, and listen to their suggestions. (We did both, but still took a hit. It was, however, much less of a hit than it could have been otherwise.)
  6. Collaborate! Find out what resources you have that others need and what others have that you need. We have a list of available freezers in the area where we can freeze water damaged items. My wet-vac and fans have been borrowed by others, and I borrowed an extra dehumidifier I needed. I also took in some material to hold for others when there was no room for it elsewhere. I knew who had what before I needed it, and my colleagues knew what I had. We also share expertise. As soon as possible after the floods started, and before I started answering too many questions from those in need, I was on the phone to the Tennessee State Library and Archives to see if they would be available for conservation referrals (they were, of course,) and there were others who volunteered to help as needed. I talked to several folks that were connected through the Society of Tennessee Archivists. We made the most of available resources.
  7. Make a kit with emergency salvage supplies to keep on site, but have others at other places where you can reach them in a hurry. You will likely feel most foolish if your bucket of rescue materials floats away in a flood. The same is true of your disaster plan and contact numbers.
  8. Know who to call and make sure others know as well.
  9. Do take training. Do take training. Do take training.
  10. If it is really important, get a professional.
  11. Remember, mold is not your friend and it can be there when everything seems to be clean and dry.
  12. Vital!!! As important as it all is, as much as we value the things that preserve our history, remember: It’s just “stuff.” No matter what an item represents, even a religious item, it is just a piece of “stuff.” If you can’t save it, let it go. Don’t make it an idol. If folks are alive, rejoice! If you have to let “stuff” go to help others heal, let it go. Most of us can’t begin to imagine how much “stuff” we have lost over the years (okay, those of us who have been doing our family tree might be able to begin to feel it a bit; “Why didn’t someone write down that name?”,) or will loose in the future, without the world slowing down for a nanosecond.

Now for a few of my favorite conservation/disaster planning/disaster recovery links:

I am not a big one for promoting specific products, but the Heritage Emergency National Task Force site (FEMA and Heritage Preservation) has a neat little wheel and guide book that make designing basic disaster plans and responding to emergencies easy. It is not all one really needs, but is better than nothing and very easy to use. It is particularly useful for folks who are not trained in archives work. The wheel even has little magnets so it can be put on a refrigerator or metal file cabinet. I have used it for workshops, and ordered more to place in offices of non-archive staff who might end up being first responders. Their site is here. It has other information as well.

Salvage techniques including tables that make for easy quick reference, here and here.

Short guide to emergency drying procedures from the Library of Congress here.

Preservation leaflets for books and records here,  and for photos here. (There are also links to more leaflets by Northeastern Document Conservation Center.)

Emergency stabilization and conservation procedures here.

Salvage for films here.

Conservation subjects from National Archives and Records Administration here.

Minnesota Historical Society’s list of links for disaster recovery. (Dated, meaning all links may not be good, but a great resource in my opinion,) here.

The General Commission on Archives and History will help with developing disaster plans for the UMC. Be sure to check your local church, archives, museum or associations that include these for more resources.

The American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, American Association of Museums, International Council of Museums, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all have resources available for purchase.

Hope these are of service. We will post a bit o what we have had to deal with, including some pictures, soon. As requested and promised, we are working on some quick, “down-and-dirty-minimum-required-actions” tutorials for this blog using some actual materials. We will post more tips, and encourage others to do so through the comment section.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. He holds a Masters in History and is a Certified Archivist, working in the public sector in addition to his work with the church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with practice focusing on religious history, oral history, and user advocacy. His primary area of historical expertise is the creation, preservation, perpetuation, dissemination, and use of information and technology, as well as religious history. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org. He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

Disaster Planning and Action for Your Historical Collections

In Tennessee and adjoining states, in general, and in the Nashville area in particular, we have just suffered major flooding and loss of property. We should first remember that we have had loss of life as well, and the bottom line on the property is that it is just “stuff.” Even if it is irreplaceable, it is still just stuff. Nothing is more valuable than the lives, so pray for those who have lost loved ones.

I still opened this post with the property issue because I have had some contacts from church folk who want to know what to do about their damaged records and historical items. Here is a preliminary list of responses to some questions.

  • Unfortunately, in some cases there will be little that I can do to help. In others, I will send (and have sent) basic preservation information or offer advice. I will be meeting with a couple of folks regarding their collections later in the week. I am willing to help as much as I can if time allows, but I do work full time and have other responsibilities as well. If you are trained in such things and able to help, please let me know. If you are in need of help, contact me via e-mail, archivist@tnumc.org.
  • If you can’t reach me, try to reach a trained archivist, curator, or conservationist immediately!!!! Time is vital! Chances are I will send you to someone with more training than I have anyway. I have had or conducted workshops and seminars, passed my conservation and preservation section on my certification exam, and have some practical experience, so I can help. If you can find someone better at it than me or I can direct you to a better authority, that will be in everyone’s best interest. Those who work day-to-day with this are the best. I consult them when I can myself, so I suspect you will wish to as well.
  • There are copies of suggested disaster plans and recovery methods used by the UMC available. I will try to get them to whomever needs them.
  • If you are a member of another denomination or confession, I will happily help if help if I can, but I also will try to put you in touch with your structure. They may know of resources available to you of which I am unaware. They will certainly know better than I what is the biggest priority in your collection based upon types of records kept, what is most valuable to your practices, and where there may be other copies.
  • Remember that anything that has been submerged or exposed to flood water should be treated as toxic!!!! Gloves, protective clothing, clean-up well afterward. Tetanus shots are in order if there are any scratches or open wounds, no matter how small the injury or contact.
  • COW-MMM, Clouds of Witnesses-Memory Ministry and Missions, will be refining its “Basket or Bag” training to help people prepare for personal disaster by learning to prioritize and prepare what records and documents one most needs to take along in an emergency and how to prepare to minimize damage to the rest. It will be available again soon. There will be more on this as we develop a larger staff, but if you know of someone in need of this, please contact me. (Basket or bag refers to getting things down to what will fit in a large handbag or a basket that can be carried in one hand. We work on that, steps than can be taken to help preserve other items or the history they represent, and developing a mindset that helps us let go of the rest. I say “us” because I’ve been there.)
  • I have spoken with a colleague who is an archivist for a large church connection and with whom I have worked on other projects in the past. We hope to work out plans for special workshops or training for local churches on disaster planning and recovery. The idea will be to pool resources, hopefully including experts from different fields and professionals from different confessions who work at multiple levels of organization (local church, diocese, convention, denomination, historical society, etc.) We are archivists and historians, so records and historical collections are our focus, but we may work out ways to present this in a larger context of disaster planning and recovery for life in general. More to come.
  • The Society of Tennessee Archivists has potential resources that may be accessed as well. There are professional conservators among our membership.

Stay tuned for updates. Email if you need to.

Jim

Jim Havron, MA, CA

Archivist- TN Conf. UMC

Service Reduction at Tennessee Conference Archives

Lack of parking has created an access issue for Archives and Library staff, most all of whom have full-time jobs apart from their work at the archives. The time spent in extra travel, coupled with the inability to access the archives for transfer of supplies and collection material, has caused us to have to greatly reduce the amount of service we can provide potential patrons.

We regret to say that, although there will still be times when we can make appointments to allow patrons to access the collections, the majority of the time research will have to be handled by our very limited reference service staff. (At present, this consists of a single volunteer with full-time employment elsewhere and a family.)  The same is true of processing that needs to be done to collections. We will continue to take in records and other documents that are appropriate as long as we can provide appropriate preservation and conservation, but it may be some time before these collections are made available to the public.

We hope the day will come soon that we can remedy this situation, but in the meantime, we ask your patience.

Feel free to contact the Conference Archivist, Jim Havron, with any questions at archivist@tnumc.org

Jim Havron CA, MA

A Question of Time for Historians Planning Programs

Ah. The perennial question (here.) Or at least the decennial one.

This is a dilemma for many folks in doing planning for church historical events. When it comes right down to it, from the point of view of the age of, say, a congregation, it probably doesn’t matter if you celebrate the advent or completion of it’s 100th year.

But it is an interesting conundrum for others when determining decades, centuries and millennia as to whether to use one’s instincts (if they run that way; mine do not but then I’m peculiar) and say that the year 2010 was the start of a new decade and what went before was the first decade of a new century, or to follow the logic of the Heretic archivist and see that 2010 is the last year of the decade and therefore next Dec. 31/Jan. 1 is when we should look back.

I guess that the fact that so many people have trouble grasping this one is partly a “right-brain, left-brain” thing, but is not helped by the fact that there have been several acknowledged errors in the creation of the various calendars over the year and the inclusion of the erroneous (isn’t that term ironic?) statement that “a year zero was accidentally left out” among them seems to be readily accepted. The argument on the Heretic archivist site is, however, basically correct if you have a wish to check it out.

Where are You as Far as Keeping the Faith?

During the past year I have had both struggles and blessings when it comes to the way I have been able to approach and execute my job as Archivist for the Tennessee Conference. The biggest items in each of these categories center around the attitudes that local churches take towards their own role in keeping the evidence of their heritage of faith and the importance of that heritage to the churches.

In the blessings category, I rarely have a week go by that I do not receive a request from some church (granted, not always a Methodist one) for advice regarding the proper way to record and preserve their history, on methods for presenting the history of the church, or for suggestions on how to stir interest in that history. When members of some churches tell me that such things are not really that important, that churches rarely do or should spend resources in trying to preserve their history in a professional manner because they are not filled with history professionals, I am supported by the fact that for every one lay or clergy person who tells me such things I have requests for help from about two. Amen!

In the struggle category are not only those who suggest that professional and informed methods are a waste of resources rather than a ministry of the church, but those who are frustrated by the absence of records regarding their churches to be found in the Conference archives. They do not understand that the records that we have are what are given to us and that we do not have a staff to actively record the information on each church so that it will be here at some future date. If the church does not choose to keep it, and furthermore to give copies to the Conference, we do not have it, unless it has fallen into our laps by chance. That means that when, 40 years from now, one of the churches that does not now think much of the importance of keeping its records celebrates its bicentennial, we will not be able to fill in the gaps in their records for them.

Properly, the records of the various districts and the Tennessee Annual Conference no longer in active use but deemed to have historical value (hopefully through the criteria set forth in a good records plan such as that suggested by the General Conference) should come to us. We also should be available to take records that a local church cannot care for or to take copies they may wish to deposit with us for safekeeping. We are quite willing to do all of this. We are also supposed to receive the records of closed churches in the Conference. We do, however, rely upon the local churches and districts to provide us with their records. The Discipline gives the Annual Conference Commission on Archives and History the responsibility and authority to set up records management for the actual records of the Conference.

I would like to bring attention to a change in the wording of the Discipline over the last couple of editions regarding the role of the Local Church Historian. In the past, it was just suggested that the church have one and his or her duties were vaguely defined. In the most recent editions of it is still not mandatory for a church to have this position filled, but in the event it is, the duties are well spelled out. The Historian has “custodial” authority over historical records and objects. This is a specific, professional and legal term. I urge local churches to take their duty to preserve the faith seriously, and church historians to do all they can to exercise their authority in a faithful manner. This is not only their call and duty in a moral and ethical sense, but quite possibly in a legal one as well.

Keep the Faith.

Jim

Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron is a Certified Archivist and  currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. His primary historical research expertise is the history of communication and information theory and practice. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org. He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

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