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Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Sacred Trust: Church and Congregational Archives

Community residents and family historians are always on the search for repositories that have materials and hard evidence that will help them tell the full stories of their family members and neighborhoods. A wonderful place for researchers to start is the local or family church. Many churches and congregations, of differing communities of faith, maintain church bulletins, photographs, parish meeting notes, and other records that contain valuable information not only about the congregation, but also about congregational members and the communities in which church outreach activities take place. Churches, mosques, temples, and other religious institutions may not have formal archival programs in place, but the materials they store—often in boxes, file cabinets, and back rooms—constitute the beginnings of significant church archives and history centers.
 
Participants in a church history workshop, c. 1989. The workshop developed into a long-lived program, Friends for the Preservation of African American History and Culture, sponsored by ACM. Photograph by Harold Dorwin.

 
Ben Ross, church historian for Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, Richmond, VA, in the church’s John Jasper Room and Museum. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings.
 Throughout its history, the Anacostia Community Museum has explored, collected, and preserved evidence of religious expression and experience in communities. One of the museum’s signature programs has been an ongoing informational and training initiative to identify and encourage local church historians and archivists to establish, maintain, and make accessible the archival records of their congregations and religious institutions. Originally called “The Unbroken Circle,” the initiative now known as “A Sacred Trust” periodically holds workshops, answers queries, and is preparing a church archives manual for broad distribution.

Preserving and making family and community history through church and congregational archives is indeed—A Sacred Trust!

Gail S. Lowe, PhD
Historian
Anacostia Community Museum

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