Ministry of Memory (UMTV)
Since 1982, the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History has housed denominational records and rare finds in its 16,000-square-foot space on the Drew University campus in New Jersey. Archivists point out that knowing the church's past is very important to the church's present.
Dale Patterson: "We describe our work here as the ministry of memory. We want to help the church remember where it's been, where it's come from, 'cause that helps inform who we are and gives us an orientation toward the future."
(Locator: Madison, New Jersey)
Dale Patterson, Archivist-Records Administrator, GCAH: "My name is Dale Patterson. And I'm the Archivist Records Administrator at the General Commission on Archives and History."
(Conversation in research library) Kathryn Dickinson: "It's great. It has wonderful visuals." Dale Patterson: "Great. Excellent."
Dale Patterson: "People from a variety of angles can come in and ask questions of the documents that are here which makes sense because when you think about it, what have we as a church done? We have tried, one way or the other, to have an impact on a variety of lives. We've reached out in mission work. We've challenged injustice when we've seen it. We've built hospitals. We've built retirement communities. We've touched a wide variety of life."
(Mark Shenise & John Goodwin looking at computer)
Mark Shenise: "Well we always scan it as what the original is. Then we can just touch up a copy."
Mark Shenise, Associate Archivist, GCAH: "My name is Mark Shenise. I am the Associate Archivist here at the General Commission on Archives and History. By order of the Book of Discipline, we are to take all the records of the general agencies. And we also collect personal papers of national or international people of some repute. A picture is worth a thousand words. And that's especially true in archival work. That's why all our photograph collections are very popular, not only to the serious researcher, but the genealogist or just the person off the street. These kids who are coming in, they were born in the 1990s now, that are using our material. They view the Vietnam War like we viewed the Civil War when I was growing up or World War I. It's like mining. You go through a lot of materials until you hit a vein of astonishing interest. And then once in a while you hit a mother lode. And that's what makes it exciting."
(Showing Bishop Otterbein's Bible) Mark Shenise: "This was given to Otterbein, printed in 1747. This is a great find."
Mark Shenise: "One of the things that we rediscovered was Francis Asbury's book where he rated appointments for ministers in New England and rated them. Asbury was not very shy on his feelings, either verbally or on paper. Whether the person was good, excellent, worthless, what have you, there it was. A researcher was looking at that for her dissertation, I said, 'I know this writing. I've seen this writing before.' And that's something that no computer can tell you. I looked at it and I said, 'That's Francis Asbury's book.' And lo and behold it was. So, we can always find those sort of things."
Mark Shenise: "Archives and History is important. We understand the situations that we face in the church and in the world by going back and looking at these materials to see how it came to be. It also gives hope to the denomination-a denomination that feels at times that it's under siege. We can become this beacon to the church and say, 'You've been there. You've done that.'"
Dale Patterson: "What's nice is we get people who respond back to us. They'll send us copies of their work or their articles that they've done. We keep those."
Mark Shenise: "Frequently we have people who are looking for vital church records. And they would mention that 'I was baptized at such and such a day, such and such a church. I think the pastor's name was this.' So we start this rapport and this conversation and after a while many will say to me, 'I kinda miss going to the Methodist church.' And I always say to them, 'Well, you know, the church is always there for you, whether you just want to come a little bit or just come back and reclaim your roots for a little bit.' I've had people who are angry at the church and not angry at the end. It's just wonderful. And it happens over and over and over, which is thrilling in many ways. My small contribution to the growth of The United Methodist Church."
The General Commission on Archives and History website offers a virtual encyclopedia of United Methodist history with featured stories, biographies, and family genealogy search tips. For more information, visit www.gcah.org or call 973-408-3189.
This story was originally posted on September 4, 2013.