Since Henryville, Indiana, nearly went missing with a severe tornado March 2, 2012, Hoosiers have thought more seriously about the possibility of damage to our homes from tornados.
But not many of us apply this thinking to our church records and irreplaceable memorabilia. Here’s the point: If the trees in your churchyard are downed, they can be replanted; if the building is damaged, it can be repaired, but if your 1850s quarterly meeting record book gets swept away – that’s it, there’s no replacement.
Then there are fires, floods, vandalism, insects, sunlight, humidity, acidic paper and just plain human carelessness. So who should stand between your records and disaster?
Well, your local church trustees have a responsibility to help safeguard your treasures and provide a controlled environment for them (see The United Methodist Book of Disciplne ¶2533). But for really keeping an eye on things making sure they are archive preserved and kept from harm, there’s no one like a dedicated church historian.
The historian can help determine which valuables need to be placed in the Conference Archives (ours is located at DePauw University in Greencastle) and which need to be retained in the church. Also, which ones should be duplicated and backed-up offsite for safekeeping; and what kind of storage would be best for your collection (allowing room for growth); and what use can best be copied to thumb drives, CD-ROMs, DVDs or stored on a “cloud.”
It’s a big job, so the historian needs to be recruited with care. In most churches, the responsibility to preserve history is given to a committee. The history committee also needs a decent budget for equipment, supplies and contracting some outside repairs and preservation, plus a seat on the church’s council to participate in decisions involving the most valuable objects that the church owns – those which comprise its very heritage and legacy.
Then you’ll be able to recover if that disaster does come your way.
Dick Stowe serves as a member of the Indiana Conference Commission on Archives and History. If you have a question about storing valuable church information or history, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.