Grateful for the Opportunity

This week, I continued plowing through the church archives, focusing on the materials that arrived last week.  As it turns out, most of them won’t have to go to Lancaster, as they are financial records whose legal retention has expired (I definitely don’t need to deposit tax returns from 1991).  So the world famous shredder (pictured in Hailey and Andrew Bartholomew’s 365 Gratefuls:  Celebrating Treasures, Big and Small) will get some more action soon.


 ImageAs I work with the materials, I am starting to think about how the records will be used when writing a history of Zion’s.  Some are quite obvious:  minutes of the Consistory (Church Council), treasurer’s reports, and church newsletters will help tell the story of how Zion’s operated as a congregation.  Records of baptisms, confirmations, membership, funerals—in other words, the records genealogists love—will show me how the size of the congregation changed over time.  “Losses” (i.e., members who transferred to other congregation) will demonstrate how the membership shifted over time as members moved to other parts of the United States—or, in 1968, followed one minister to his new charge.  Other records are not as obvious; as I sorted and filed the church bulletins, sometimes they had gems that will enliven what could be a dull story at times (however, I won’t provide a statistical analysis of a minister’s favorite hymns).



I also found these relics of the 20th century…


I am also finding that not only am I starting to think about potential research topics and the overall organization of a book, but I tend to stray from the task at hand.  One prime example is when I started filing the Consistory minutes for the 1940s, I noticed the name Ferdinand Thun as the translator for the first church constitution (one that probably is a lot more accurate than the one I did last year when researching my presentation at the Pennsylvania Historical Association annual meeting).  Thun was co-owner of Berkshire Knitting Mills in Reading, and he, along with his partner, Henry Janssen, were also vigorous supporters of Adolf Hitler.1  Thun and Janssen also had been investigated by the federal government in 1918, with their homes searched for German propaganda.2  So, while neither men were members of Zion’s (Thun did marry a daughter of one of the charter members of the church), somehow the church—which was extremely patriotic during World War II—also had connections to people who supported the Nazi Bund in Wyomissing during the Second World War. 



Board with photos of servicemen and women from Zion’s during World War II. My uncle Wayne is in the middle (5th row, 8th from left)


Processing the documents that arrived last week also was a bit sad.  I consciously know that the church has closed, that the congregation has ceased to exist, that Zion’s can no longer be the church home my mother remembers fondly, it didn’t fully sink in until I started going through the boxes that arrived last week.  Seeing church bulletins from 2011 (yes, you read that right) that celebrated the life of the church one last time brought about a sense of closure.  Reading the inspection reports prior to sale indicated the new owners probably would have to make some repairs, but the church building was in reasonably good shape given its age.  I was able to peruse the letters of transfer for the members, seeing where they found new church homes—ones that won’t be the same as Zion’s, but something that could serve their spiritual needs.  Looking at the financial records, however, made it clear that what happened in September 2010 was inevitable. 



[1] Philip Jenkins, Hoods and Shirts:  The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania, 1925-1950 (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 56.

[2]“Propaganda Hunt by Federal Agents,” New York Times, August 8, 1918.



About Karen

History Professor. Baseball fan. Author of two books, one of which I force my students to buy and read. You want me on your Trivial Pursuit team.
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