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).

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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Now that all the materials have arrived…let the games begin!

 

This past Thursday (October 3), the Reverend Dr. Robert G. Aregood, the last pastor at Zion’s United Church of Christ, and his wife Barbara delivered the remaining boxes and tubs of materials for my sabbatical project.

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The last of the records have arrived!

Some of the files will probably be shredded (the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society doesn’t have a use for bank records for closed accounts), while others will be checked, placed in new files, and put into boxes for sorting.  Once everything has been placed into files (at least everything that can be placed in a file), then the next step begins:  organizing the materials into the categories established by the ERHS (see https://historyeducator.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/i-should-have-bought-stock-in-staples/ for a list of the categories).

One of the items in the most recent delivery is conveniently labeled The Practical Church Record.

It includes sections on Constitution (these pages are blank, because the most recent church constitution is in another location), Our Pastors (blank), Our Officers—Elders (blank), Officers—Deacons (blank), Record of the Baptism of Infants (1962-2010), Record of Confirmation (1962-2006), Members Admitted (1962-2009), Marriages (1963-2011), Losses (including dismissals and deaths) (1962-1997), Those Who Passed On (1962-2010), and Communion Record (1962-2000).  This is the last volume of church records for the congregation.  Receiving this volume was a bit bittersweet, because even though I know Zion’s closed in September 2010, receiving these records to organize for deposit made it final.

The new arrivals also included a variety of items that reflected not only the closing of a church (the church seal is now in my possession, to be included with other non-paper items when they are deposited at the historical society), but also commemorations of Zion’s contributions to the city of Reading (including a proclamation signed by the mayor).

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More church bulletins have been uncovered in the boxes and tubs.  Minutes for the Consistory for the last few years are now in folders, waiting for arrangement.  Copies of letters of transfer (both to Zion’s and to another congregation), correspondence with the IRS (which apparently wanted its pound of flesh from a defunct organization), and letters to members following the church’s closure offering them assistance in choosing a new place to worship are among the items discovered in the most recent delivery.  It also included a CD with correspondence, financial reports, newsletters, bulletins, etc. that I could open on my computer (unlike the 3½” floppy disks also in the collections).

So, I’ve been plodding along, continuing to place records in files (such as 2010 Consistory Minutes), tossing duplicates into a pile (to be either shredded or sent to recycling, depending on the sensitive nature of the item), and making a mess in the garage where I am working (and in my apartment). Sometimes, I flip through the materials and encounter amusing items like this advertisement from a booklet published in the 1930s:

With the arrival of the last of the records, a sense of finality has arrived:  the last services have been held, the building has been sold, and I get to see closure to something that has been part of my family’s life for over 100 years—from my great-great-grandfather’s sister Matilda (Tilta) Guenther’s financial contributions in 1882 and 1883 to my mother and I attending the last worship service on September 26, 2010.  And, included in these records, are items related to my personal history.

The record of my transfer from Zion’s U.C.C. to Christ the Servant Lutheran Church after I moved back to Houston (they didn’t have any UCC churches where I lived).

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Historian as Detective

When writing a history of a church (such as Zion’s), typically the history is divided into segments or chapters that are either arranged by minister (kind of like teaching United States history by presidential administrations) or by theme (“Sunday School at Zion’s”).  My intent is to blend the two, including some thematic sections (such as focusing on affiliated organizations, such as choir, Sunday School, or assorted men’s and women’s groups) as well as some chronological sections (such as Zion’s during wartime, focusing on the history of a German congregation during World War I and World War II—services were still conducted in German during the First World War, and some contributors to the church may have been active in the local Nazi bund during the Second World War).  This will involve using a variety of sources beyond the church records that I am organizing, but while I am arranging the records I am starting to take notes on how the records could be used when writing the church’s history.

This week I continued working with (processing, arranging, and filing) the materials from the large tub I opened last week.  It has been a tedious process, but one that also involved a bit of research/detective work.  As I mentioned in the last blog, one of the group of items that I found were sermons tucked inside church bulletins.  I should clarify that…most sermons were tucked inside church bulletins, and a few were loose.  So it was relatively easy to set up file folders for all but four of the sermons; I just labeled the folder with the sermon title, date, and minister’s name.  The four extra sermons provided the chance to play detective.

Fortunately, when this minister wrote a sermon, he indicated within the sermon which book of the Bible was the focus of the sermon (in other words, he indicated which of the Scripture readings he focused on in the sermon).  This made the task a bit easier; I could use the church bulletins to find the sermon titles (all but one of the sermons were from the same year, and the one given the previous year was written in a different color ink).  So I checked the bulletins for the weeks I didn’t already have sermons and found “homes” for all of the wayward sermons.

The sermons themselves are not something I intend to use in my research on the history of Zion’s for several reasons.  I only have a small sample—about twenty sermons from 1965 and one from 1964, all from the same minister.  They do provide a bit of insight into the psyche of the minister and how he interpreted the Scriptures, but other than that they aren’t historically significant (and I can get enough insight about his psyche by reading his instructions and announcements in church bulletins).  Plus, while they are reasonably easy to read (he did have nice handwriting), there isn’t a real “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” moment among them (unfortunately, the selection doesn’t include the “God is Dead” sermon that led to my parents leaving the congregation in the mid-1960s).

Other than placing the sermons in file folders and labeling the folders (and arranging more church bulletins from the 1980s), not much was accomplished this week.  There were two reasons:  first, I traveled out of town (I did bring materials to work with while in the Boston area seeing La Cage aux Folles at North Shore Music Theatre, but they got set aside for more urgent matters), and second, the news broke at Mansfield University that two members of my department are on the retrenchment list (which means that their jobs/positions are gone after this academic year).  As senior member of the History program (and second in seniority in the department), I’m safe.  But I also feel a moral responsibility to help, because I was involved in hiring both of these people to their current positions and consider them friends.  So, two colleagues and I have begun working on an impact statement for the administration in which we will make our case that the university/administrators should reconsider their decision to eliminate these positions—eliminating either (or both) positions would be devastating to the department, to the students, and to the university.  It’s not what I’m supposed to be doing on my sabbatical (according to the department secretary, I’m on sabbatical leave so I should leave when I go in to check mail), but I know how my mind works, and I can’t focus on folding, sorting, or filing church bulletins when my colleagues’ lives have been turned upside down.  I’ve been in their position; at my previous job before coming to Mansfield, I found out the first day of the spring semester (right before I was scheduled to teach a class at a local community college) that I was being downsized at my full-time job for budgetary reasons.  I was able to bounce back; it actually cost the company more to downsize me from full-time (paid for 40 hours per week) to seasonal (paid hourly) when I worked 70 hours a week during the summer, but I also understand how my colleagues are distracted and probably not focused on doing the best teaching they can while at the same time questioning their loyalty to a university that effectively has abandoned them.

This coming week I will continue to work on organizing the materials…more church bulletins, meeting minutes, and newsletters in file folders.  But I also will be meeting with my colleagues to draft the impact statement, and I will attend a department meeting (yes, even though I’m on sabbatical) where we will discuss the impact statement and the future of the department.   There’s one more tub to open (one that I used last year when writing the conference paper mentioned in a previous blog), and that one is mostly bound volumes of church records from its inception in 1881 to the closing of the congregation in 2010.  Then the next step:  stacking the folders into piles for the various categories, moving on to the next level of arrangement.

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Review: “La Cage aux Folles”

With lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein, La Cage aux Folles is an enjoyable musical that indeed is a “modern family” musical.  First appearing on Broadway in 1983 with Gene Barry in the role of Georges and George Hearn as Albin, the farce focuses on a gay couple (Georges and Albin) whose son is engaged to marry the daughter of ultra-conservative parents.  The play also served as the basis for the 1996 motion picture The Birdcage, with Robin Williams as Armand (modeled after Georges) and Nathan Lane as Albert (modeled after Albin).  Today (25 September 2013) I saw the production of La Cage aux Folles at Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre, with Charles Shaughnessy (Maxwell Sheffield in The Nanny and Shane Donovan in Days of Our Lives) in the role of Georges and Jonathan Hammond as Albin.

 

The musical did not disappoint.  This is the first play that I have attended that completely engaged the audience, including them as participants in the performance (even if some of them were clearly uncomfortable about it or had no clue what was going on).  I will warn readers, however, that my experience undoubtedly was different from anyone else’s who will see the play at another time (and not just because it seems like I was possibly among the youngest people in the audience).

Imagine two and a half hours of non-stop fun (except for the intermission, when the cast and the audience were able to catch their breath).  Everyone did a fantastic job; my mother, who has seen musicals on Broadway, told me that it was the best performance she’s ever seen (yes, it even topped when Patsy waved to her at Spamalot).  She cannot stop raving about “Les Cagelles” (and was astounded when I told her that most of them were men).  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her enjoy a performance as much as she enjoyed this one.  Stacey Todd Holt (Francis) provided effective comic relief with his increasing injuries at the hands of Hanna from Hamburg (Leeds Hill), and Nikko Kimzin as Jacob (the maid) strongly reminded me of Hank Azaria as Agador in The Birdcage.  Clearly the stars of the show, though, were Charles Shaughnessy and Jonathan Hammond.  The two actors really made it believable that they were a couple, as they effectively displayed the emotions involved with first, dealing with their son’s engagement and second, handling the challenge of his future father-in-law, who was leader of the “Tradition, Family, and Morality Party.”  Consistently, Georges kept underestimating Jean-Michel’s (Zach Trimmer) age, and Albin struggled with learning that Jean-Michel didn’t want him to meet the in-laws.

Run, don’t walk (or, in my mother’s case, get someone to push you) to La Cage aux Folles at North Shore Music Theatre.  Those lucky enough to see the performance will be in for a treat, and be prepared to laugh, clap, and enjoy yourself.

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I Feel Like a Kid at Christmas: More Adventures in Organizing Church Records

Another week, another tub unpacked.  This week was quite exciting (well, at least as exciting as it can get when you uncover a treasure trove of materials).  The process of arranging the documents continued, but I also got sidetracked when working with the one tub.

The tub in question is approximately two feet high, two feet wide, and three feet long—and it was packed with all sorts of materials, ranging from treasurer’s reports to church bulletins (oh, boy, more church bulletins!) to newspaper clippings and “ephemera.”  It’s also the tub that includes information that I might use for the next research project involving the church records.

Side view of tub

When I opened the tub, lying on top was a brown file folder labeled “Important Information.”  Included in this folder were several items that indeed were important—at least back in the 1920s and 1930s when they were collected.  One of the items was a newspaper clipping from 1928 announcing that Zion’s was changing from the Philadelphia Classis (its regional organization in the German Synod of the East) to the Reading Classis in the Reformed Church of the United States.  This change meant that Zion’s was moving from a congregation with German-language services—one of the requirements of the German Synod—to one that solely worshipped in English.  This discovery led me to one of the “rabbit holes,” as I decided to try to find more newspaper articles about Zion’s.  More clippings were in the tub—okay, a lot of clippings, although combined it might be about 20 articles out of 40-50 clippings (which means there are a lot of duplicates).  But it turns out that Google newspapers also includes the Reading Eagle, so I’ve been able to find more articles than the clippings to use in my research (and can find the required citation information, as many of the clippings don’t indicate the date).  And, of course, sometimes the rabbit hole led to an amusing find, such as an article about a minstrel show hosted by Zion’s that included my maternal grandmother as a member of the chorus.  For most people, this would be an exciting find:  “How wonderful!  My grandmother was mentioned in the newspaper!”  But considering that my grandmother did not have a good singing voice (the general consensus is that small children fell asleep out of self-defense when she sang to them), it was quite funny that she was part of a chorus for anything.

The second item in “Important Information” reminded me of the New Deal and how the federal government helped put people to work during the Great Depression, including people who supposedly had no marketable job skills.  During the late 1930s, historians employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA, or “we piddle around”) were involved in compiling inventories of assorted records, among which are records held by religious organizations.  The last four pages in the folder (carbon copies of the original) were the last four pages in the WPA files for Zion’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in Reading.  The entire file is available online through Ancestry.com (Pennsylvania, WPA Church Archives, 1937-1940), and it’s searchable by county and community (but not by individual churches).  The compiler apparently wasn’t too familiar with the congregation, because he misspelled the names of the founding minister and the current minister, along with a few minor errors about the church building, but it was nice to find out which records existed during the 1930s; hopefully I will find them when arranging the archives.

First page of the last portion of the WPA inventory. Note the damage from the rusted paper clip at the top.

And now, some more treasures discovered:

      1) Carbon paper.  Back in the old days (i.e., the 20th century), people would place a sheet of carbon paper between two sheets of white paper so that a carbon or identical copy would be kept.  This, of course, has been replaced by Xerox machines and saving word documents to hard drives, USB drives, etc.  Sometimes, if the typist was careless, the carbon paper would face the wrong direction…and the second page would be blank.

Fortunately, I found the carbon copy of this report–or I’d have to transcribe it from the carbon paper

      2) Guest registers.  Obviously, banks aren’t the only places that need to chain pens so they don’t get lost.

3) A 1957 Series B One Dollar Silver Certificate.  Current value:  $1.00 (they printed a lot of them in 1957).  This will be returned to Rev. Dr. Aregood, who will add it to collections for the Reading Classis.  No, I don’t get to keep it…I’m already getting paid by the university during my sabbatical leave.

      4) Sermons.  When I was a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, one semester I took a course on New England Puritanism (blech, but my advisor told me I had to take it) in which we spent the semester reading and interpreting sermons.  I loved it so much that when I decided on a dissertation topic, I wrote about a Quaker meeting—Quakers didn’t have sermons.  It turns out that some of the church bulletins in the tub included the handwritten sermons…some of which are quite fascinating, such as the one that attacked the Old Testament prophets for not being Christ-like in their behavior.

Finally, I have discovered that sometimes I need tools to do this job.  Part of the process of arranging the records involves removing them from unstable or damaging folders, binders, etc. and placing them in new file folders to preserve them.  Sometimes, the binders have rusted closed, leading to the necessity of using pliers to open them.

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I Should Have Bought Stock in Staples

Arrangement:  (1) The process of organizing materials with respect to their provenance and original order, to protect their context and to achieve physical or intellectual control over the materials; (2) The organization and sequence of items within a collection.1

The process of organizing and arranging an archival collection is a tedious one.  Containers must be unpacked, and the items inside the container must be arranged in a manner that preserves the original order as much as possible while making the collection user-friendly for researchers or anyone who needs to access the materials.  Working with a collection such as the records of Zion’s United Church of Christ brings quite a few challenges, as often records are just filed into boxes/tubs/containers without much concern for how someone who would write a history of the organization would use them.  Basically, unorganized drawers in file cabinets are emptied into storage containers, with arrangement to occur at a later date.  As a result, I have spent the past week unpacking tubs, removing documents from file folders (along with removing paper clips when necessary), and placing the documents in new file folders, with a brief description of the contents on the tab to make it easier to arrange them for deposit.

 File folders in hanging folders in plastic tubFile folders in hanging folders in plastic tub

Fortunately, the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society has prepared a guide for arranging records that are to be deposited in their repository: 1)  Annual Reports; 2)   Artifacts; 3)   Awards, Certificates, Recognitions, etc.; 4)   Bulletins; 5)   Cemetery and Cemetery Associations; 6)   Charter and/or Incorporation Documents; 7)   Church Records; 8)   Congregational Meetings; 9)  Constitution and By-Laws; 10) Financial Records; 11) History; 12) Legal and Business Records; 13) Newsletters; 14) Pastors; 15) Photographs; 16) Programs and Activities; 17) Scrapbooks; 18) Committees; 19) Auxiliary Organizations.  No cemetery was directly affiliated with Zion’s, so I don’t have to worry about #5.  For Photographs (#15), the historical society requests that individuals in photographs be identified in pencil on the reverse side of the picture;  for one box of pictures, none of the people are identified, so I am eliciting the assistance of the daughter of the last pastor (and probably his wife) in the identification.  Some of the records are in bound volumes (particularly “Church Records,” which includes the records for baptism, confirmation, marriage, death, membership lists, guest registers, etc.), while others are loose pages or booklets.  Unlike a business, “Correspondence” is not organized by year or recipient/sender but is separated by topic/category—which means that letters written in 1969, for instance, could be included under various committees or under Property if it relates to church repairs.

This past week, I have encountered wills, mortgage papers, correspondence and bills relating to repairs to the church property, newspaper articles about church mergers, ballots from congregational meetings, and annual reports, among other items.  The materials I have worked with so far are mostly from the last few decades of the church’s activity, although occasionally I stumble across a real gem—such as a letter from the Reverend Carl H. Gramm, second pastor of Zion’s, to the congregation shortly before his departure to a new congregation in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Obviously, I never knew Reverend Gramm—he left Zion’s in 1927, and I was born in 1959—but he was the minister who married my paternal grandparents (at the parsonage) and who baptized my father’s older siblings.   I also found a list of members of Zion’s who served in the military during World War I (two of whom died) and discussions in the Consistory minutes about air raid drills following worship services during World War II.  Consequently, one of the challenges an archivist who also is an historian faces is focusing on the task at hand—in this case, arranging the records for deposit—and not get distracted by what is found while arranging the archives.  Fortunately, since my sabbatical also includes writing a history of Zion’s (which, according to the list provided by the ERHS, will someday be deposited among the church’s records), I rationalize the distractions by claiming that it’s research and therefore acceptable.

Another challenge comes when handling documents that have been affected by the storage conditions.  Here, it is apparent that the rubber band used to hold together the items in the folder has left its mark:

The rubber band broke…yet the stain remains.

Other times, I smile at what I find:

Crossword puzzles for Sunday School.  I think these would be rather easy to complete with the answers on the same page.

Crossword puzzles for Sunday School. I think these would be rather easy to complete with the answers on the same page.

But the best “find” so far has been a letter from a serviceman in Vietnam in 1970, who wrote to the minister and apologized for not attending worship services more frequently–and who enclosed a check to help the church financially (yes, the check has been deposited).  And the part about buying stock in Staples…let’s just say I’m taking advantage of the 15% off discount for school supplies, since file folders, file pockets, staple removers, and writing implements qualify as school supplies.



1Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (Chicago:  Society of American Archivists, 2005), p. 35.
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Getting My Hands Dirty While On My Sabbatical

This semester, for the first time since John F. Kennedy was president, I’m not in a classroom as a student or a teacher. I am on sabbatical (think paid research vacation), and my project is to organize, arrange, and describe the records of Zion’s United Church of Christ from Reading, Pennsylvania, established in 1881 and closed in 2010.

On September 26, 2010, Zion’s United Church of Christ closed its doors.  At the last worship service, the Reverend Dr. Robert G. Aregood mentioned during the sermon that one of the challenges of closing a congregation is getting the records ready for deposit at the church archives.  My mother and I were sitting in the congregation, and I was thinking that I would be willing to help if I lived closer.  Well, at that moment, Reverend Aregood looked out into the congregation and stated that maybe the history professor in the pews would help.  So, as the saying goes—when God calls you to do something, you answer the call.

Finally, in mid-November, we made arrangements for me to pick up some of the records from his house (where they had been stored after the church closed) to bring to Mansfield. 

The church records after their arrival:  November 2010

The church records after their arrival: November 2010

My plan at the time was arrange them and take them to the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society in Lancaster by the next summer.  But, as they say, life gets in the way, and finally, in Fall 2012, I decided to apply for a sabbatical in order to finish the project.  In the meantime, they had been stored in my living room behind my recliner and had only been used when I was researching the formation and early years of the congregation for a presentation at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Historical Association last November.  (The presentation was filmed; if you get bored, you can watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oymULzU9s0).

Organization and research began the week of August 26, the first week of the fall semester.  That week, I spent organizing, cataloguing, and taking notes on church bulletins from the 1960s and 1970s.

Sorting the church bulletins (and other items)

Sorting the church bulletins (and other items)

The minister during most of the 1960s, the Reverend G. Richard Ott, used the church bulletin as a way to disseminate information as well as to remind members of the congregation about how he conducted the worship services:

9 April 1961:  “Following the recessional, the choir remains in the rear of the church to complete singing the last hymn.  The congregation is asked to sing the entire hymn and Amen before closing their books, and then maintain a reverent attitude during the extinguishing of the candles.”

14 May 1961:  “Please note that the congregation shall be seated for the parts of the service directing them to kneel.  The pastor will kneel in behalf of the people.”

25 March 1962:  “The Church School Association meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening has been postponed one week to April 2nd.  The same program of leadership training and the movie, “The Wonderful World of Gas” will be held then.  The postponement was made so that the membership of Zion’s may attend the Seder Tea at Kesher Zion Synagogue tomorrow evening at 8 P.M.  Rabbi Bennett will explain the entire ritual of the Passover Seder and answer questions on the faith in general.  Tea will be served following the presentation.  See the bulletin board for details.”

25 April 1965:  “It is only common politeness to refrain from whispering before and during the Service.  Those about you may be disturbed as they worship and pray.  The God you come to worship might also be disturbed.”

25 November 1965:  “Do your Christmas shopping the easy way, pick a gift from the table in the narthex.  Prices range from 20¢ to $5.00, all age groups are covered.  Let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year.”

This week, I have started arranging materials that were stored in tubs.  The records mostly included minutes of the Consistory (Church Council), but they also include financial accounts, membership books, and correspondence.  Part of the process of arranging the materials when preparing them for deposit involves removing fasteners that damage the paper:

Notice the rusted paper clip at the top

Notice the rusted paper clip at the top

Notice the mark/damage on the previous page from the rusted paper clip

Notice the mark/damage on the previous page from the paper clip

Removing paper clips is a delicate job, but one that needs to be done in order to preserve the documents for future generations.  Staples are also removed whenever possible, along with metal fasteners.  The first rule for archivists when preserving documents like these is first, do no harm (just like for doctors), and the second rule is to be able to undo anything that is done (for example, if I put tape on torn pages, I should be able to remove the tape without damaging the paper).  Obviously the people who created and maintained these records did not consider the potential damage that could be done with metal paper clips; of course, plastic clips were not available during World War II.

Sometimes, I encounter items that are a bit unusual.  Here, the records of a church dinner include the recipe:

Recipe for chicken patties.  Peppers?

Recipe for chicken patties. Peppers?

Another thing about working with these documents, some of which date back to 1881…they are filthy.  No wonder archivists wear white gloves—it’s not just to protect the documents from our hands, but it’s to protect our hands from the documents.

 More to come as I discover more exciting things about Zion’s history while arranging the records.

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