Stewarding Your Church’s Story

David Schoen is Minister for Church Legacy & Closure, UCC Church Building & Loan Fund,

In a conversation with the archivists from the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston, they referred to the tasks of archiving church records and histories as “stewarding churches’ stories”.  What a wonderful biblical and theological foundation to see the work of caring for preserving the history and memory of our congregations.

Most in the Church would be familiar with the call to be stewards, rooted in the Greek word “oikonomos” which means “one who takes care of a household.” Usually associated with money and property, we also speak of environmental stewardship as taking care of the earth. 

In 1979, Russell Gasero wrote in an article Stewardship, Theology and Archives of a little book, “How to Keep Useful Church Records” (now out of print) in which the author Orlando Tibbetts ‘maintains that careful record keeping is one of the most important aspects for a successful ministry. He says church records are “remembering instruments”. This puts record keeping and record preservation in the historical context of the Old Testament and God’s command to Moses to preserve God’s words for the people of God. In fact, he maintains that records management in the congregation is a ministry and a sacred trust of remembering which is essential for a congregation’s well-functioning.’ The sacred trust of remembering that we steward in our churches’ stories is the record of our spiritual journey responding to the presence of God in our history.

How can you and your congregation engage in stewarding your church’s story?

Many churches steward their story by having a history and record committee or a church historian/archivist. Trinity United Church of Christ in Canton maintains a church archives room which I always appreciated as a pastor, exploring the photos, artifacts, and stories which informed my ministry and messages.

It is never too late or too early to start stewarding your church’s story. Start by establishing a task force or archivist to care for your church history and records if you don’t already have such a group. For assistance in getting started, check out these resources:

Suggestions for stewarding your church’s story include:

An important annual task for stewarding your church’s story is the curating and updating of your church information in the United Church of Christ Yearbook including contact addresses, membership, worship participation, community outreach, finances, mission contributions, and more. The annual review is not only helpful for a congregation’s self-understanding and review, but also for our denominational understanding of the state of the UCC. Thank you to churches that update your information. Each year, based on the information you update in the Data Hub, the Center for Analytics, Research & Development, and Data (CARDD) produces the Statistical Profile of the United Church of Christ with reflection/discussion questions for church leaders.

Unfortunately, according to CARDD, around forty percent (40%) of our congregations do not update their records. Updating church records is a helpful way for a congregation to review its current and future ministries. For help in updating your church records (by March 1st, 2023), go to the Church Yearbook Instructions posted on the Yearbook webpage.

Your church’s story and historic records are an ongoing legacy of your congregation. As such, stewarding your church’s story is a vital task for congregations completing their ministries and sharing their legacy. Here are ways for churches to steward their stories and legacies:

  • Collect and organize church vital records and archival material (see resources above)
  • Contact local or UCC archives to find out their donation process and criteria
  • Plan events and worship to lift up and give thanks for your church’s history
  • Print or post the congregation history and mission
  • Invite the archives receiving your church records to participate in your worship service
  • Let your conference as well as UCC Archive Centers know where your church archives and records will be located

New Pilgrims United Church of Christ in Anacortes Washington completed its ministry this past December giving thanks for the church’s life and mission. New Pilgrims (formerly Pilgrim Congregational) was founded in 1877 on Fidalgo Island as an outreach school and church of the American Missionary Association. For the past 145 years, the congregation carried the banner of the mission, the welcome, and the spirit of the AMA and the UCC. In preparation for the closing celebration service of remembrance and thanksgiving, the church’s history was shared through a series of articles and photos in its monthly online newsletter and posted on a bulletin board in the church worship space as well as published in an article in the Pacific Northwest Conference News website. New Pilgrims completed its stewarding of their church’s story by contributing their church archives and records to the Anacortes Museum.

Stewarding a church’s story is taking care of the remembering, preserving, and retelling of God’s spirit at work in the history and life of a community of faith.

We are all called to faithful stewarding of our churches’ stories.

One thought on “Stewarding Your Church’s Story

  1. As an interim that unfortunately closed a number of churches, this was one of the most challenging things. However, in some cases church records are the most important tool in genealogy prior to times of state recording of records. Don’t EVER trash these no matter what shape they are in

    Liked by 1 person

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