What Does the Archivist Do?

One of my goals when I retired in 2012 after working thirty-one years in the church office was to organize the historical information of Saint Matthew Church. Items were located in cabinets in the library, church office and conference room, and in a filing cabinet in the basement property ministry office. I spent most of my time in the basement which meant navigating many small steps down there and listening to unexplainable sounds around and above me. With many thanks to Kim Bohley and Tom Cassel, I am now “out of the basement” because of the purchase of wonderful new filing cabinets in the church office dedicated to the archives. This, of course means I am reorganizing and consolidating everything again.

Sometimes people who collect and organize documents for a church are known as “church histori- ans”; however, several years ago Pastor Wengert gave me the title of church archivist. My youngest daughter, who is an archivist in the federal government told me the Society of American Archivists defines an archivist as “an individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, pre- serving and providing access to records of enduring value.” An important way of preserving records, etc. is through web archiving or digitizing; in other words, copying items to a website. Perhaps that will happen in the future here, but not “under my watch”!

When I began this rather monumental task in the fall of 2012, I organized everything by decades, beginning with the 1950’s (and shortly before). So much of what I found, especially photos, was not dated and it was often a tedious task to determine dates. For example, I was recently given some undated photos of the 10th anniversary celebration of the formation of the ELCA, which was held in Philadelphia. Several of us from Saint Matthew attended but I could not remember the date. I “googled” the ELCA website and finally found an article describing it, but there was no date. I sent an inquiring email and received a very prompt response with the exact date. Advice to all: if you have photos or information that will be of historic interest to family, organizations or otherwise, be sure to date them.

Because I have had an interest in history since I was in elementary school in Virginia, I have enjoyed looking at items in our rather vast collection. Some have brought happy memories of Saint Matthew people and events; from others I have learned new things.

As the definition of an archivist says, my job is to keep records of “enduring value”; however it is often a challenge to determine what is of enduring value. I have discarded many unnecessary thing and given photos to people who were in them when I had other similar ones, etc.

What else do I do? I am sometimes asked for information from the archives; i.e, When was the sanctuary dedicated?; When did we burn the mortgage for the new church?; or When did we purchase the property next door? A few years ago I was asked to write a Messenger article on the old parish house, which is now incorporated into our building. In April 2015 I talked in Adult Forum on our history for the 65th anniversary of the church. On May 5 this year, Kim Bohley and I did an Adult Forum on the office then and now. My part was to talk about previous transition times between three of our pastors.

Next year will be the 70th anniversary of this church and I’m hoping to prepare a photo album of the beginnings of Saint Matthew to display along with other existing albums. In the meantime, I will con- tinue to keep and organize records of enduring value as reliable memories of the past that inform the present and help in planning for our future.

—Rozella Bower