PCA Historical Center

Archives & Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church

Writing Church History: 
A Guideline for Local Church Historians

        As historian for your church, you have one of the most exciting opportunities available to anyone in your congregation, for you have been asked to tell the story of what God has done and is doing in your congregation.  The Psalmist has said, Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them, and this well describes your task.  Study the works that God has accomplished among His people, delight in them, and tell the story! 

APPOINTING THE HISTORIAN

            A church historian should be appointed by the church Session (board of elders).  For the sake of continuity in record keeping and writing, the historian’s term of office should be based on the calendar year.

THE HISTORIAN’S CONTACTS

            As church historian, you should maintain close contact with the pastor, elders, deacons and other leaders of the congregation to insure that a complete and accurate record is kept of all significant church activities.  Regular contact should also be maintained with the staff of the PCA Historical Center, since the Center is to receive one copy of the church’s history.

GATHERING THE DATA

            A key to success in writing a comprehensive church history is to record events as they happen.  An ideal way to accomplish that is by recording information about events as they occur in a notebook.  You may want to subdivide the notebook into sections labeled Session, Deacons, Sunday School, Youth, WIC, Special Events, etc.  With a limited amount of editing, this collected material can become the basis of the annual church history.  You may find it beneficial to have church leaders submit regular monthly or quarterly activity reports to you.  These reports can be used later to compile the history.

ORGANIZING YOUR HISTORY

Section One:  Statistics

            The first several pages of your history should contain statistical information on your church.  List the full names of all ministers, board members (elders, deacons, trustees, etc.).  Officers of the WIC and men’s groups, teachers (Sunday School and Vacation Bible School), and the names of any other individuals who have a major role in the life of the church.

            The birth of children of members of the congregation should be reported.  In listing this information, give the child’s full name, the date and place of birth, the full name of the father and the complete maiden name of the child’s mother.

            Baptisms should also be reported.  For baptisms, give the dates and the full name of those who were baptized during the period covered by the history.  For infant baptism, report the names of both parents,  and for adults indicate “adult.”

            List the names of new members of the congregation, giving their full names and the date they were received.  If the individual(s) transferred from another church, indicate the church from which they transferred.

            Give the names of individuals dismissed or dropped from the congregational roll, showing the date and reason of the removal.  For transferees, indicate the church to which they transferred.

            Information on marriages should also be presented.  In this listing indicate date and place of marriage, names of the bride and groom, as well as the names of their parents, whether living or dead.

            Also report deaths within the congregation, giving the full name of the deceased, the date of death and age at the time of death.

Section Two:  Narrative

            The narrative section is the story-telling portion of your church history.  You may want to sub-divide the history into separate sections, with each one describing a major activity or event of the church, such as Sunday School, Youth, Session, etc.  The history for each section should be written in a chronological order.  The majority of the narrative will be based on your notes and collected bulletins, newsletters and reports.  The narrative portion of the church history should flow smoothly from paragraph to paragraph and section to section.  As you write, try to reflect, in a warm, personal way, the humorous and serious events that have transpired over the past twelve months.  The important thing, above all else, is to focus on telling the story of how God has been at work in your congregation.  How has He shown Himself faithful?  How has He answered prayer?  How has He provided and how has His grace been evident?  With guidance from your Session, difficulties in the life of the congregation can also be related tactfully, for these are often some the very occasions when God’s grace and power are most manifest, despite our sin.         

Section Three:  Pictorial

            Photographs can be an important part of your history.  If you decide to submit photographs, be sure to include pictures of the pastor and his family, church officers, special speakers, new members, buildings, and special events held throughout the year.  Histories submitted to the Historical Center should have photographs mounted on sheets of acid-free paper.  Slits should be cut in the acid-free paper to act as corners to hold the photographs.  Photo mounting templates are available from the PCA Historical Center.  Photographs should not be glued or taped to the acid-free paper.  Each photograph should be labeled, beneath or beside the picture, with the identity of the individual(s) or activities shown.

            With new technologies now available, you may choose to scan and print your photographs directly onto the paper.  This is acceptable, but you should be aware that some inks will bleed when exposed to moisture.  Test a sample printout before proceeding.

LENGTH OF THE HISTORY

            The length of the history should be directly related to the amount of activity taking place in your congregation.  If you have several programs, committees or activities, it will naturally take more space to report the progress of these organizations than if you have only a few.  Simply use as many pages as necessary to tell your story.  What we desire is quality in the content of your story.  Always bear in mind that you are writing more for future generations than for your own contemporaries.  Try to imagine what future readers may want to know about your church—things which you may otherwise take for granted today, but something which people 100 years from now will appreciate having explained to them.  You, as historian, are uniquely privileged, because your ministry to the church will span many generations.

APPROVING THE HISTORY

            The church historian serves the church under the authority of the Session.  Because the annual history is an official document of the church, it should be approved by the session before being sent to the Historical Center.  The church history should be signed by both the historian and the Clerk of Session.

PUBLISHING YOUR HISTORY

                        The original copy of your church history should be typed on acid-free paper.  The original may then be photocopied onto regular or acid-free paper to provide additional copies for local use.  The original history on acid-free paper, together with any photographic attachments, should be mailed to the Historical Center.

ACID-FREE PAPER

            Acid-free paper is specially manufactured to last three to four times longer than regular bond paper.  It can be specially ordered through local office supply stores or it may be ordered directly from the PCA Historical Center.  Though slightly more expensive than regular bond paper, the investment is highly worthwhile.  If ordered from the Historical Center, the current cost is five cents per sheet, plus postage, for up to 100 sheets.  The price declines on larger orders to two and a half center per sheet plus postage for orders of a full ream (500 sheets).

SUBMITTING YOUR HISTORY

            Under normal circumstances, your history should be completed by the end of March.  The original, signed copy of your church history should not be bound or mounted in a notebook.  It should not be stapled or three-hole punched.  Simply place the history between two pieces of firm cardboard in a large manila envelope and mail it the PCA Historical Center.  You will receive a postcard or letter acknowledging our receipt of your history.

USING YOUR HISTORY

There are many potential uses for a well-written church history.  Here are a few ideas:

·        Hold an annual dinner at which portions of the history are read, photographs displayed and testimonies shared on the Lord’s blessing over the past year. [This can also be an excellent time to invite neighbors and friends, for a good church history also has an evangelistic aspect to it, as a witness to the reality of our Lord and the work that He has done in and through His people.]

·        A new pastor, reading past histories, can receive helpful insights into the development of your congregation.  An appreciation of past events gives special sensitivity to present needs.

·        Elders, deacons, and other church leaders may benefit from having a succinct overview of church activities.  Officer training may particularly benefit from an available history.

·        New members may likewise benefit from having the history of the church available to them.  Some churches reproduce portions of their history on the back of the Sunday service bulletin from time to time, to great effect.

·        A summary of the church's history can be occasionally printed on the back of the Sunday bulletin. You might also consider printing short accounts from the history of the church. Properly prepared in advance, these accounts might even be offered to the pastor to select from, to coordinate with a select sermon.

·        Don't forget: A reference copy of your church history should be kept in your church library for the benefit of church members, for curriculum planning and for writing future histories.

The PCA Historical Center also has many uses for your history:

·        The location of the Historical Center, on the campus of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, makes your history readily accessible to students in pastoral training who may be considering service in your church as an intern or pastor.  A good history, with supplemental materials, will make your church’s reference collection a valuable resource for future pastors.

·        Students, faculty members, pastors, church members and historians will have a rich source of materials from which to research and write the history of our denomination.

·        Genealogists and family historians, the largest group using archives in the United States, locate some of their most valuable information in church historical records.

·        Church histories provide a vast array of statistical data that can be used for studies of our denomination.

SUPPLEMENTING YOUR CHURCH HISTORY

Bulletins and Newsletters

            One copy of each Sunday bulletin and church newsletter should be set aside for transfer to the Historical Center, in one bundle, at the end of each year.

Newspaper Clippings

            Because of the high acidic content of newspapers, the actual clippings of church related articles should not be included with the church history.  The article should be photocopied, typed or scanned onto acid-free paper.  Be sure to include the name of the paper, the city of origin, the date of the article, and the page(s) on which it occurred.

Directories, Brochures and Publications

            One copy each of membership directories, fliers, inserts, locally developed teaching materials and other publications should also be sent to the Historical Center.  We are attempting to create as complete a collection as possible of the life of your congregation.

Constitution and Bylaws

            Copies of your official constitution and bylaws are an excellent way of depicting the distinctives of your local congregation.

Congregational and Session Minutes

            As a precaution against natural disaster, it is a good idea to have a copy of your official minutes stored separately from other church records.  In more than one instance, churches have lost valuable records because they were stored in the home of an officer who later died or moved away.  For these reasons, it is particularly advisable to deposit older church records in the climate-controlled safety of the Historical Center, while retaining a reference copy in your church files.  The originals will then be properly preserved for you, while remaining available whenever needed.  Please contact the Historical Center prior to sending old valuable records to us. 

            Session records on deposit with the PCA Historical Center are available for viewing only by Session members of that church, or others holding written authorization from the Session.

Memorials

            If you desire to write short biographical sketches of church members who have died during the past year, these should be typed on acid-free paper and included as a supplement to the materials you mail to the Historical Center.

Church Historian's Checklist:

            The following checklist may help you as you prepare to write your church history.  Additional checklists can be found in the Historian’s Toolkit, a folder of checklists, hints and other materials available from the PCA Historical Center.

£                Church Historian appointed by Session

£                Church history data gathered

£                Statistical section written

£                Narrative section written

£                Photographs mounted and labeled

£             History typed or printed on acid-free paper      

£                History approved by Session and signed by the Clerk of Session

£                Copies made of history

£                Original copy of church history mailed to the PCA Historical Center

Other items to submit to the Historical Center:

£                Bulletins and newsletters.

£                Church directory.

£                Session Minutes

£                Congregational Minutes and Reports

£                Special Events Bulletins

£                Additional items to consider submitting.

£                Architectural blueprints, particularly if the building is substantial or architecturally significant

£                Photographs of former pastors.

£                Sample sermons of former pastors.  These should be typed or printed, rather than audio format.

£                Correspondence files and other papers of the pastor.

£                Books and other published materials authored by your pastor or a member of the congregation.

£                Oral history interviews with older members of the congregation.  These should preferably be transcribed and printed from the audio tape original format.   The PCA Historical Center has a brochure with guidelines for conducting oral history interviews.

£                A copy of the church's baptismal record for the year, as well as a record of new members received and members deceased..

Your gathered church history materials should be sent to:

PCA Historical Center
12330 Conway Road
St. Louis, MO 63141

Questions may also be directed to the staff at the above address
or by phone at (314) 469-9077
or by email at [email protected]