PCA Historical Center

Archives & Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church

Archives Position Paper:
Present Status and Future Needs

The position paper that follows was originally presented in 1986 before the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America as it met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The document sets out basic theological and practical reasons for the establishment of an archive for the denomination, provides some details on the initial establishment of the PCA Archives and concludes with some of the challenges facing the fledgling institution. [For reference, this position paper is printed as part of the Minutes of the 14th General Assembly, and may be found there on pages 241-243.]
Originally known as the PCA Archives, the institution was established at the meeting of the Twelfth General Assembly in 1984, following a motion by the PCA's first Stated Clerk, Morton H. Smith. Planning for an archives had been in process for some time prior to this, and Dr. Smith particularly had evidenced a long-standing awareness of the need to preserve our history. Portions of the Historical Center's local church history collections exist largely because of his early efforts to gather these materials.
In a letter dated December 20, 1983, Dr. Will Barker had requested the Stated Clerk to consider the Covenant Seminary campus as an appropriate site for the PCA Archives. Some of his reasoning included the Seminary's status as the denominational seminary, the scholarly resources available in the St. Louis area, the related resources to be found in the Seminary's Library, and the offer of space for the Archives within that Library. Thus the Archives came to be situated in St. Louis on the Seminary campus early in 1985.
Some years later, a name change took place to reflect a larger purpose, and the institution is now known as the PCA Historical Center. The Center operates as the official archive for the Presbyterian Church in America, but also holds the records of four other conservative Presbyterian denominations, as well as the manuscript collections of some fifty individuals connected with these church bodies. The Center, in its collection policy, seeks to preserve and promote the story of the conservative Presbyterian movement of the 20th and 21st centuries.

 
Archives Position Paper: Present Status and Future Needs
Table of Contents

Introduction
Archives in the Bible
Modern Uses for Archives
Setting Up an Archives
The Challenge

INTRODUCTION

Archives. For many people, the word conjures up visions of piles of old stuff: leather-bound books, wrinkled and yellowing documents, and assorted odd museum pieces, all covered with a substantial layer of dust and occasionally molded, stacked up in untidy mounds waiting for someone to come around once every ten years or so to look through it and laugh at the funny old pictures. There is nothing in this vision to indicate that any of the material would be useful for anything except to satisfy idle curiosity, or to keep some eccentric scholar busy up in his ivory tower.

If that were an accurate description of what archives are all about, the Presbyterian Church in America would have absolutely no business having one. But a modern archives is much more than a place to put old things out of the way; it is a vital part of any healthy organization; a place where history comes alive to serve the present; where the individual Christian witness of PCA members can remain alive and effective, long after they have gone Home.
 
ARCHIVES IN THE BIBLE
There is a good deal of precedent for the role of archives in the Bible. The word "remember" in its various forms occurs over two hundred times in the Old and New Testaments, and the command for the Lord's people not to forget is issued forty-three times. The Lord wants His people to remember: their mistakes, so they might avoid falling into the same trap twice; the faithfulness of the saints who have gone before them, for encouragement and inspiration; and especially to remember the Lord's covenant with His people, and His mighty acts in their behalf.
In Exodus 16:32-33, Numbers 17:10, and Deuteronomy 10:2, the Lord specifically instructed Moses to put a jar of manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the Ten Commandments into the Ark of the Covenant, as a testimony: the first collection of religious archives and museum material. "And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee." Exodus 25:16.
On several occasions, the Lord instructed His people to set up a memorial to help them remember, most notably in Joshua 4:1-7, when He told them to take stones out of the bed of the Jordan River after they had crossed over into the Promised Land as the Lord held back the waters. "That this may be a sign among you, that, when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What mean ye by these stones?' then ye shall say unto them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off; and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever.' "
There is also an illustration of the practical uses of archives in the Bible. In the book of Ezra, in the fifth and sixth chapters, is the account of the rebuilding of the tempt in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Enemies of the reconstruction effort successfully halted the work for a number of years by questioning whether Zerubbabel and Joshua had any authority to rebuild the temple. Zerubbabel tried to explain that they had been commanded to rebuild it by the Emperor Cyrus, but as that gentleman was now dead, he could not be appealed to in person. The Jews appealed to the Babylonian governor of the province, who in turn wrote to the current Emperor, Darius. Darius had somebody go down to the royal archives, where they found the original scroll containing the decree Cyrus had issued so many years before, commanding that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt. The protests against the work were shown to be unfounded, and the reconstruction was completed.
The Israelites also had documentary archives other than the contents of the Ark. There are several references in the Old Testament to chronicles of the history of Israel, which unfortunately have not all been preserved for the benefit of modern generations; parts of some of them have been unearthed in archaeological excavations in and around Qumran, however. Some of these Chronicles are: The Book of Nathan the Prophet, [I Chronicles 29:29 and II Chronicles 9:29]; The Book of Gad the Seer, [I Chronicles 29:29]; The Book of Jasher, [Joshua 10:13, II Samuel 1:18]; The Book of the Acts of Solomon, [I Kings 11:41]; The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and The Visions of Iddo the Seer, [II Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22]; The Book of Shemaiah the Prophet, [II Chronicles 12:15]; Isaiah's The Acts of Uzziah, [II Chronicles 26:22]; and The Sayings of the Seers, [II Chronicles 33:19].
 
MODERN USES FOR ARCHIVES
Modern day uses for archives are similar to the Biblical ones: some help us to remember, and some are purely practical. The archival records of the Presbyterian Church in America are a witness to what the Lord has done in and through its members, individually and corporately, and many different kinds of people will benefit from using them.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, the entire yearly paper output of the PCUS General Assembly and all its Executive Committees could have been put in a medium sized box and shoved under a desk somewhere. Nowadays, the output of just one of the PCA's Permanent Committees measures in the dozens of boxes each year. Any organization that ignores its records production and storage practices is inviting financial disaster. Those who do not control their records soon find that their records are controlling them.
At present, several PCA committees are storing their semi-current and non-current records in off-site warehouse space in the Atlanta area. The warehouses are not climate controlled, leaving the records exposed to extremes of temperature and humidity, and there is no systematic plan for which records are put there or when. In order to find information from those records, someone from the office has to go out there to dig through them. This is one of the most expensive ways ever invented for the care and access of older records.
The PCA Archives can supply denominational committees, presbyteries, and even local churches with information about records management, helping them to design a cost-effective system for the preservation of their older records that will make them accessible whenever they are needed, and insure that vital records will not be lost to future generations. In the Presbyterian Church, U.S., there was no system for saving records until 1972, with the result that the only existing records of any of the church executive committes or agencies for the period preceding the mid 1950's are official minutes. There are no correspondence or offic files left anywhere; ninety-five years of the history of these offices is almost completely undocumented.
One important example of the effect of this lack of information concerns the PCUS restructure of the late 1940's, when the traditional executive committee structure was abandoned in favor of boards and agencies. What led up to that? How were the day to day operations of those offices affected? Did the earlier restructure in the late 1920's consciously set the stage for this move? The official minutes and articles in church periodicals give little evidence to help answer these questions. Those in the PCA who wish to avoid the mistakes the PCUS made have nothing to guide them in this case except hearsay and conjecture.
Another group of people who will benefit tremendously by having a PCA archives available, is Presbyterian and Reformed scholars. More and more, conservative scholars are concerned about having a solid historical basis for their research. Those working on the current controversy about the power of the state over individuals and families, for instance, borrow heavily from American church history to document the changes that have taken place in our society.
There is a great need for a place for conservative Presbyterian and Reformed records to be gathered together and made available for scholars to study. At present, the only other conservative Presbyterian or Reformed archives in existence is the Christian Reformed Church's collections at Calvin College. While the mainline liberal Presbyterian denominations have large and relatively well-funded archvies, without the PCA Archives recent establishment, there would be no appropriate archival repository in the world for the papers of such men as Francis Schaeffer, Gordon Clark, G. Aiken Taylor, or William A. McIlwaine.
The archives can serve the children of our denomination, by making historical resources available to those in the Committee on Christian Education and Publication who design Sunday School curricula. Our children need to learn not only about Calvin and Knox, but also about Thornwell, Dabney, Hodge and Warfield; and they especially need to learn about the founding of the PCA, because if they do not, the PCA could easily end up in the same shape as the PC(USA), in only two generations.
Finally, the archives would benefit secular researchers, too. In the last fifteen years, in particular, social historians have discovered that any social history is incomplete without at least some attention to the religious attitudes and activities of the people they are studying. Often, they are ignorant of what Christianity is all about in the first place; they may never even have attended a church service, let alone understand the structure and function of a denomination. These researchers are also part of the "fields white unto the harvest," and a good archivist can help them see the profound Christian witness in the archival materials they study.
 
SETTING UP AN ARCHIVES
In 1984, the General Assembly adopted two resolutions regarding the PCA Archives: that Covenant Seminary be designated as the temporary site for the Archives, and that the "Brief Principles of Records Management and Archival Responsibility" be followed. These "Principles" include the provision that "all records, files and other archival material will be placed in the Archives after five years. In unusual circumstances the Archivist with the Stated Clerk may allow specific parts of materials to be left out of the General Assembly Archives beyond five years," but the Minutes go on to state that all records should be in the Archives after ten years.
The initial step in setting up any archives is to collect historical material. Three hundred cubic feet of records have already come to the Archives from Atlanta, and nine hundred more cubic feet are yet to be transferred up to St. Louis. After this initial transfer of non-current records, the flow from the Committee offices, Covenant College, and Covenant Seminary to the Archives is estimated to be about one hundred cubic feet per year. In addition, the Archives has received approximately one hundred cubic feet of private papers, and the annual acquisition rate will probably be around fifty cubic feet. With the one hundred cubic feet of Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod records already at Covenant Seminary, this makes for a grand total of 1400 cubic feet already there or soon designated to come, and an annual acquistiion rate of approximately one hundred fifty cubic feet.
Once it reaches the Archives, all of this material must be processed; an archivist goes through the material to see what its permanent historical value will be, then puts it in properly labeled acid-free folders and acid-free boxes. All metal fasteners, such as staples and paper clips, are removed, and any of the papers that have been torn or damaged are cleaned and repaired. The archivist prepares a Finding Aid, which includes a folder-by-folder inventory of the collection, and any appropriate indexes, such as a correspondents index. If there are non-manuscript materials in the collection, such as photographs or cassette tapes, they are stored with other like materials.
This processing takes time, people, space, and equipment; the current Archives situation makes for a very limited amount of all of those essential items. Covenant Seminary Library has been most generous in providing some space for the collections on its lower floor, but even so, that space will be completely full in three more years, at most. While space for storage is adequate for the present, the work space is cramped and inadequate, making it difficult to do the job right.
Currently, all of the Archives staff members are part-time, including the Director. Since it usually takes from twenty to forthy hours to process one cubic foot of material, the staff are falling further behind every day. By hard work and ingenuity, they have kept the backlog to a minimum, but as long as the number of work hours and personnel are so limited, it will keep gaining on them at an increasing rate.
The Archives' equipment needs are presently being met by the loan of a word processor, personally owned by the Stated Clerk, which has helped greatly in the output of correspondence. But there will soon be need for a computer, which is essential for preparing finding aids and catalog cards for the processed document collections. Audio-visual equipment is the other pressing need. Archival film, video, and audio tape must be handled with great care on the very best of equipment, because the older it gets, the more easily it is damaged.
 
THE CHALLENGE
Through the Archives, the Presbyterian Church in America has a wonderful opportunity ahead, both to serve its own membership and to reach out to others. But this opportunity requires financial and administrative commitment.
The Archives will be able to raise some of its own support, through the newsletter it publishes and other appeals by mail and in person; but it would be unrealistic to expect the director to raise the entire budget by himself. Given the backlog of work to be done, and the lack of any full-time staff, it would be impossible for the director to spend much time travelling to churches to ask for support.
It would be more appropriate for those committees and agencies who will be making use of the Archives' services to help support it. In the long run, it will actually save them money, because their records keeping practices will be streamlined. It costs $15.85 to keep one cubic foot of records in a file cabinet in an office for a year; but that same cubic foot will cost only 95 cents to keep in a box on steel shelving in a climate-controlled records center for a year.
Administrative commitment is just as important as financial commitment. The Archives cannot solve the records-keeping problems of the church all by itself; it has to be done in partnership with the records producers. PCA Committees need to agree to work with the Archives staff in developing records management policy and procedures; not just because it would be a nice thing to do, but because it is important to the health of the church as a whole.

"I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all thy doings;
I muse on the work of thy hands."
Psalm 143:5