Archives and Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church

Manuscript Collections :
Synthetic Collections :

Why An Oral History?
by Georgia Settle


The history of the PCA is preserved in documents that are stored in the Historical Center in St. Louis, Missouri. But very often important aspects of our history are not found in documents. Motives are seldom put on paper.

For example, in February 1973, the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church met at the Hilton Inn near the Atlanta Airport. At that meeting a vote was taken to initiate steps to begin a new Presbyterian denomination. That fact is documented in the Historical Center. But in taping interviews of the men who were there, I learned that the vote was preceded by an extended time of prayer and that some of the men wept as they voted to separate from the denomination to which their families had belonged for generations. That knowledge gives us perspective on the historical fact.


Oral history is simply "spoken memories". The PCA Historical Center includes among its holdings interviews with men who have influenced what the denomination is today. Some of these men have died since these tapes were made; but their memories are available to all who want to research PCA history.

To better understand any movement, one must know something about the men responsible for that movement. Knowledge of the Apostle Paul, for example, helps us to better understand the churches that grew out of his preaching.

Each PCA church is the product of the Holy Spirit working through men and women. Each church takes on aspects of the personalities of those who have helped to shape it over the years. A valuable part of the history of the PCA is to be found in the memories left by those leaders who influenced the church.

Where Do I Start?:

What would you like to know about the history of your church? If you and other members of your church think a particular person or topic is worth catching on tape, that is the place to start. Remember, the purpose of the oral history is to supplement the written record, to give color and personality to it. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Ask charter members to describe their memories of the first meeting they attended, of the first pastor, of crises that arose and how the church dealt with them, of men or women whose personalities influenced the church, or the role the church has played in the community over the years.

  • Others that you might interview would be the current pastor, the oldest member of the church, former pastors, and ministers or missionaries who were members of the church when they were called.

How Do I Get Started?:

Contact the person, explain what you are doing, and set a time and place.

Make a list of questions concerning people and events, especially turning points in the church, revivals, struggles, growth, etc. Ask them to think of other things they remember.

Check your tape recorder. Use only fresh batteries and have several unused, good quality tapes on hand.

Arrange the room so that the recorder is close to your hand and clearly picks up the voices.

Check the recording level of each voice before you begin.

Begin the recording by stating clearly the date, the subject and the name of the person or persons being interviewed.

For an interesting program, a few charter/older members could sit on the platform and reminisce. Someone with a list of questions should keep it flowing.

Preserving and Using Oral History:

Make one or more copies of each tape. Follow directions on the tape to protect it from being erased. Make a type-written typescript of the interview and file it with the written history of the church. You might want to print brief excerpts in the church newsletter or play portions for women's meetings, Sunday School classes or other groups.

You may wish to video tape the interview. If so, it would be a good idea to make a separate audio recording for the church archives.

Remember, all history is HIS-STORY. It is our Sovereign Lord who guides and controls the events and people of the world to bring about His purpose. The history we record is the story of His working in lives and that makes it exciting. That is also why we must preserve it and pass it on to our children.

Psalm 78
. . .
"we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done. . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands."


©PCA Historical Center, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO, 2009. All Rights Reserved.




┬ęPCA Historical Center, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO, 2018. All Rights Reserved.