Forward Through the Ages: Keeping memories alive
Your heritage celebration can be a time to create, collect, and record memories for future generations.
Quilts and Banners
Some churches celebrate their heritage with an anniversary quilt. There are many ways to design the quilt: Each square can honor someone special in the church, or the quilt can picture the different sanctuaries of the church over time. A signature quilt contains the embroidered name of every member. Other quilts recreate a stained glass window. Wall hangings or banners are also exciting heritage projects. Children and youth can help design and execute these colorful additions to a Sunday school classroom or fellowship hall. Some history-related subjects for a banner are the silhouette of a circuit rider, an outline of the original church building, or a special heritage logo designed by the Sunday school.
A Time Capsule
This is also a good project for children and youth. They can write letters to their grandchildren, take snapshots of each other, and collect ephemera that they think best expresses who they are: homework assignments, ticket stubs, menus from their favorite pizza place, a local newspaper.
It isn't necessary to bury a time capsule. The contents can be sealed in an acid free box and placed in the church archives or library with an inscription directing that the box should be opened in fifty years.
Every person in your church has a story to tell, and an oral history project can celebrate the heritage your church shares.
Certainly you want to interview longtime church members who can remember what the church and community were like many years ago. They have an invaluable perspective on how the church has changed and grown in different eras. Their stories - funny, touching, or dramatic - will make the past come to life. Their interview tapes will be an important addition to the church archives.
Consider interviewing other persons as well. For example, persons who are new to the church can talk about how their lives have been changed by joining the congregation. Those who are currently the church leaders will have insights about the church's mission that will be very helpful to future generations. Young people can talk about their needs and hopes; parents can talk about their dreams for their children.
An oral history project can be a great way to introduce the generations to each other:
Young people can interview their elders.
Adults can interview children.
"Twenty-somethings" can interview "Forty-somethings."
Through such a project, intergenerational ties can be strengthened, and several age groups may learn how to celebrate and better understand both their similarities and their differences.
Although an oral history project is very rewarding, it takes a certain amount of training and a real commitment of time and energy. A growing number of colleges and historical agencies offer training. Contact your state or county historical societies and libraries about workshops. The American Association for State and Local History also has resources for doing oral history (see the Resource Directory).
Build the Archives
A heritage celebration may be the very best time to build the church archives.
First, survey what you have. Make notes on what you have, where everything is located, and what the physical condition is of the materials your church has saved over the years.
Then, make two lists. One is a list of missing items. For example, you may be missing the Women's Society minute book from the 1940s or the trustees' records from the 1890s.
On the second list, note those items you especially want, such as photographs of the sanctuary or newspaper articles about the church's work with Vietnamese refugees.
Circulate both lists to the church family. Perhaps you can call the first "Missing in Action" and the other "The Wish List". Encourage people to look in closets, under beds, and behind doors; you may be surprised at what turns up!
If you are unsure about what belongs in a local church archives, contact your annual conference archives and/or the General Commission on Archives and History.
Even as you fill in the gaps from the past, remember that it is important to record today's history. Collect those records, artifacts, photographs, and personal stories that will show future generations what your congregation is like today.
One way to collect today's memories is with an anniversary project you can call "A Year in the Life." Invite the photographers in your congregation (children, youth, and adults) to take a year-long "snapshot" of your church in action:
the church school
meetings of boards and committees
the youth group
Carefully identify all photographs. At the end of the year, before you put the photographs in the archives, host a part for the congregation where everyone can look at all the photos, share memories, and celebrate the church in ministry together.