The Annual Conference Commission on Archives and History
How can your conference commission become most effective? A key step in the process is developing and maintaining a strong membership. Commission members should be knowledgeable about their responsibilities and enthusiastic about their work. All too often, the public views archives and history as unimportant and boring, dealing only with "names, dates, and old stuff." That image needs to give way to a more dynamic, comprehensive understanding. No one else in the conference will come to such a view until your members become skilled advocates for the commission's work.
The commission also needs to build its reputation within the constraints of its current circumstances. It needs to demonstrate reliability and competence as an agency of the Annual Conference. Until this happens, it is unlikely that much consideration will be given to adding capable persons to the commission's membership. While existing circumstances are often trying, the commission still needs to be as efficient, productive, and creative as possible in the present before it can expect positive changes in the future.
Once you begin to address these issues, you can work to cultivate a good relationship with the conference nominating committee (or its equivalent) and other conference leaders. Hard-working, conscientious volunteers, whether laity or clergy, are at a premium in any conference, and there will undoubtedly be competition for such persons from other conference agencies. The commission needs to understand this reality, but still act as a strong advocate for its own needs and interests. Obviously commission leaders should follow existing guidelines for the nominating process, while recognizing that these have both formal and informal aspects. It is sometimes helpful for commission leaders to suggest possible candidates for membership on the commission. Always give appropriate consideration to gender, racial, and age balance, especially encouraging younger persons to get involved.
Membership training is another important task. Set aside a specific time to introduce new commission members to their responsibilities. Such training can be provided by the current leadership or an outside resource person. Provide new (and current) members with printed materials such as commission bylaws, past or current publications, this manual, a glossary of historical and archival terms, commission meeting minutes, and financial information.
Encourage members to attend archival or historical workshops which are sponsored at the area, jurisdictional, or general church level. The commission can also schedule mini-workshops or "work days" as means of additional training. Commission members should look outside the church as well, using the resources of such agencies as the American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, and state and local historical societies. Members should join the Historical Society of The United Methodist Church, and read Methodist History, Historian's Digest, and publications of the World Methodist Historical Society.
The day-to-day management of commission work can make or break the interest of its members. People need to feel that they are a genuine part of the commission and that they have a definite role to play. Nothing will ruin their interest more rapidly than the feeling that they are simply extra wheels on the cart. Assign specific responsibilities to every commission member and request progress reports at regular intervals.
Remember that members of the General Commission living within your Annual Conference serve as ex officio members of your commission. (See The Book of Discipline, 2012, paragraph 610.6).
Commission leadership has a key task. The chairperson and other elected or appointed leaders need to carry out their responsibilities in a competent and knowledgeable manner. Prior to meetings, for example, a set of materials should be mailed to all members. This can include a proposed agenda and a list of decisions to be made. Meetings should start and end at the specified times. There ought to be a consensus on the agenda. The chairperson should monitor the progress of the meeting, the needs of the members, and the passing of time. Minutes should be properly taken and promptly transcribed, with copies provided to all members within a reasonable time after each meeting. Through it all, commission leaders need to demonstrate patience, tact, and common sense, while maintaining an overarching vision of the purpose and work of the commission.
Finances are a major concern for any conference commission. Often the work of the commission is significantly under-funded. It is impossible for a commission to fulfill its responsibilities without adequate financial support. The commission needs to be its own strongest advocate if it expects to receive increased funding.
Commission leaders need to understand precisely how the funding process works in their Annual Conference. Submit budget requests in the proper form, on time, and with the appropriate rationale. Be prepared to make a reasonable defense of your budget requests, either before the Council on Finance and Administration or on the floor of the Annual Conference. When defending your requests, be sure to draw attention to the assigned duties of the commission in The Book of Discipline, especially the care of conference records.
The process of upgrading the working budget of a conference commission is not an easy one. There is competition for funding within any Annual Conference, and you will need to make a strong case for increasing the commission's budget. Compare your budget to those of commissions in other Annual Conferences. Those figures can help you structure a budget request that will at least bring you to a level near the jurisdictional or denominational average. It can be useful to develop a "dream budget" of what really could happen if funding were not an issue. Then the actual asking might not seem as large. It is also appropriate to look at the budgets of comparable conference boards and agencies and request that the commission be funded at least at parity with them. Whatever your strategy, make a solid, supportable case for every item that you request.
Budget requests may include funds for commission meetings, maintenance of historical center(s), staff training and support, equipment and supplies, workshops and publications, Historic Sites (and Heritage Landmarks, where appropriate), and memberships in historical groups (including jurisdictional commissions/historical societies and the Historical Society of The United Methodist Church).
The actual management of commission finances is likewise important. Handle your expenditures according to established procedures in the Annual Conference. Use the appropriate forms and do not exceed budget allotments. Any questions about the use or disbursement of funds should be promptly and readily explained. Responsible use of existing budgetary funds will be a point in favor of possible increases in subsequent years.
There may be occasions when a commission goes outside the regular conference funding channels. This might be for such things as a special publishing project or to obtain equipment that cannot be provided through normal procedures. How can the funds be raised? Through applications to foundations, historical societies, or private institutions; with special offerings at heritage events; or through an endowment fund established by the commission. With conference approval, an offering can be received on Heritage Sunday for special historical projects. When you undertake any fund-raising effort, it is vital to communicate clearly with the Council on Finance and Administration and other conference leadership in order to preclude any possible misunderstanding. Remember that the historical society of an Annual Conference can often spearhead fund-raising for projects.
Do not neglect the commission's long range financial needs. These ought to be in harmony with your quadrennial goals. In many Annual Conferences, for example, the needs of the conference archives cannot be adequately dealt with in a single year's budget. The commission must have a clear understanding of the needs, costs, and priorities involved in upgrading its archival depository. This can become part of a systematic effort over several years to improve the facility, or it can become the focus of a special project. The same long-range perspective can be brought to bear on such efforts as the publication of a conference history, preparations for a conference bicentennial celebration, plans for a multi-year oral history project, and so on.
Throughout this entire process, it is important for commission leaders to work openly and responsibly with other conference agencies and leaders. The commission, while being its own advocate for budgetary and other needs, is also part of the Annual Conference. Commission leaders must recognize the needs and aspirations of other conference entities, as well as the financial realities under which the entire conference operates.
As we have already discussed, it is important to give commission members specific tasks and responsibilities. These tasks can range from administrative duties to publicity to historical research and writing. Commission members can lead workshops, index newspapers, edit publications, interview retired conference members, or any number of assignments that further the ministry of history in your conference.
However, some aspects of archival work demand personnel with specialized skills and training. You may have an historian, archivist, librarian, curator, or some combination of these roles held by one or more individuals. These persons may be volunteer or paid, part-time or full-time, and may do other work for the conference or for the institution where your historical center is housed. For example, if your archives are housed in a college library, your archivist may also be the university archivist.
Whatever the title, these positions, whether paid or volunteer, should have written job descriptions that are reviewed at least annually. Persons who are paid for doing a task should not be voting members of the commission. Volunteers may very well be members of the commission. Any person assigned to an ongoing role should expect to report regularly to the commission on his or her work.
Paid positions should always be advertised when vacant. The commission should select the most qualified applicant and provide at least the same support and benefits as those received by other conference employees.
The commission should consider creating a set of bylaws (some conferences call it a constitution) to govern your work. Provisions of the bylaws can include how your commission will be organized, how often it will meet, the types of committees it will have, its work with conference Historic Sites, the conference historian, and other programmatic concerns in addition to its management of the archives. It is often useful for the commission to create a handbook for its members that contains the bylaws and other documents created by the commission, including those discussed in this manual.
[Brackets indicate places for you to adapt text for your situation.]
Article I. NAME
The name of this organization shall be the [ ] Conference Commission [Committee] on Archives and History of The United Methodist Church.
Article II. PURPOSE
Section 1. [Copy here paragraph 641.1 of The Book of Discipline, 2012 beginning with sentence three.]
Section 2. [Copy here paragraph 641.4]
Section 3. [Add any other duties of your commission.]
Article III. MEMBERSHIP
[Include here a clear comprehensive statement of the membership of the commission, how they are elected or appointed, by whom, when, the term of office, any limitations on tenure, how vacancies are filled, etc.
EXAMPLE: The ten members of the commission are elected each quadrennium by the conference upon nomination of the nominating committee. At least one lay person and one clergyperson shall be selected from each district. No person may serve more than three consecutive quadrennia. Vacancies will be filled by the conference at its next annual meeting. A vacancy occurs if a member misses two consecutive regular meetings without good reason.]
Article IV. MEETINGS
The commission shall meet [ ] and at such other times as may be deemed necessary at such time and place as it shall determine. Special meetings may be held at the call of the president or [ ]. A quorum is any number of members present at a properly called meeting.
Article V. OFFICERS
Section 1. The commission shall elect a chairperson [unless the conference elects this officer], vice-chairperson, secretary, treasurer [or secretary-treasurer], and [other officers] for terms of four years each. Vacancies in the respective offices shall be filled at the next meeting for the unexpired term or may be accomplished by mail ballot.
Section 2. The duties of each officer will be those normally required of the particular office. The chairperson shall make an annual report to the Annual Conference, as well as to the Jurisdictional and General Commissions on Archives and History.
Section 3. The commission may designate an historian, archivist, librarian, and/or curator. They may be ex-officio members of the commission with voice and vote. If they are paid staff, they may be ex-officio members of the commission with voice but not vote.
Section 4. The commission shall form an Executive Committee composed of its officers and one member of the commission elected by the commission at large.
Article VI. FINANCES
Section 1. Allocation of funds necessary for the operation of the commission shall be made by the Annual Conference. The commission shall submit an annual budget in accordance with conference procedure.
Section 2. Allocation of funds necessary for the operation of the commission shall be made by the Annual Conference. The commission shall submit an annual budget in accordance with conference procedure.
Section 3. The commission may maintain special funds given expressly for its work in accordance with conference policy. The commission may accept gifts, bequests, or legacies.
Article VII. ACCOUNTABILITY
Section 1. The commission is amenable to the Annual Conference to which it shall report at least annually.
Section 2. Unless otherwise stipulated, all records in the custody of the commission shall be the property of the Annual Conference and the commission shall be the custodian thereof.
Section 3. The commission shall cooperate with and be amenable to the conference Council on Ministries in order that its program emphases may be integrated into the total unified program of the conference. All plans shall be cleared through the Council.
Article VIII. HISTORICAL CENTER(S)
The commission shall be in charge of archives, libraries, museums, and other depositories and shall have authority to determine the location of same. Title to all materials and real property shall be vested in the conference Board of Trustees, but the commission shall retain authority of control, protection, cataloging, and responsibilities for use and care of such materials.
Article IX. HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The commission may organize a conference historical society and encourage individuals to be come members of it for the purpose of promoting interest in the study and preservation of the history of the conference and its antecedents.
Article X. BYLAWS
The commission may revise these bylaws if the changes are in harmony with The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and the actions of the Annual Conference.
Article XI. AMENDMENTS
These bylaws may be amended by a majority vote of the commission at any meeting if written notice of the intended changes has been given to members at least two weeks in advance. They shall be reviewed at least annually.
Article XII. PARLIAMENTARY AUTHORITY
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised shall apply in all circumstances where it is not in conflict with the Discipline, actions of the Annual Conference, or these bylaws.
Sample Agenda For Commission Meetings
* Invocation or Devotional and/or Historical Moment * Minutes of Previous Meeting: Review and Approval * Purpose and Agenda for this meeting * Report of the Executive Committee and/or Officers, including financial report * Reports of Standing Committees (if any) * Reports of Special Committees or Projects (if any) * Reports of Staff (such as Historian or Archivist) (if any) * Correspondence (General Commission, Jurisdiction, Annual Conference, other) * Ongoing Concerns and Responsibilities of the Commission: Conference Records - care and collection Conference Historical Center(s) - archives, library, museum Historic Sites (and Heritage Landmarks, where applicable) Plans for next Annual Conference session Plans for next Heritage Sunday Service to Local Churches (Preserving Records and Compiling Histories) Conference Historical Society (establishing or continuing support) Other projects and activities * New Business * Program: Possibilities include: a speaker, a visit to an Historic Site, presentation of paper and discussion, workshop, or media presentation * Setting the next meeting * Announcements and adjournment