HOW TO WRITE A LOCAL CHURCH HISTORY
By Dr. Frederick E. Maser
This newly introduced online version of the booklet written by Dr. Maser is still published in hard copy and sold from the offices of the General Commission on Archives and History. You may print this online version for free or purchase the soft-bound booklet by printing the order form and mailing your order along with a check or money order to our offices in Madison, New Jersey.
This booklet is based on a workshop conducted by the author at the First Historical Convocation sponsored by the General Commission on Archives and History of The United Methodist Church at Lake Junaluska, July 1, 1989.
Frederick E. Maser (1908-2002), was a clergy member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He was the editor of the “Discovery” column of Methodist History, the denomination’s historical journal and a former Executive Secretary of the World Methodist Historical Society (1971-1974). Dr. Maser wrote articles for The History of Early Methodism and The Encyclopedia of World Methodism and authored the books, Robert Strawbridge, First American Methodist Circuit Rider and The Story of John Wesley’s Sisters.
The author wishes to express appreciation to Charles Yrigoyen, Jr. and Arthur W. Swarthout who read the manuscript in its original form and made several valuable suggestions which were incorporated into the text.
© General Commission on Archives and History, 1996.
In a fascinating volume titled, 14,000 Quips and Quotes, there is a series of one-liners about history. If they do nothing else, these quotes convince the reader that history is a live subject. Here are a few of them:
Perhaps no one has changed the course of history as much as the historian.
History is simply a record of [humankind’s] intelligence—or lack of it.
History is just gossip that has grown old gracefully.
History books that contain no falsehoods are extremely dull.
History reveals that wars create more problems than they solve.
All of these quotes are a form of capsular wisdom. As we begin this brief study on how to write a local church history we find in them both warnings and encouragement. They warn us not to create history, but to record it. Furthermore, they urge us to relate history in such a way that its events and people come alive and challenge readers to carry on the noble traditions of the past, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls that may reappear in the future.
In dealing with the subject of writing a local church history it might be well to set down an outline or agenda of what follows:
I. The Editorial Committee
II Setting Our Sights
III. Gathering the Material
IV. Telling the Story
V. Selling the Book