Agency QA: Archives and History

1. What would the church miss if your agency no longer existed?
If the work ceased, the church would lose the professional archiving function that collects, preserves and utilizes the documentary record of the church. The collective memory of the church would be impaired to the point that identity would be lost, vision diminished and ministry impaired. It is through the archival records that a balanced accountability of our denomination's actions is maintained. Without such record keeping, all that the church would have is a short-term memory and focus when dealing with important issues of the day. If the governing structure were eliminated, the advice of well-informed archivists and historians would be lost and accountability would be shifted to those who are not trained in this work.

The Rev. Robert J. Williams
The Rev. Robert J. Williams

2. What is your agency's primary mission? How do you accomplish this in the most effective manner?
The primary mission is to attend to all the historical interests of the denomination and to collect and process historical materials related to all aspects of the international work of The United Methodist Church. We accomplish this with a small, well-trained staff, with increased use of the latest preservation techniques and with the board of 24 directors meeting only once a year.

3. Name at least one exciting thing in which your agency has been involved during the current quadrennium. How does it relate to the Four Areas of Focus?

The agency provides the historical perspective for all the areas of focus. The Commission on Archives and History has created a scholarship to help educate a person of color in archival studies and does excellent leadership training for conference archivists. Much of our excitement comes when a previously unknown collection of materials is turned over to us, such as 1,000 letters from Bishop Gilbert Haven, prominent 19th century abolitionist and holiness leader.

4. How does the average United Methodist pastor or member benefit from your agency's work? Social advocacy? Curriculum? Scholarships? Please give a concrete example, ideally quoting a testimonial from someone outside of your agency.
We service researchers from local churches, annual conferences and the academic community from all over the world. There is rarely a book written on Methodist history that doesn't include acknowledgments of help provided by Archives and History staff. The general secretary supports and maintains contact with various historical organizations. We field both phone calls and emails on a daily basis from local United Methodists searching for ancestors who were involved in the ordained ministry or the mission work of the church. We are able to give them information about those ancestors.

5. How much money and how many employees does it take to maintain the work your agency is currently doing?
The Archives and History budget is about $1 million per year, and we have four full-time permanent employees and one part-time employee.

Learn more: Website of the Commission on Archives and History

For more information, visit the General Conference 2012 website

Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at

Sign up for our newsletter!

Mission and Ministry
Tim Tanton (center, in red), chief news and information officer for United Methodist Communications, shares updates with African communicators and other UMCom staff during the 2019 General Conference. World Press Freedom Day, observed May 3, commemorates journalists and highlights the difficulties they face while reporting truth. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News

World Press Freedom Day and the church

Tim Tanton with United Methodist News talks about giving voice to the voiceless and why freedom of information is essential not only for society but for the church.
The Rev. Tom Berlin (left) presents a copy of his book, “Courage,” to Massachusetts National Guard Chaplain Chad McCabe in the chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. McCabe, whose unit was assigned to help provide security at the U.S. Capitol after the January riot, contacted Wesley Seminary asking for Bibles, novels and board games for troops stationed there. Photo by Lisa Helfert for Wesley Theological Seminary. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Church responds to chaplain's call to help soldiers

A National Guard chaplain got Bibles, games and 150 copies of a new book about courage when he turned to Wesley Theological Seminary for help keeping soldiers occupied in Washington in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection.
The Rev. William B. Lawrence.  Photo by H. Jackson/Southern Methodist University.

What would Jesus tell the US Capitol rioters?

The Rev. William B. Lawrence examines the claims of Scriptural authority by violent protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.