Archives exec hopes to preserve ‘ministry of memory’

It’s not uncommon to see General Conference delegates carrying Bibles with them, but few are carrying one as old or historically significant as one the Rev. Robert Williams brought to Tampa with him.

Williams, the top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, brought Francis Asbury’s Hebrew Bible, as well as a few other Methodist artifacts: Asbury’s eyeglasses and a Communion chalice used by Philip William Otterbein.

“I brought a few historical artifacts to General Conference because I think they help us with the ministry of memory of the Commission on Archives and History,” he said.

Williams fears that “ministry of memory” could be in jeopardy in light of the proposed Call to Action legislation that would fold the archival wing of the denomination into a “mega-agency” and do away with its current board of directors.

“I have found that my board of directors of 24 people brings great value to our work,” he said. “Some have been archivists, some know Methodist history well, and they care about this work. They provide good governance to the work that we do.”

Williams hopes his agency would still be allowed to remain as an independent commission. He points out that the agency already scaled down the size of its board, and only has a permanent staff of five.

“I recognize there is great concern for the best way to link up our governing structures, and I certainly affirm all the efforts that ministry is to be as efficient as possible,” Williams said. “If there is a reconfiguration, my concern is that it’s done in a way that our work does not get lost in such an amalgamation that we become insignificant.”

As so much of the restructure proposals have a focus on creating vital congregations, Williams hopes people remember that ministry occurs in many different arenas.

“Certainly vital congregations are essential and the base from which the ministry in our communities emerge, but those of us who work in the general church probably would not see that that should be a denial of ministry that occurs in other places by other means,” he said.

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