A Presbytery Historian???

Brian De Jong

Of all the fine qualities of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, one of the best is our attention to history. From earliest days, our denomination has taken seriously the exhortation of Hebrews 13:7 "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." We are a denomination that is committed to remembering God's great works in history, and the servants He has employed for His own glory.

The work of documenting and publishing our church's history is admirably done by our denominational historian. Our General Assembly has generously provided a committee to assist the historian in those important labors. The valuable books, articles, videos and web resources serve to teach a new generation about our rich heritage.

Yet there is an aspect of OPC history that is under-reported. I am speaking of the specific histories of our seventeen Presbyteries. Each regional church has its own unique story that deserves to be remembered, documented, told and preserved.

At present, only a handful of our Presbyteries have men appointed as the "Presbytery Historian" for that regional church. As the Archivist and Historian for the Presbytery of the Midwest, I would urge each and every Presbytery in our denomination to consider establishing and appointing a Presbytery Historian of their own. In this way, the record of God's dealings in the various regional churches of our denomination can be preserved and told to a generation yet unborn. Moreover, the existence of Presbytery historians will prove beneficial to our denominational historian as they work together to catalog our past.

In the Presbytery of the Midwest, this work has developed in several directions. One of my duties is to keep current the archives of our Presbytery's actions both in hard copy and digital formats.

When I was first elected, the Presbytery had boxes and boxes of paper documents and minute books which needed to be digitized. With the help of several assistants, we culled through the piles of paper to eliminate duplicates and prepare for digitizing. A kind friend from the Presbytery systematically digitized box after box of documents. The paper records were then put into archival folders and stored in archival plastic boxes. Digital versions are kept in multiple locations, with updated copies provided to the current moderator and stated clerk of the Presbytery. With each meeting, the archive is increased with both paper and digital versions.

When requests are made for access to the archives, the Moderator, Stated Clerk and Archivist consult on the propriety of the request. All access to the archives is then reported to the Presbytery at the next stated meeting.

Another part of my work has been to post material on our Presbytery website related to the history of PMW. This includes a timeline of the Presbytery from its founding in 1936 to the present day. There are also pictures and articles about our Presbytery provided for interested readers. These can be viewed at the Presbytery website.

Since we are an older Presbytery, we have members of our churches who were alive in the early days. From time to time, I conduct oral history interviews with these senior saints. Getting them to tell their stories, and to recall God's work over past decades is both enjoyable and important. Aware that they may graduate to glory in the near future, we make a record of their remembrances. The transcripts from these interviews can lead to further articles for publication.

Having hopefully piqued the interest of Presbyteries throughout the denomination, let me share with you the relevant portion of the standing rules of the PMW. These can serve as a model for how a Presbytery Archivist and Historian’s work could be structured.

      5. The archivist shall

  1. Have custody of all written records of the presbytery (except for the actual minute books) which are seven years old or older.
  2. Arrange to have all the records and reports preserved electronically, and an electronic copy of all records available at each stated meeting of the presbytery.
  3. Ensure minutes of past presbytery meetings are freely available (electronically or otherwise) to any presbyter.
  4. Provide electronic copies of all digital records of Presbytery to the current moderator and stated clerk for their exclusive use.
  5. Receive, process and respond to all requests submitted in writing for use of Presbytery records. Requests for records other than minutes of past meetings shall be evaluated by a committee of three comprised of the current moderator, stated clerk and archivist. They shall determine whether the request can be approved, and what access should be granted. Such requests shall be reported together with the response to the request in the archivist’s report at the next stated meeting of the Presbytery.
  6. Chronicle the history of the Presbytery by means of interviews, articles, chronologies, and documents, including those detailing the histories of the churches of the Presbytery.
  7. Encourage the churches of the Presbytery to preserve and publicize their own congregational histories, and to appoint congregational historians.
  8. Work in conjunction with the Historian of the OPC to promote awareness and appreciation of the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In appreciation for the labors of the Archivist/Historian, the Presbytery has generously provided a small honorarium to compensate for time spent on this task.