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Local Lutheran church committee promotes archives education

Posted 10/23/23 (Mon)

Churches and other organizations with rich histories may be able to get help in preserving their pasts.

First Lutheran Church has received three grants through the State Historical Society of North Dakota that have enabled the Minot church to archive materials from its 140-year history and establish a system for preserving history going forward.

In observance of American Archives Month in October, First Lutheran is holding an Archives Appreciation Day on Sunday.

Barb Solberg, a member of First Lutheran’s archives committee, will be speaking at 9:30 a.m. in the church sanctuary to explain what an archives is and share the knowledge about preservation gained by the committee through its efforts over the past five and half years. The event is open to the public.

Solberg said the committee wants to encourage other organizations that are thinking about preserving their histories.

“What I think is important is that organizations and people in town know that you can do this. There is money available,” she said.

Solberg said First Lutheran’s efforts might not have been possible without the help of the State Historical Society, which provides grants up to $2,000 to assist with archival projects.

First Lutheran requested an initial grant to cover the cost of archive supplies. Solberg said First Lutheran’s committee wasn’t familiar with available supplies but found a company with products that worked well for them, so it then requested a second, somewhat larger grant for more supplies. The church committee recently received a third grant for about $1,400.

First Lutheran also has been aided by a guide developed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for congregational archives. The guide states that archives should contain the primary records needed to identify a church’s past. It should serve as the collective memory of an organization. Archival documents are those that answer the who, what, when, where and why of the history of a local parish.

The guide lists the types of documents that should be preserved and how they should be preserved. In keeping with the guide, Solberg said, First Lutheran not only stores items using topical and chronological systems, but the committee developed a file of aids for finding every item in custody.

Solberg said not all materials that may be in an organization’s possession should be archived. Since it began its work, First Lutheran’s committee culled a number of materials saved over the course of the church’s history, including photos with no identification that give them a story to tell, she said.

Going forward at First Lutheran, the minister and office staff, who generate materials that likely will need preservation, have been provided with collection files for automatically depositing those items for the committee to archive.

Solberg said there are additional items that need to be saved to preserve the social history of the church. For instance, art displayed in the church is documented so people in the future will know something about the artist.

First Lutheran’s archives also contain files for floods, pandemics and other societal events that have impacted the church or prompted the church to respond.

Without history preservation, an organization’s understanding of its past can be lost, Solberg said. A large stained glass window in First Lutheran’s sanctuary included a pane with the script, “Willing Workers.” Solberg thought it was just a phrase about being willing to help until she started digging into the First Lutheran’s documents and learned about a children’s organization called Willing Workers. Among their activities, the church’s children raised the money for the stained glass window and church bell.

“We talk about the archives here, but the congregation – they have no concept – just like I didn’t. So that’s why we’re doing Archive Appreciation Sunday,” Solberg said. “Know that your history is important, and somebody has to capture it.”