Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Archives & history makes space for memory


Not all ministry is focused on meeting tangible needs in the present or shaping the making of disciples for the future. In the case of Archives and History, ministry is focused on the collection of church and denominational records in order to remember and access information about the past. This preservation of the past does more than organize membership rolls; it helps United Methodists learn from their past and prepare for the future.

Christina Wolf, archivist and special collections librarian for Oklahoma City University, manages the collection and organization of records for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church. Though she works for the university, Wolf has served at the conference, jurisdiction and general levels of the denomination’s Archives and History commissions.

“We serve as a bridge to the past for both the present and the future,” Wolf said. “It’s to put the history of the conference and denomination into context for people so that they understand their local church’s ministry of how they got there and why they chose to participate in that ministry for that church, whatever it may be.”

Brian Bakeman, a retired deacon in the Oklahoma Conference, has also served at the conference, jurisdiction and general levels of archives and history commissions. Bakeman recently served as the executive director of the South Central Jurisdiction and is finishing his first quadrennium on the general commission.

“The purpose is to preserve the memory of the church, which is more than just preserving history,” Bakeman said. “It helps us to understand where we’ve been so that it better interprets where we’re going.”

The Contact interviewed Wolf and Bakeman to learn more about this ministry. Editor’s note: answers have been edited for length.

Why is the ministry of Archives & History important?

Wolf: “It’s important mainly to help document and to reflect on the ministry of the conference and the local church itself. Often, we have people who come in and look through records and it’s providing that tangible, even if they’re electronic, it’s that tangible link to the past.”

Bakeman: “When you study the history of the church, one can better understand what we’re going through and better anticipate what it will look like when we get through.”

Wolf: “That tangible link that helps people understand how they got to where they are today. Also, it really brings alive the formation, the struggles that people have gone through over time to get to where they are, and also helps them to understand how things could be let go of.”

What challenges does the Archives & History ministry face?

Wolf: “It’s both a space and a utilization of time issue. When a church closes, there’s a plethora of material that’s not necessarily archival. I would estimate – going back to 3500 linear feet – that probably we have about 1,000 linear feet of space left. What I will do over the next several weeks is go through and take these bulky things and pull them out of the binders and put them into archival folders and boxes to get those seven cubic feet reduced down to four cubic feet, but that takes a lot of time to do.”

Bakeman: “We collect church information when churches are closed by the annual conference. Their records are transferred to the archives, and the archives at OCU are full of closed church records. One of the biggest problems Christina has is that churches like to send everything to the archives, and she gets overburdened with things that really should be shredded and disposed of.”

What are some common misconceptions about this ministry?

Bakeman: “Some of the common misconceptions are the expectations people have of the archivist. I think some of our local churches have an expectation when they’re getting ready to do a 100 year anniversary. They ask, ‘Can you give us the last 100 years of data?’ Well, you should have that yourself. That’s not something the archivist should be providing you; that’s something you should be providing the archivist. I sometimes get phone calls and ask where they can get this information, and I have to say that’s not information we can give you; that’s information you’re supposed to give us. It’s common in my context, if not hers.”

Wolf: “That we’re just here to collect old stuff. That’s not what we are. Yes, some of the records can be a mite dusty, but we’re here to be a keeper of the memory, and it’s not just old stuff. It can be things that were done recently and happening today.”

What’s something most people don’t know about this ministry?

Wolf: “You don’t have be writing an academic treatise or just your church’s history. You can look up a particular subject just because you’re curious. We have a lot of interesting collections that can really inspire if your church group is looking for things to do we have materials that could be of interest that show projects that other people have done.”

Bakeman: “I’ve been really impressed with that we’ve done is the commission on archives and history in the last couple years have done some really neat work… It’s been kind of neat when the commission on archives and history can bring together resources to do specially focused research to bring to light certain things unique to Oklahoma.”

What do you think individuals and churches need to remember about Archives & History?

Bakeman: “There are two parts of the archives. One is the local church and the other is the connection. The archives have a lot of material from general connectional activities, which is more than just local churches, so that minutes of meetings, all the conference journals are stored at the archives. We have a jurisdictional archive located at SMU. The archives hold all the institutional information... Archives & History are mandatory expenses of the annual conference. It’s not something we can’t just not spend money on; that’s not an option. It’s mandated by discipline. ‘Thou shalt have archives.’”

Wolf: “These records really belong to them. We are a custodian, and we are more than happy to answer questions. We want to welcome people to come to the archives reading room. We are located on the fifth floor of the Dulaney-Browne Library on the campus of OCU. They can reach out at dblarchives@okcu.edu or they can call 405-208-5067.”


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