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A Congregational Federation Archive

‘After investigating everything carefully from the very first, I decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.’ Luke 1:3-4 (RSV)

Here Luke gives his reason for recording the story of Jesus in his gospel. He continues the story in the book of Acts, with the first Christians, and the spread of the gospel into the world.

Both books are addressed to Theophilus, the reader, who needs to know the truth. And these two books, with all the other records of God’s people in Scripture, give us real insight into God’s work among people and in the world. Our lives are part of that ongoing story. I have been waiting for an opportunity to begin to gather records of the last half century into a proper archive to preserve the account of God’s work through the Congregational Federation.

Pile of papersLast November, Council agreed to make a start (looking into the cost and implications involved) and, early this year, a small group of interested people met at Bunyan Meeting, Bedford, to set things in motion. The members of the working group are Alan Argent, Chris Damp, Margaret Morris, Walter Riggans, Chris and Janet Wootton, and we already have some volunteers who are interested in helping.

We met to work out the nature of the task. We need to find out what material there is and where it is. Fifty years’ worth of minutes, reports, recordings, orders of service, photographs, etcetera exists in storage facilities, cupboards, offices, people’s garages at Nottingham and all round the country. And, of course, on a whole range of floppy disks, hard disks and memory sticks.

We need your help - First, PLEASE DON’T THROW ANYTHING AWAY!

Second, we would like you to help us find as much of the story as possible. Are you, or have you ever been a member, secretary or chair of one of the Congregational Federation’s national Committees or Boards? Have you been involved in Area meetings or publications or working parties? Do you have a secret stash of papers relating to the Lay Preachers’ Association or early Youth Conferences? Have you represented CF on a national or international ecumenical organisation? Do you know other people, perhaps now in glory, who were story keepers? What happened to their papers? Are their families still contactable? We will endeavour to follow all leads, if you provide them.

The national archive will include papers from Council, Committees, Boards and other organisational structures, but also May Meetings, Autumn Gatherings, Ministers’ Conferences (as they used to be called), Family Conferences (remember those?), Mission and Youth Work, and so on.

BooksThe Areas are an important part of the archive. If key papers are lodged with local records offices or libraries, we hope to locate and list them and, if they are still available, keep them as part of CF’s national story.

Local churches are treasure-houses of archivable memories. Some have minutes going back centuries, records of God’s work in vanished eras: ragged schools and Whit walks, pageants and war work; photos and orders of service, banners and that mysterious box of lantern slides... All these belong in the local community, so we will produce advice for local churches to make sure they are kept or lodged in such a way that researchers can find them, and their witness is not lost.

And lastly, if you have personal papers from ministers, preachers, or others who played a significant part in the lives of the churches, we will be able to help you find homes for these.

The working group will report to Council at the end of April, with a costed proposal for the creation of an archive. The eventual aim is to lodge this with the Congregational Library, which means engaging the services of a professional archivist, who will work with an oversight group and volunteers and provide advice on issues such as handling sensitive material and dealing with digital records.

In the last decade, the United Reformed Church, the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and the Unaffiliated Congregational Churches have all lodged their archives at the Congregational Library. Ours will complete the story of the churches and bodies that derive from the changes in 1972, which is part of the wider story of non-conformist Christianity in this country. Ours is a radical tradition, which had enormous influence in shaping the world we know today. It deserves to be preserved and made accessible.

There is no time to be lost! We may have been in touch with you by the time you are reading this. If not, and if you are interested in the project, or think you may have useful material or contacts, please email Janet Wootton or talk to your Area Secretary.