Repository update: ecumenical records in a religious archives

Kira Baker is the current Social Media Intern for the A&A Section. Having earned her Master’s degree from the University of Toronto iSchool in 2015, she has since been working as an Archives Assistant at the United Church of Canada Archives in Toronto, Canada.

My current role as Archives Assistant for the United Church of Canada Archives (UCCA) is working with the records of General Council, the national court of the United Church of Canada. Recent collections work has focused on processing a backlog of “inter-church” records which describe various types of ecumenical organizations made up of cooperating Christian churches that the United Church has been involved with through staff affiliation and grant funding. The types of inter-church records in our holdings range from local chapters of the Lord’s Day Alliance, 1896-1917, (dedicated to preserving Sunday as the day of rest) to the Canadian Methodist Historical Society, 1976-2007. Several collections relate to social justice and activist groups from more recent decades; some of my personal favorites include the Inter-Faith Committee to Support Farm Workers, Inter-Church Committee on Chile (created in response to human rights abuses under the Pinochet dictatorship), and the Movement for Christian Feminism.

Pamphlet for Movement for Christian Feminism workshop , 1979. (UCCA 2016.106C)
Pamphlet for Movement for Christian Feminism workshop , 1979. (UCCA 2016.106C)

The collection I am now in the midst of, however, turns out to not really be inter-church at all. Over the course of United Church history (established from antecedent denominations uniting in 1925) there have been talks initiated with the Anglican Church of Canada regarding unification into a single church, the last major General Commission on Union ending in 1974 when the Anglican Church withdrew. While these records consist of joint committees with staff from both churches, these records needn’t have been labelled inter-church and should be linked with our other records of church union committees. To note, this collection had some arrangement and description work completed, with a finding aid created in the early 1980s. However, the last six boxes were unsorted and appear to have been an accession that was later tacked on.

A batch of boxes waiting for my attention.
A batch of boxes waiting for my attention.

Decision-making concerning reappraisal has largely dealt with the overwhelming number of duplicate copies of records. Duplicate meeting minutes, reports, and papers, as well as copies of published materials that can also be found in our reference library. I suspect the original processing focused more on item level description than appraisal of the collection as a whole. The removal of these duplicates has paired down the collection quite a bit and has made the remaining records easier to navigate for researchers. Minutes, correspondence, reports and draft versions of the Commission and subcommittees make up the bulk the records remaining in the collection. Another portion of records includes essays and response pieces collected by the Commission on the subject of union between these churches and Christian union abroad. The Commission recruited those who would specifically respond to Commission documents and statements to gather feedback and consultation. While some of these records have been selected for removal, other pieces, especially those direct response papers, remain with the collection, demonstrating not only opinions towards issues of union but also the methods of the Commission.

Freeing up coveted shelf space.
Freeing up coveted shelf space.

Moreover, this processing work coincides with a large incoming deposit of records from the national offices expected in the next few months that has required the UCCA to reassess the current records storage capacity. The timing of initially carrying out a records survey and processing the inter-church records backlog has helped provide staff with a better understanding of those record collections and thinking about how these ecumenical collections connect with other records in the archives and contribute to our collection mandate.

As I am writing this post, the processing is not yet completed but I do see the light at the end of the tunnel and I look forward to the finished product!

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