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The Challenges of Being a Church Historian

Featured The Challenges of Being a Church Historian

by Dr. Ted A. Campbell
Member of the General Commission on Archives and History



I want to speak to you on the topic of “The Challenges of Being a Church Historian.” Being a church historian is no insignificant vocation. The Bible itself is a narrative of God's acts with the people of Israel and the people who became the early Christian community. As church historians, we have the sacred responsibility of continuing that narrative of God's work into the narrative or stories of our own congregations. The holy apostle St. Luke, author of the Gospel according to St. Luke and of the Acts of the Apostles, was a church historian, and the Acts of the Apostles is the prototypical work of church history. As we shall see, St. Luke himself functioned as good historians do, considering carefully the sources of his history and then putting his account in good order. My point here is that in joining the ranks of church historians, you join an illustrious company that includes at least one of the holy apostles, many of the saints of the Christian ages, and a host of lesser-known figures who faithfully recorded the narrative of the church in their regions and in their times.


Now, just so you'll all feel at home, the ranks of church historians also include a few jerks and scoundrels, and many, many bad writers. Trust me, I know. And don't get to thinking that they were bad writers because they were not professional historians—far from it. Being a professional historian does not automatically confer the divine gift of being able to write well. Again, trust me on at least this issue: I know. 

And let me say a word about this from the beginning. I am a professional church historian and proud of the fact. I am a member of the American Society of Church History, founded in 1887 by Philip Schaff, and I do deeply appreciate the contributions of my professional colleagues who, under pressure from universities, crank out scholarly volumes from university presses with long footnotes. But professional church historians are a relatively late historical development (we know), and they remain only a small minority of all those who are involved in telling the narratives of Christian communities. Let me tell you about two non-professional church historians whose work has been very important to me.

The first was a man named Lockwood Prentice Cammack, Sr., who died in 1972 in Beaumont, Texas. He was professionally an employee of the Western Union Telegraph Company and served as shop manager for the Beaumont and Houston offices of Western Union. He was from a long line of Methodist lay people from Mississippi and Texas, and he was a member of the Rosedale Methodist Church near Beaumont, a church that became St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Beaumont in his lifetime. In the late 1960s, the folks at First United Methodist Church in Beaumont were working on a history of their church that was subsequently published as Cornerstones: A History of Beaumont and Methodism.[1] They asked folks from each of the other United Methodist congregations in Beaumont to contribute a short history of their congregation for this volume, and the folks at St. Luke's naturally looked to Mr. Cammack to write their history. He began working on this, but fell ill and was not able to complete it.

It was taken over by a second non-professional church historian, a fellow member of the St. Luke's congregation who had been born as Verda Odessa Williams. She completed the brief history of Rosedale and St. Luke's UMC and she participated in the signing ceremony at First UMC Beaumont where all the authors together signed copies of the volume when it was released. I know because I drove here her there. She was my paternal grandmother, Verda Campbell, and her collaborator, Lockwood Cammack, was my maternal grandfather. So although I can say, with the prophet Amos, that “I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son...” (Amos 7:14), I am the grandson of two church historians, and I dedicated my book on The Religion of the Heart to the memory of these two non-professional church historians who were my predecessors in this vocation.

Whether you are a professional historian or not, you join an illustrious company in this calling. In fact, I would say that far from being a merely professional designation, being a church historian can be described as a kind of vocation or calling, but on the other hand it can be described as a kind of disease or illness. Of course they don't tell you this until after they have nominated you to be your local church's archivist or historian, but it is important to diagnose this vocation or illness and ascertain whether you may be already showing symptoms of it. So with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, I offer you here my own list of symptoms of church historianship under the general rubric, “You might be a church historian if...

1. The first criterion, and by far the most clearly diagnostic, is this: if you keep piles and piles of junk and paper around your house—or your office—you just might be a church historian. In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, we could expand this to say: you might be a redneck church historian if you keep piles of junk around the house and you have a sofa on the front porch. Other people may think we're just trashy, but they don't get it. What we know is that every one of those pieces of paper is going to be a precious historical document someday and every one of those supposedly junky items is going to be a priceless historical artifact or relic for future historians. (In sophisticated historical circles, we refer to this as “material culture” objects). So we can't bear to get rid of our piles of stuff. Now, if you go so far as to keep your piles of junk in chronological order, then I have to break the news to you that you are indeed a very sick case, and you might as well just go ahead and do the PhD and join the American Society of Church History and get it over with.

2. A second criterion is this: if you're constantly pulling over to read historical markers, you might be a church historian. Just ask my wife. We church historians are at our job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and that includes when we're on vacation. We're always on the lookout for history.

3. A third criterion: if you tramp around churches looking for their cornerstones, you might be a church historian. You see, we know that the cornerstones are likely to reveal critical historical information, and we become students of the mysterious inscriptions they are likely to bear, like the letters “M.E.C.S.” A similar criterion probably applies to folks who go poking around in local church cemeteries.

4. Fourth criterion: if you can list at least five pastors of your congregation in chronological sequence, you might be a church historian. This one is not a definitive trait, but Methodist church historians delight in lists like this and in fact Methodists as a group can be described as more than a little bit obsessive-compulsive about keeping statistics and lists of preachers and other officers. We always kept the statistics in the past to prove that God was genuinely at work in our churches because they were growing, and so these days our statistics are proving to be really embarrassing. But Methodist church historians are usually folks who are accustomed to keeping lists.

5. A fifth criterion: if you're the person around your local church to whom people get referred if they ask about historical details, then you just might be a church historian. Somebody asks about when the steeple on the church building was put in, you know, and they say, “Well I don't know, but ask Mrs. Jeffers.” Congratulations, Mrs. Jeffers. When you least expect it, you're elected.

Now maybe only one or two of those criteria apply to you, maybe you are in the fairly early stages of this disease, so we are going to try to push you on in this today. You may be thinking, well, “'I'm just an archivist,” but what is the point of archives if not eventually for writing history? An archivist can be defined as an historian who hasn't started writing yet. So I presume you have the disease and to some extent you've been infected with the church history bug—you wouldn't likely be here at this meeting otherwise. This may well be an incurable condition, but I want to offer you my own best advice as to how to live with it, that is how to be a good church historian. I will now break down the challenge of being a church historian into seven particular challenges we face in the calling or vocation to be a church historian.

1. The Challenge of Telling the Truth

The first challenge we have is to tell the truth. This is what good historians from time out of mind have done: they tell the truth. There's a different standard for novelists. Mark Twain's character Huck Finn said, "That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.  There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth."[2] That's the novelist standard, but that won't do for church historians. We have to tell the truth.

The apostle and evangelist St. Luke, for example, began his account of the gospel with a straightforward claim. Many others, Luke acknowledged, had "undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word," and so Luke also "after investigating everything carefully [or, accurately] from the very first" undertook "to write an orderly account" (Luke 1:1-4).[3] There does not appear to be any hidden meaning in this that wants deep probing. Luke simply claims that he had looked at the evidence "carefully" or "accurately," and on the basis of this evidence he proposed "to write an orderly account." He told the truth.

Other historians began with similar claims. Herodotus began his history of the Peloponnesian War with the claim that he had set forth what he had learned "by inquiry," and his text shows consistently how he sifted through sources, rejecting what he considered to be spurious or misleading.[4] He told the truth as best he knew it.

Now sometimes telling the truth as an historian means being careful about what you say and how you say it. If Mrs. Johnson reports that Rev. Snodgrass kept the parsonage like a pigsty, you know that may or may not be true. Actually it may or may not be relevant to your history, but if you decide it's relevant, then do you say “Rev. Snodgrass kept the parsonage like a pigsty”? Maybe, maybe not. But you can always say, “Mrs. Johnson reports that Rev. Snodgrass kept the parsonage like a pigsty.” That's the truth. You're taking responsibility for exactly what you know.

Telling the truth may also mean admitting what we don't know. There will be gaps in your history. There always are, because our sources are limited. The challenge is to tell what we do know, and be honest about what we don't know. Stating matter-of-factly what we don’t know may challenge some future historian to take up a topic!

Sometimes telling the truth in a congregation is uncomfortable. When Dale and I arrived in Rockville, Maryland in 1993, the congregation of the Rockville United Methodist Church was beginning a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of that congregation in 1844. Or so they said. There was a historically Black United Methodist congregation just three blocks away, and members of the Rockville United Methodist Church said, yes, we gave them that building when we moved out of it. But when I started poking around I discovered that that the Jerusalem-Mount Pleasant congregation was in fact the original Methodist Episcopal congregation founded in Rockville in 1844, and the congregation of the Rockville United Methodist Church had originated in 1860 as a white secession from the original ME congregation, and they formed a congregation of the ME South denomination that took the name “Rockville Methodist Church.” Our congregation had stolen not only the name but also the history of the earlier Rockville congregation, and that was painful to say, but you have to tell the truth.

2. The Challenge of Documenting Your History

In the second place we face the challenge of documenting our histories. Twenty years from now, it won't matter much if you write a beautiful history of your congregation, and you believe it's all true: if the history is not documented, there will be no way for anyone to know if it is true or not. When I say “document your history,” I mean not only that you should use standard formats for reporting about your documentation (and you should), but more importantly, I mean that however you do it, you should inform your readers as to how you know about the truth you're reporting. That's the really important point: you deliver not only the truth about history in your narrative, but you show how you know these historical facts. However you do that, that's what I mean by documentation.

Most demonstrably, documentation means that you attach notes—footnotes or in-line references—to what you write. Footnotes, for the church historian, are “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” And the grace is conversation. Footnotes show the reader that you are not just giving a monologue full of your own opinions, you are entering into a dialogue with sources that inevitably represent the records and views of other persons. A footnote (or an in-line reference if you choose that system) is a sign of dialogue. When I as a professor read a student's paper that goes on for three or four pages without notes, I grow weary, because the student is just yapping, just offering a monologue. But when they start using notes—ah! I “feel my heart strangely warmed.” Now a conversation is going on, and this is much more interesting. The truth is that we as historians often read the notes before we read anything else. The notes reveal quickly and sharply what sources a writer is using, and with whom they want to be in dialogue. Sometimes, that's all you need to know.

Now so far as you can, you should use standard formats for documentation, like those in the Chicago Manual of Style or Kate Turabian's classic Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. The point of using standard formats is to honor your reader by not requiring your readers to learn your unique system of documentation. One or two standard formats is enough for most of us to master, so it's best to stick to the standards. However, the most important thing is not the formalities of documentation, but it's the delivery of consistent, useful information about your sources. If you cite a book, you need to state the title, the author or editor, who published it, when it was published. I encourage my students, and I would encourage you for the same reason, not to cite internet sources: they're simply not reliable, and they seldom have good bibliographical data like printed books almost always have. Use the internet as a way to get to other resources, but cite internet sources only as a last resort.

Part of the work of documentation is simply keeping good records of your work. If you interview someone, make sure you note when and where you interviewed them, record their words accurately, and be sure you have their permission to report their views. If you quote from a book, be absolutely certain that you write down the quotation accurately and indicate exactly what words have been quoted. Failure to do this got a major US historian in trouble a few years ago when it was discovered that some of the words she published were actually a quotation from another author. Her failure was at the point of keeping records, because she had written something down on a notecard, failed to identify that it was quoted, then saw it months or years later and presumed it was her own words. So be very careful in keeping records that will help you document your work.

Now having discouraged you from citing internet sources directly, I do encourage you to utilize a variety of sources, and to document them. Talk to the old-timers in the church and record their memories of the congregation. Encourage people to bring photos of the church one Sunday, and see if you and others together can identify when the photos were taken, what they show, and what they reveal about the church at a particular time. Specialists in different areas of media can sometimes help identify date ranges and so forth. The point is to keep good records so that you can document your history, and readers will understand how you came to know what you report to them. Document your history.

3. The Challenge of Using Primary Historical Documents

The third challenge is what separates real historians from dabblers. Dabblers just read what other historians write and give their book report on it. But that doesn’t get you very far. It’s like the story of the man who wrote an article on Chinese Metaphysics by reading everything he could about China and then reading everything he could about metaphysics, and then putting them together. That doesn’t really work.

What real historians do is that we use primary historical documents, and that means that we use documents from the period we’re studying. If you’re writing about Bugtussle United Methodist Church in the 1930s, you have to study something from Bugtussle United Methodist Church in the 1930s, except of course that in the 1930s it was probably Bugtussle Methodist Church or Bugtussle Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The point is that you don’t just study what some other historian write about Bugtussle Methodist Church in the 1930s, you have to find and use documents from that period.

Now if that sounds a little daunting, there’s a wide range of primary historical documents available to study in a local church. Consider:

Minutes of church meetings and other church records count as primary historical documents as long as they’re from the period you’re studying.
Annual Conference Minutes count as primary historical documents. The Conference minutes should record every year which ministers were appointed to the circuit on which your church was located, though let me warn you against trying to describe who the “pastor” of a congregation was prior to the 1880s. Local church historians always want to give lists of the pastors of their congregation, but here’s the problem: Methodists didn’t have “pastors” assigned to individual congregations in that time, and it was only from about the 1880s that Methodists began appointing pastors to “station charges” as opposed to circuits with multiple clergy.
Church cornerstones and other inscriptions can count as primary historical documents.
Photographs can count as primary historical documents, though sometimes they require specialized expertise to determine, for example, the age of the photograph.
Personal diaries, letters, and family records also count as primary historical documents if they are from the period and location you’re researching.
Oral accounts such as we gather in oral history research can also count as primary historical documents.

The important thing here is to ground your research in primary historical documents, and don’t settle for just reading what other people have written on your subject. It’s a big challenge to find and use primary historical documents, but it’s what makes for excellence in historical research. So don’t be a dabbler. Dive in! Find the primary sources for your congregation.

4. The Challenge of Utilizing Available Resources

A fourth challenge is to utilize available resources. You're going to be hearing about many resources over the next day and a half, but let me begin by giving you a few of my favorites. First, in the area of standard Methodist reference materials, one of the very best and least known of resources is the General Minutes, published annually by each Methodist denomination since early in the 1800s. The General Minutes are a compilation of the minutes of all the annual conferences in a denomination, and since early in the 20th century they have included an alphabetical index of all the clergy listed in them. So using the General Minutes you can avoid having to search meticulously through each annual conference journal for specific years, and you can easily track clergy as they move across annual conference boundaries, etc. The General Minutes can also be a genealogist's dream-come-true, except that they only list “itinerant” clergy, not local preachers, local deacons, and local elders. And a lot of Methodist ministers in the past were “local” clergy who were not listed in annual conference minutes and thus are not listed in the General Minutes. Nevertheless, they're a terrific resource, and we have the full run of them at Bridwell Library at SMU. Beyond the General Minutes are the annual minutes and journals of each annual conference—and we have most of those as well, but the General Minutes offer the easiest access point for searching them.

Second, another good general resource is the Encyclopedia of World Methodism, a large two-volume work published in 1974 by the United Methodist Publishing House.[5] This one will be for more general articles that will give you a background, for example, on “Methodism in Texas,” or “Dallas,” probably not smaller cities or towns. It also has articles on bishops and important Methodist leaders.

Third, learn to utilize annual conference histories, state histories of Methodist churches, and local church histories. There is a very good history of Texas Methodism entitled The Methodist Excitement in Texas,[6] and most annual conferences have some version of a history of the annual conference, even if these have a tendency to look like high school annuals. There are some local church histories of very high quality, like the Cornerstones volume about Beaumont, and these will inspire you in your own work, give you some ideas, and they just might reveal something about the local situation you will be studying. A late-breaking and truly excellent resource for Texas is a volume authored by John Wesley Hardt and William C. Hardt, An Historical Atlas of Texas Methodism.[7]

The General Commission on Archives and History of The United Methodist Church and local branches of the United Methodist Historical Society have a variety of resources available for your use. The United Methodist Archives are located in an excellent facility at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and they do field inquiries from local congregations. I would issue only one word of warning, and that is to note that the UM Archives do not actually contain the records of all the predecessor denominations of the UMC: the archives of the Methodist Protestant Church are held at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, and many archival materials from the United Brethren and then the EUB Church are held at United Theological Seminary in the Dayton suburb of Trotwood, Ohio. The Texas United Methodist Historical Society publishes an annual journal, holds annual meetings, and also has a cadre of qualified persons who can help with projects. I'm sure there are similar groups for other states in this jurisdiction.

Finally, for folks in Texas, there's hardly anything better than The Handbook of Texas Online. And here I will make an exception to my earlier warning about using internet sources, because the Handbook of Texas Online is sponsored by the history department of the University of Texas at Austin, it is very well documented, and it does in fact have good bibliographical data.[8] (Would that other web sites would follow their lead!) This encyclopedia is based on an earlier printed encyclopedia that came out in the 1950s and was very good information then—Dale and I have a copy of the old version and we sometimes carry it around with us as we drive through Texas and read about when the railroad came to every bump-on-a-log town, and almost every one of them has an article. This of course will not tell you much about the religious history of a place, but it will set the local context. And that brings me to my next point.

5. The Challenge of Contextualizing Your History 

A history without context is basically just a chronicle of events, and a chronicle of events reads like a telephone book: this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, etc. To make your history come alive, you need to contextualize it, to place it in contexts where it can be understood against its environment. So the historian is always working at multiple levels, looking at the very particular material about her subject, and then “backing up” a bit to look at the larger contexts in which this material appeared. Contexts are regional as well as national (and international), contexts can be from broader secular history as well as the broader history of a denomination. So here are some ways to face the challenge of contextualizing your history.

Be aware of developments in broader political and cultural history. Review a book or at least an encyclopedic article on a particular period you're studying. If you're writing on Methodist churches in the 1950s, take a look at David Halberstam's book on The Fifties.[9] You might be thinking, well I lived through that, and I remember those times. But a book like Halberstam's will bring a great deal to mind. Another way to do this is to look at one of the standard chronologies, like The People's Chronology[10] or the Timetables of History.[11]

Be aware of your local history. Work on knowing what was going on, not only in the United States, but what was going on in your area in particular periods. The fact that oil was discovered near Beaumont on January 10, 1901, had an enormous impact on the history of that area, and it affected all of the churches in the area. My grandfather Cammack told me an odd story about North Beaumont—he said that in the 1920s there was a “Northern” Methodist church on the North End of Beaumont back in the 1920s. I filed this away in my memory for decades, until one day I was in the archives at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, and I picked up the General Minutes of the Methodist Episcopal Church (what Southerners called the “Northern” Methodist Church), and sure enough for three or four years running in the 1920s there was a “North Beaumont Mission” listed in the Texas Conference of the ME Church. Why? My hunch would be that Beaumont was going through its second oil boom at that time, and Pennsylvanians and other “Northern” folks were moving in and wanted a church of their own. Know the history of your region. Again, the Handbook of Texas Online is a wonderful resource in this area.

You also need to know your denominational history. At the very least, you need to know the basic chart of Methodist denominational divisions and reunions, so you don' refer to the “Rosedale United Methodist Church” in 1963, that is, five years before the United Methodist Church was formed. But good denominational histories will help contextualize what was going on. Is your church one of those like First UMC Houston that has semi-circular pews with the chancel at the corner of the building? Congratulations, you may have what we call an “Akron Plan” church building, an architectural form that was first developed at First Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio, in the 1860s and which became enormously popular in the late nineteenth century. Denominational histories can offer this kind of general context. The most recent history of The United Methodist Church is The Methodist Experience in America by Russell E. Richey, Jean Miller Schmidt, and Kenneth Rowe (***check, 2010) and a shorter version entitled ***.[12] There are some excellent essays on particular eras and movements in Methodist history in the older three-volume History of American Methodism that was published back in the early 1960s. A new resource in this area is Rex Matthew's Timetables of History: For Students of Methodism.[13]

You also need to be aware of regional denominational histories, including local church histories in your area. The Methodist Excitement in Texas (1984) is a good place to start for Texas Methodist churches, but there will also be histories of your annual conference, and the histories of other congregations in your area can be very important for setting contexts. Again, I would advertise that SMU has very good strong collections in these areas, so if you can get to the campus, we can show you some of these works.

6. The Challenge of Organizing Your History 

A sixth challenge is that of organizing your history. History has to take a form, and a historian ought to be a good story teller, even if what we tell really is the truth and not just “mainly” the truth. The challenge of organizing our history, however, are not quite so problematic because we have a great default option, and that is simply chronology. Start by organizing your material in chronological order, then utilize a different scheme if you really need to. Chronology is the way mother nature organizes history, and it's not nice to fool mother nature. I often get annoyed with historical writers who are telling me about the 1940s and then they jump back and say, “Back in 1925,...” and I think, “Why didn't you tell me that back then? Not here when you're dealing with 1942.” Follow the chronology and sooner or later your material will more or less organize itself into chapters.

You may have to adopt another scheme if your subject is complex, for example, if two institutions eventually merge to form your congregation, then it's appropriate to tell one narrative, then back up and tell the other. It is also appropriate to pause at points and give your readers appropriate background information on people and events that will figure in your history. But chronology will inevitably be the overall organizational scheme for a history, and it's the right place to begin.

7. The Challenge of Writing Your History 

Finally, we face the challenge of writing history. But by leaving this to the last, I do not mean at all that writing is the last thing that you do. If you hear nothing else from me today, then please hear this and hear it carefully: one of the worst mistakes you can possibly make is to suppose that you can first do your historical research and then write your history. This is an almost certain guarantee of failure. I had friends in graduate school twenty-five years ago who said they were going to do their research first and then write their dissertations. They're still working on their research.

Here's why that idea doesn't work: any topic can be researched endlessly. There is never an “end” to research. So my strong advice to you is this: begin writing right now, today. Put your pen to your paper or your fingers to your keyboard this afternoon and start writing. Just write something down. You may change it all later. There is a quotation often attributed to Ernest Hemingway but never documented so far as I can tell, so this is probably just a piece of accumulated folk wisdom. I hope you'll pardon me for quoting this in a Methodist meeting, but it really is relevant. The saying is: “The first draft of anything is shit.” You just have to start writing. Write with a pencil if you need to convince yourself that this isn't permanent, but start writing.

Writing is the test of research. You never really know if you have done enough research until you start writing. So start writing. This may seem contrary to everything I've said about telling the truth and documenting what you claim, and so forth, but it's not. The process of writing is when you get honest, when you tell the truth, when you realize what you know and don't know, when you realize what other research you really ned to do, what documentation is still lacking in your project. Again, writing is the true test of research.

What do you do when you get stuck in your writing? Here are three suggestions. First, move on. I just put three asterisks (***) at a point I know I need to return to, or at a point where I need to go back and document a quotation, and I keep on writing. Second, if you're stuck, focus on a different topic, work on it for a while, and then return to your topic. Often when we're stuck it's our minds that are stuck in a rut and after doing something else for a while, we can see the earlier problem more clearly. Third, talk to someone. It's amazing how just talking—even if the other person has no advice at all—can clarify the problems we're facing in writing.

Do you recall the very last sentences in Charlotte's Web by E. B White? “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”[14] That's especially appropriate if you know that E. B. White was not only a good writer, but also a teacher of writing. He was the co-author, with Orlo Strunk, of the classic little book on The Elements of Style. I keep a copy by my bedside and read it just for inspiration. Imagine that: a really well written book on the art of writing well! Observe how others write historical narratives and pay attention to how they develop their narratives. What do they do that gives a narrative life and interest? Go and do thou likewise.

One specific piece of advice on this matter: I strongly urge you not try to write in committees. Committees are notorious for bad writing. Almost any individual can write better than a committee. Sometimes folks think that if they divide up a project and each of the five members of a committee takes a chapter, they'll have a book in no time. That is also almost guaranteed to end in failure, or (more likely) in one member of the committee doing five times as much work as it would have taken to write the silly thing herself while still crediting all the other members of the committee.

And so I solemnly say unto you, write your own history. If someone else wants to approach the topic different, then your approach has to be, “Tough. This is my work. You go write your own.” Don't let a committee hoodwink you into doing their bidding. If you work with a committee, you need to secure their solemn oath that you will have the freedom that an author needs to write your own history If it comes out under your name, then you are going to be responsible for it, not the committee. If you work with a committee, the committee needs to empower you to write your own history.


And that's a beginning. This is what I have said. You are joining an illustrious company as a church historian. We welcome you to this company and hope we can help you as you can almost certainly help us. Each of you has unique gifts and perspectives to bring to the challenge of being a church historian. I have exhorted you to tell the truth, document your history, use primary historical documents, utilize available resources, contextualize your history, organize your history, and write it well—and start writing now!

by: Ted A. Campbell, Perkins School of Theology

[1]      Rosa Dieu Crenshaw and W.W. Ward, Cornerstones: A History of Beaumont and Methodism (Beaumont: Historical Committee of First United Methodist Church, 1968).

[2]      Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Franklin Center, Pennsylvania: The Franklin Library, 1979), the beginning of chapter 1, p. 3.

[3]      Luke 1:1-4; all references to scripture are to the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted; cf. Sharon H. Ringe, Luke (The Westminster Bible Companion: Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), pp. 15-22; G. B. Caird, The Gospel of Saint Luke (The Pelican New Testament Commentaries; Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican Books, 1963), pp. 41-44.

[4]      Herodotus, Histories 1:1 (in A. D. Godley, trans., Herodotus [Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, and London: William Heinemann, Ltd., revised edition of 1926; 1:2-3; cf. Godley's introductory comments on Herodotus's historiography, pp. x-xvi).

[5]      Encyclopedia of World Methodism (2 vols.; Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974).

[6]      Walter N. Vernon, Robert W. Sledge, Robert C. Monk, and Norman W. Spellmann, The Methodist Excitement in Texas: A History (Dallas, Texas: Texas United Methodist Historical Society, 1984)

[7]      William C. Hardt and John Wesley Hardt, A Historic Atlas of Texas Methodism (Garland, Texas: CrossHouse, 2008).

[8]      The URL for the Handbook of Texas Online is:

[9]      David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York: Villard Books, 1953).

[10]    James Trager, The People's Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1992).

[11]    Bernard Grun, The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events, Based on Werner Stein’s Kulturfahrplan (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979).

[12]    Russell E. Richey, Jean Miller Schmidt, and Kenneth Rowe, The Methodist Experience in America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010***), and ***.

[13]    Rex Matthew's Timetables of History: For Students of Methodism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007).

[14]    E. B. White, Charlotte's Web (New York: Harper, 1952), p. 184.