The entries are there. And they were written down before any electronic records were kept. It goes back before Xerox or photocopies. Okay, not too far back. After Guttenburg (the printing press) but before the the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Early 20th century.
Today, I had a quest – a quest to discover an important date of one’s life. There are important dates we all look back to – weddings, births, funerals, baptisms. These used to be kept in the family Bible. But today, I was asked to find a baptismal date.
It started when I lost a friend. He was in his 90s and had experienced a long and adventurous life. Born in the same community were he still lived, this man had served in the national guard. Seen children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He leaves two siblings behind, but joins his others in heaven.
So, when was he baptized?
He joined the church in 1980. Maybe 1979. But no. That was when he returned to the church. For a while, he and his family attended elsewhere. They said he returned by “experience” which I am not exactly sure what that means – another mystery in this quest. Another record had he joined by statement. The issue was far from settled.
These records had not been photographed. The written journals were all that remains. Pages were yellow. Bindings were coming apart. We keep them in a large, fire-proof safe/file cabinet. Some of the records had been converted to a simple typed list of membership, but I discovered those occasionally got transferred incorrectly.
So I looked for his father’s membership, and they joined in in the late 1920s. The roarin’ 20s. I am not sure how much this farmland community roared, but I know they were faithful, strong workers with the land and in raising families. Many of those families are still connected to the church today.
People’s lives. History of relationships. Interactions both pleasant and unpleasant. One business meeting’s had minutes that shared charges against a pastor. Accusations of members carousing? with groups of drunken hooligans. People declared out of order and silenced in the meeting. What was going on?
And then a follow up entry one week later – the pastor had resigned. Wow, politics in a church before there was social media? (please read the sarcasm, irony, and humor in the last sentence.)
Back to the main story. I looked up when my friends parens joined. And there it was – an entry of a baptism. It had his parents and how they joined. Then a few lines later – a baptism. No month. Just a year. He would have been 13 or 14. I am not sure who baptized him, for the pastor left that year to be a chaplain in the Army. Not knowing the month and all. More research needs to be done.
Records … words in a journal … simple letters that form these words … and these words tell us a story. And we need these stories. A time will come when no one will be around that knows these stories. And then the stories may be lost. The pages will get yellower. The letters will fade. The words will disappear. But the stories don’t have to.
I encourage you to write down the stories. Put them where future generations can read them.
Churches have some great stories – scary at times – but great. Let’s not lose them.