Conference Commission on Archives and History
African American history in the New England Conference — article series 2020 by Rev. Pat Thompson
The New England Conference Commission on Archives and History, by the United Methodist Discipline, is charged with a number of functions. It is our purpose here to help folks within the conference to understand these functions and the resources that are available to assist both members of conference committees and local churches.
To collect and preserve the historically significant records of the annual conference and its agencies, including data relating to the origin and history of the conference and its predecessor conferences. [For the current New England Conference, this includes historical data from the former Maine Annual Conference (AC), the East Maine AC, New Hampshire AC, Providence AC, New England Southern AC, Southern New England AC, Vermont AC, and part of the Troy AC, as well as the New England Evangelical Association Conference and the New England, Northeastern and Eastern EUB Conferences].
To provide for the permanent safekeeping of the historical records of all abandoned and discontinued churches in the bounds of the annual conference and its predecessor conferences.
To maintain a fire-safe historical and archival depository and to see that all items that will obviously have value for future history are properly preserved therein.
The archival depository for the New England Conference is located in the library of Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH) at 745 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, and our archivist is John Coelho. To read about the collection and see a listing of the records currently owned by the Commission and stored at the Library click the link above.
Records of Conference Agencies
We strongly encourage all Conference agencies to regularly deposit meeting minutes, financial records, descriptions of events, and other papers in our archives at BUSTH. If you need assistance regarding what to save, how to get your records to the archive, etc., please contact archivist John Coelho and she will be happy to assist you.
Records of Abandoned/Closed Churches
Records from abandoned/closed churches should also be deposited at the archives at BUSTH. District Superintendents are strongly encouraged to have the pastor or the local church historian get in touch with our archivist regarding the transfer of these records, artifacts, etc. to provide for ownership or real property and to receive gifts and bequests.
The New England Conference currently has a large collection of artifacts that have been collected over the more that 225 years of the Conference’s history. These are currently owned by the New England United Methodist Historical Society and are currently displayed at the UM Heritage Center, which is located at Central UMC in Brockton, MA. The materials are under the care of the Heritage Center’s Curator Jennifer Turner.
The Heritage Center is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it is safe, once again, for visitors to enter the church building, information will be made available regarding how individuals or groups such as Sunday School, Confirmation or membership classes can visit the Heritage Center and learn about New England United Methodist History.
To encourage and assist the local churches in preserving their records, compiling their histories and celebrating their heritage. Every local church is strongly encouraged to elect a local church historian to collect local church records and work to preserve the history of the church through such activities as writing a history of the church and celebrating significant anniversaries.
Our conference archivist John Coelho is available to work with local churches to assist them in determining what records to keep. Either Pat Thompson or Margaret Bickford are available to assist in researching and writing local church histories and planning celebrations.
Local Church History Writing Contest
Every five years the New England Conference Commission on Archives and History sponsors a local church history writing contest, looking for the best histories of local churches written and published in the previous five years.
To nominate to the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH) buildings, locations or structures within the annual conference for designation as Historic Sites or Heritage Landmarks and to maintain contact with officially designated Historic Sites and Heritage Landmarks within their bounds.
Historic sites are places within the Conference, designated by the Conference that have significance to its history (e.g., the Jesse Lee Meetinghouse in East Readfield, ME, which is the first Methodist building constructed in the state of Maine (1795) and is the oldest Methodist church building in the New England Conference still in continuous use as a church building.) There are currently 25 officially recognized Historic Sites within the bounds of the annual conference.
Heritage Landmarks are previously designated Historic Sites which are recommended to the General Commission on Archives and History for approval by the General Conference as having significance for the entire United Methodist Church. There are currently two Heritage Landmarks within the New England Conference – the Cox Memorial UMC in Hallowell, ME, the home church of the Rev. Melville Cox, the first missionary to be sent out by the Methodist Missionary Board to a foreign country –
to Liberia in 1832; and the former Tremont Street Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) in Boston, MA, where the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS), the first organization in the development of our current United Methodist Women (UMW), was organized in 1869. Besides these Heritage Landmarks and Historic Sites, there are a myriad of other historic places of significance in the conference which have been identified and some of which have been marked over the years by the New England Methodist Historical Society as well as others which have been identified by various organizations.
These include Historic Congregations (which may have historic significance but are not connected to a specific place such as Union UMC in Boston, the first African American congregation organized in the conference and the fifth oldest in the country), sites related to ethnic history in the conference, sites recognized by other historic bodies and more. All of these have been gathered together into a guidebook, entitled, "Footprints on the Sands of Time: A Guidebook to the Official Historic Sites and Other Historic Places in the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church."
The New England United Methodist Historical Society (formerly the New England Methodist Historical Society) was originally incorporated in the late 1800’s and is the second oldest Methodist Historical Society in the denomination, following the incorporation of the Baltimore-Washington Historical Society. It is a private, nonprofit membership organization which exists primarily to support the annual conference Commission on Archives and History and to provide the opportunity for local church historians and others in the annual conference to become involved in the history of the United Methodist Church both in their local churches and the Conference.
The members of the annual conference Commission on Archives and History are automatically members of the Board of the Historical Society and there are members-at-large on the Board, as well. The Commission and the Historical Society meet twice a year at one of our historic sites or places and at at least one of these meetings we have a program to which the general public is invited. The Commission and the Historical Society also produce a periodic newsletter entitled, “The United Methodist Messenger,” which announces the upcoming meetings, provides reports from previous meetings and other pertinent news. It is the plan to begin to produce these newsletters once a quarter.
The Society also offers the option of joining the Historical Society of the United Methodist Church (HSUMC), the denominational Historical Society, at a 10 percent reduction in dues, if you join through the conference society. HSUMC offers a subscription to Methodist History, the scholarly historical journal of the UMC, produced quarterly, as well as Historian’s Digest, the quarterly newsletter of the Society, containing news and announcements of the annual meeting and other news about happenings in the UMC historical community around the denomination.