When we preserve past history, we gain understanding of how our present has been shaped. We grow in knowledge of who we are and the gifts we have. The past gives us perspective and helps us refocus our minds on what God is calling us to be and do, both now and in the future.
Assessment: In compiling the history of your women’s group, some initial decisions need to be made. Is a book desired and advisable, or would a pamphlet be sufficient? Will the history primarily chronicle dates and factual happenings, or will it tell of changes and development of the group—or strive to do both? Will the history discover the distinctive vision of the charter group? Will it point out the contribution of the group to the congregation? How much time and effort will be needed for the project?
If the answers to these beginning questions show enough positive interest to move ahead, then it is time to appoint a committee. This group will consider: Who will do the research? What are the sources of information? Who will write the history—one person or a group with guidelines? Who will edit the work? What is the timeline for the writing? How will the history be used? (If the project is expanded into a book, additional decisions about budget, publishing, and marketing will be needed.)
Sources: When gathering and researching materials, old minutes of meetings are vital sources. Not only will you find factual material, but you can discover the goals and vision of the charter group. Investigate questions like these: Did the group serve the local community, perhaps when a home was destroyed by fire? Did the group show awareness of needs at district and conference levels?
When money was scarce, do the offerings show sacrificial giving? When the group was very small, did the effort remain constant?
How did the group inspire spiritual growth? Did they pray together at a time when women were not encouraged to pray or share before a group? Did the group nurture the development of women’s leadership skills? Did they provide a model for the congregation’s girls? All of this and more can come to life from the meeting minutes.
Other sources of information are anniversary or holiday programs, interviews with older women, and congregational or regional conference minutes.
While researching, keep in mind the importance of safely preserving records. Are there adequate means for safeguarding these documents? What changes need to be made, and who is responsible?
Using the history: consider creative ways of using your historical account. You might inform and energize your congregation through a special program about your group history. Use it to honor mothers and grandmothers or in anniversary celebrations. Take its information as a starting point in writing biographies of charter members. Tell its stories to youth and children. Consider its lessons as you evaluate your present group’s program.
For more ideas and helps, see Heritage Celebrations: A Guide to Celebrating the History of Your Church by Wilma McKee (1993), available from Faith & Life Press at (800) 743-2484.
—Wilma McKee, Bethel Mennonite Church, Hydro, Okla.