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Samford’s Special Collection helps Baptists remember what God has donecomment (0)

December 12, 2013

By Grace Thornton

Samford’s Special Collection helps Baptists remember what God has done

A student from a state university sits at a table, yellowing papers spread out all around him.

The place where he sits is full of sermons from Alabama Baptist pastors. Sermons from pastors of other denominations. A Charles Spurgeon sermon with Spurgeon’s own handwritten notations.

The student “has come here to see what preachers were preaching” in past decades, explained Elizabeth Wells, processing archivist and Special Collection librarian at Samford University in Birmingham.

He’s doing what the ministry of the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission (ABHC) is all about — he’s remembering, said Lonette Berg, ABHC executive director.

“It’s hard to ‘go and tell’ if we don’t know anything about where we’ve been and what God has brought us through,” Berg said, noting how God told the Israelites to remember what He had done for them and pass it on to the generations to come.

The Special Collection is a good place for remembering, she said — much more of a museum than a “file cabinet.”

Visitors can take a tour to see things from basins used to wash feet to potbellied stoves used for heating baptistries to oil portraits of early Baptist heroes of the faith. The history of faith and missions comes alive as longtime archivists display items and tell stories.

The collection also is the only repository for past editions of The Alabama Baptist.

And if a pastor went to Samford, church members can see his old school pictures, said Jennifer Taylor, chair of the Special Collection.

Alabama Baptists have long been at the top in giving and going, but that’s “not by accident,” Berg said. “Alabama Baptists have been educated in what God can do.”

But it’s hard to keep that legacy going if the record of what He’s done accidentally ends up at the bottom of a creek, in a landfill, burned up by a fire or carried away by a tornado, she said.

It’s never intentional, but it happens all the time, Berg said.

Take Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church, Kinston, for example.

Burglars stole the church safe, which was full of old records, but later dumped it on the riverbank, where it was found. The church brought it back and got a new safe they could bolt to the floor, but a second set of robbers ripped it up.

When Pilgrim’s Rest found the safe again, they called Berg immediately, and she had the records in the microfilm lab that week.

Microfilming is “something we offer at no charge, and it preserves the story of what God has done and what He’s doing,” she said.

Berg drives all over Alabama to pick up the records of churches, bring them back to Samford to be copied to microfilm, then deliver them safely back to the church.

“We are very, very careful with those records,” she said.

As she recently picked up one set of records, Berg told the church clerk that she would take care of the records as if they were the only photo Berg owned of her daughter.

“We take excellent care,” she said.

Once they’re microfilmed and back in the church’s possession, the microfilmed copies are stored in Samford’s Special Collection located in the university library.

“They are much more accessible for people to view there than they are in a church safe,” said Kimmetha Herndon, library dean.

And microfilmed records can last up to 500 years, Taylor said.

The collection is working to get some materials accessible digitally, such as with the Treasure Chest that’s updated regularly on the Special Collection website.

Right now the Treasure Chest features digital files of the Spurgeon sermon, among other things.

But archivists also are sensitive to the privacy of churches who may not want their records accessible online, Taylor said. For that reason, microfilm works well.

“And technology is so fluid — it changes quickly, and files can be lost or damaged,” she said. 

First Baptist Church, Fayette, for example, is one church that has found good record keeping helpful in telling its story, Berg said.

They’ve made “an excellent church history display area,” she said, noting that it gives members greater access to their history.

And Baptists can access records or get help from archivists anytime the Special Collection is open — they can even take a tour.

For information about preserving church records or taking a tour, contact Berg at llberg@samford.edu or 205-726-2363. For information about the Special Collection, visit http://library.samford.edu/about/special.html.

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