“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“The church, on my corner, was built in 1922.
Due to recent changes in leadership at my ninety six year old church, things are being tidied, cleaned out, and cleared out. The closets and filing cabinets have been emptied and I have been told that the mother church sees no reason for us to hold on to old books or hymnals, or paperwork and records, including meeting minutes.
“We don’t need to keep anything that is over seven years old,” the church leader told me. “No reason to hold on to the past,” he said, after he had used a bolt cutter to remove the lock that secured the oldest records.
The church, on my corner, was built in 1922.
By then, the builders of the church had been meeting in each others homes for quite awhile, reading from the Bible, singing from borrowed hymnals. and wishing for a place of their own.
In 1919, the Colonial Land Company had bought up the Shivers Farm, and subdivided the fields into lots. They advertised in the area newspapers, not just advertising lots for sale, but advertising a neighborhood, a community, a way of life. In the years after WWI, families came and built, with some buying kit houses from the Sears Roebuck, Aladdin, or Montgomery Ward catalogs and watching as the house parts came via rail car and were delivered to the train stop in North Woodbury. Others relied on local construction companies, like Rose and Budd Builders, to design and build their dream homes.
The young families in the new Colonial Manor wanted a community and worked together to build one. They formed their own fire brigade and some desperately wanted a church.
Those determined neighbors met for worship in each other’s homes. Eventually, they convinced the Colonial Land Company to give them a piece of land and the large property at the corner of Elberne and Tatum was theirs. Although there was no building where they could gather, they wasted no time and purchased wood from Holloway Lumber and built benches to be used as pews. Kemble Church donated a few song books and these faithful neighbors began holding open air services on the empty lot. In July and August, 1922, the Colonial Manor Methodist Episcopal Church met every Sunday, without an actual church building. Ministers from Camden, Woodbury, and Verga came to preach and they had over 70 attendees at some services that summer.
Preliminary masonry work was done that summer, but the big day was October 21st, 1922, when the neighborhood held a Building Bee. Thirty-seven men were engaged in construction on the church building, and an equal number of women, back at their homes, worked on preparing food for the working men. Their motto was “A Church in a Day,” and they aimed at doing most of the major construction in a single day. Amazingly, by 6:30 pm, when the men finished working for the day, the structure of the church was in place, and the women were able to serve a meal in the completed church basement.
I know all this, and more, because I had access to written records that happened to be over seven years old.
Those handwritten minute books were incredibly detailed and were written in the most careful and proper penmanship. They told the large and small stories of the church and also of the town. They told about the quest for a bell to fill the empty bell tower. They gave details of times of prosperity and generosity, when the church had money to share, and every child was given candy and an apple on Christmas, and also of lean times, when church members picked up donated coal cinders that had already been burned, to sift through and use in the church furnace, since the church could not afford coal. The surnames of the church members in those books are the same surnames of some of my current neighbors.
But alas, those records were greater than seven years old. To some, that meant they were valueless.
The church, on my corner, was built in 1922.
Today, on this Palm Sunday, the pastor of the church told the story of Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem and told, in detail, about the crowds laying palms on the ground and shouting Hosannas. His detailed sermon relied on the narratives of the Gospels, but also provided historical facts about Jerusalem in Christ’s time from other sources. He talked about the politics of Rome and of the Jewish temple leaders. As he preached, his words let me see the streets of Jerusalem that Christ struggled through, carrying the cross.
I left church feeling uplifted and thankful for those who preserve history.
I may not understand the mindset and goals of our mother church right now, but I am grateful for those that HAVE preserved historical records over the last two thousand years. Walking home, I silently thanked God for those that wrote down the stories of Christ’s life, so long ago, and those that risked their personal safety to preserve them.
And I thanked God for modern archivists, in small and large churches, in universities, museums, and at the Vatican, who continue to think it wise to keep written documents that are over seven years old!
To the Greater New Jersey United Methodist Church, I say this: You are making a terrible mistake. When you forget your history, you forget yourself.
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