Archives of Memphis Conference have a new home in Jackson at the Conference office
Memphis Conference Historian Ann Phillips looks through the shelves at the Memphis Conference office where the Memphis Conference archives have a new home. Photo by Lane Gardner Camp
Boxes of materials related to the Memphis Conference archives are being processed and organized in a new home at the Memphis Conference office. Conference Historian Ann Phillips is doing the sorting and organizing. Photo by Lane Gardner Camp
By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference
The archives of the Memphis Conference moved into a new home in 2012.
Still in Jackson, Tenn., they relocated in July from the lower floor of the former Lambuth University Gobbell Library to the offices of the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Though the archives had been established and successfully stored at Lambuth since the mid-1970s, it became necessary to find a new home when the Methodist-affiliated school closed in Spring 2011 due to financial difficulties.
The Lambuth campus is now owned by the State of Tennessee for the benefit of the University of Memphis which began offering classes there in August 2011.
Memphis Conference Historian Ann Phillips, who has worked with the conference archives for more than 20 years, described the move as “smooth” and is now at work reorganizing the vast collection of historically significant materials of the United Methodist Church of West Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
The University of Memphis Lambuth Campus was “very generous” to keep the archives rent-free for the Memphis Conference until the new space could be made ready and materials could be properly boxed and labeled for transport, said Phillips.
The archives include deeds, baptism records, directories, member rolls, pastor files, closed church records, meeting minutes, photographs, financial records, obituaries, newspaper clippings, sermons, and rare books, Bibles and hymnals.
“Baptism records – that’s our biggest request,” said Phillips, referring to the many calls she receives for assistance with the archives.
In general, there are a lot of historical records related to the Conference, but also churches, districts and agencies.
Among the archives’ cherished items are the handwritten minutes of the Memphis Annual Conference before 1919 and church membership records from the 1850s.
Noteworthy artifacts include two Memphis Conference legal embossing seals that clearly date before 1939 because they say “Methodist Episcopal Church South,” a reference to the church that split from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844. The southern group reunited with the northern group and Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 to form the "The Methodist Church (USA). The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 when The Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
Another valued holding is a copy of A Debate on Christian Baptism, published in 1824, and inscribed in 1829 as belonging to Benjamin Franklin Peeples.
Peeples was sent into the present-day Memphis Conference from the Tennessee Conference in the 1820s, when the “Indian territory” opened, said Phillips.
The book is in “sad shape,” she commented, but a treasured artifact.
The Memphis Conference archives were stored with the Lambuth University archives in four rooms on the lower floor of the Lambuth Library.
Jackie Wood took charge of separating out and packing the Memphis Conference materials for the move.
The work required determining what stayed at Lambuth and then boxing and labeling what was to be moved, “It was more physical than anything else,” explained Wood.
“She (Wood) did a great job,” said Phillips. “We were fortunate she was in place to take care of this.”
Now a Library Assistant with the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus, Wood previously was Acquisition Librarian and Archivist with Lambuth University before it closed. She started at Lambuth in 2001.
The archive collections of Lambuth University and its predecessor institution, Memphis Conference Female Institute, are now part of the University of Memphis and remain with the school, explained Phillips and Wood.
Not only did the Memphis Conference portion of the archives require careful and systematic packing and labeling of all records and artifacts at Lambuth, but the new space at the conference office on Corporate Boulevard had to be cleaned out and matters of heat, light and humidity had to be addressed.
While a local moving company transferred most of the boxes, the more delicate and fragile items were hand-carried by Conference Treasurer James Finger and Assistant Benefits Officer Sheila Owens, whose offices are down the hall from the new archives location.
“We tried to be careful,” said Finger.
Phillips has been at work now for many months, first deciding the best system in terms of order and convenience for arranging the archives in their new home and then methodically processing paper materials for storage in acid-free folders and boxes.
“You can imagine what some things look like after they have been stored in attics and church belfries,” said Phillips.
She told about finding a dead mouse inside one box. “It was all dried and mummified,” she said.
Asked why maintenance of the conference archives is important, Phillips said, “If we don’t know where we’ve been, we can’t know where we’re going.”
The conference archives are a “huge wellspring of information and knowledge about Methodism” helpful to individuals, families and churches, she said.
“(The archives) are the story of the church in all its aspects. We need to preserve it and store it,” said Phillips.
Plus, the United Methodist Book of Discipline orders it, she added. According to Paragraph 641.1, there "shall be" a conference commission on archives and history in each annual conference.
There are many reasons people seek out the archives, explained Phillips. It might be for genealogical research and sometimes information is needed for legal matters such as property disputes.
The archives’ church histories are filed by county. This has proved the best method for research purposes because county boundaries usually don’t change. Charge and district lines have changed many times over the years and continue to change, said Phillips.
The archives are open to anyone with Phillips’ supervision and assistance. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by weekday appointment.
The archives also have a presence on the Memphis Conference Web site. Visit memphis-umc.net/churchesarchive for a growing body of online historical information.