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Is It Time to Work on Your Congregational History?

Perhaps you’re uneasy. Your congregation has been around for half a century or more, and no one has set down much—or any—of its history. Or the history is pretty respectable, but it’s fifteen years out of date.

A well-done history is more than a “nice to do” goal: it is useful. It is a one-stop source of information when you’re assembling a packet for candidates for staff positions or creating a brochure to attract new members. It’s a great thing to hand a media representative who is doing a story about you. Knowing your congregation’s role in movements like abolition, war resistance, and civil rights can be a source of pride for your members.

And producing a history is not a daunting, monumental chore if approached right: form a task force, gather some resources, set a timeline for completion, and begin.

“What resources?” you may ask. Here are two.

1. New Directory of Online Congregational Histories

When you start to think about writing a congregational history, you’re likely to wonder how others have done this. There’s no need to wonder very long.

The Meadville Lombard Theological School has an Online Congregational Histories Guide for the MidAmerica Region. To find a congregation’s history, first, click the MidAmerica Region tab and then scroll down the page and click the name of the state where the congregation is located.

If you find your congregation’s history has been omitted, please notify John Leeker: jleeker@meadville.edu.

You will find that MidAmerica congregations have approached congregational history in a variety of ways that will stir your creativity—and hopefully your competitiveness.

Assembled by the members of the MidAmerica Region History and Heritage Committee, this directory has drawn praise from the UU History & Heritage Society (UUHHS). It advances the Society’s project of gathering all congregational histories in the UUA.

The MidAmerica History and Heritage Committee also has a small amount of information about offline congregational histories and contact information for congregational historians and archivists. Email inquiries to heritage@midamericauua.org.

That leads into the second resource.

2. New Help Available from the UUHHS Congregational History Project

Cassandra "Cassie" Montenegro

Cassandra "Cassie" Montenegro

The UUHHS offers Tools for Congregational History on its website. In addition, UUHHS Board Member Dan McKanan, a faculty member at Harvard Divinity School, has hired a graduate research assistant, Cassandra "Cassie" Montenegro, Esq, HDS MDiv Candidate 2023, to shepherd the UUHHS Congregational History Project, which includes an archival component. As Co-Vice President/President-Elect of DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries) and a recent recipient of the UUWF Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley Scholarship, Cassie is excited to help build an international network of Unitarian Universalist congregational historians and archivists who are committed to truth-telling and delving into the anti-racist, counter-oppressive elements of historical and archival work. Energized and inspired by the MidAmerica Committee’s work on the MidAmerica Survey of Congregational Histories, Cassie and Dan are looking forward to connecting with everyone involved.

Their immediate goals are:

1. to add archival information for each MidAmerica congregation and

2. to be put in touch with any contacts in other regions who are interested in cataloging the histories and archives of their own UU congregations.

Cassie and Dan welcome inquiries for more information about the project and would be glad to help you get involved. Please get in touch with them if you know of anyone in the UUA who is active in archiving and history writing:

Cassie Montenegro’s email: cmontenegro@hds.harvard.edu

Dan McKanan’s email: dmckanan@hds.harvard.edu

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By now, many of us have honed our electronic communication skills as the pandemic drags on and winter stretches ahead. It’s not a bad time to get busy with our congregational histories.