A neat opportunity came my way in mid-May. I was approached by the good folks at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society about a summer internship. I had to really ponder the depths of my soul as to whether or not this was for me (read: of course I’d be interested, when do I start?).
The thing about archiving is often the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In my case, I was to do a preliminary sort on the Society’s holdings from the National Christian Missionary Convention and the National Convocation of the Christian Church. The material was in some 39 boxes, each full to the brim, and none comprehensively sorted. My task was to list the contents of each box, basically an inventory of what we had. Then begin the task of separating NCMC stuff from NCCC stuff; then systematically arranging the materials into what will (someday) be a usable collection. Emphasis on usable. These materials were the squeaky wheel because, for being such a vital component of the organizational structure Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), they were, for all intents and purposes, a closed collection because the material was inaccessible (unless, of course, you had hours to sort through it yourself). So the intern’s task is to help make this collection accessible to users and historians. And so to the basement of the Thomas W. Phillips Memorial: to sort and arrange, and stack and file and rearrange, and re-sort and shuffle and re-stack.
There are several really neat things about this internship. First of all, the great people I worked with: great atmosphere! I’ve already blogged about Sharon Watkins, but also Glenn Carson (new President), Sara, Marlene, Maureen, Elaine and May. And Charlie Howell. Finer people you will not meet. Secondly, that the NCMC/NCCC was begun in Nashville by Preston Taylor. How many times have I heard his name, or driven past Greenwood cemetery (on Elm Hill Pike for you Nashvillians)? Taylor baptized Marshall Keeble! I was connecting to a whole segment of my own Nashville Restoration movement past I never knew existed. Who knew that Nashville (yet again), played such a pivotal role in the life of the church? Thirdly, that a white acapella boy like me would be working on the official records of the African-American caucus of the Disciples is flatly ironic. Aside from knowing the name of the caucus, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as NCMC/NCCC before this summer. Again, this is a whole area of which I was not only largely ignorant, but in which I really had no serious interest.
It is at this point I learned the most. Years prior to the Civil Rights movement there was an effort afoot among the (you would think) socially conscious Disciples on behalf of the neglected, underrepresented, marginalized and more-often-that-not ignored and despised negro. That there was even a felt need for something like NCMC in the late 1910’s, later to be reformed into NCCC after Restructure in 1968, is telling. I’m reminded of our racist past. I’m reminded that my negro brothers and sisters had to beg and plead for recognition as brothers and sisters. They demanded equal footing when churches hired pastors, colleges hired professors and the Disciples denomination called and hired staff and officials. That they had to demand such from their brothers in Christ is telling! That they had been excluded from the life of the church is shameful. I learned a lot in the basement this summer.
At some points I wondered why all of the energy and money and time spent on denominational machinery, staff and programming (I’m a simple congregational-autonomist, after all). At some points I grappled to comprehend the institutional racism at work even within the (again, you would think) social conscious and liberal Disciples. At some points I marveled at the sacrifice and conviction of the leaders of the NCMC/NCCC: brothers and sisters who suffered economic, educational, social, cultural and religious persecution and disadvantage. Yet the programs of evangelism, benevolence, encouragement and fellowship carried on because they believed that it was worth the fight.
Not at all unlike a summer course in counseling, this research/archiving endeavor opened my eyes and heart, engendered a concern in my soul, and lifted and enlarged my vision.
My time in the basement was well spent indeed. And I still have a few more hours to squeeze in before the end of the year!
Grace and peace.