May 31, 2023Church Archives: What do we do with all this stuff? 

Church Archives: What do we do with all this stuff? 

The Rev. Chandler Jackson Three-minute read.   Resources

If spring is the time for cleaning our homes and working in our gardens, summer seems to be the time to clean out closets and storerooms at the church. What we generally find are boxes of stuff — old bank statements, canceled checks, vestry minutes, photos of everything that ever happened at the church, and assorted Sunday School materials and anything no one wanted to throw out because we might need it someday. If this sounds familiar, read on. 

As the diocesan archivist, it is my responsibility to maintain the archives of The Diocese of West Missouri, to collect appropriate material from the parishes and congregations of the diocese that need to be retained for posterity and to follow the Canons of the Church and the direction of the Archives of the Episcopal Church. As a historian, I love digging through old documents and discovering hidden nuggets of the past. 

I have been asked on many occasions what should be kept, what can be tossed (or shredded), and what should be sent to the diocesan archives. Here goes: 

  • Operational financial documents – accounts payable, check registers, etc: retain for 7 years 
  • Minutes of any committee – retain permanently 
  • Active Contracts – retain permanently 
  • Directories and Yearbooks – retain permanently 
  • Photos of people and events which are identifiable – retain permanently 
  • Architectural drawings/blue prints – retain permanently 

For a fuller list, click on our church archives retention schedule link. 

Once you have weeded through everything, there are some basic guidelines for organizing your parish archives. The Archives of the Episcopal Church has created a wonderful document to guide you in that activity. Click on the buttons below. 

Some notes on the preservation of materials 

Most paper available today is good quality and should be ok for archival purposes. Any newsprint – articles from newspapers, for example, should be copied and the original can be thrown out. It will deteriorate anyway. 

Photos – do not put them into photo albums. Write any available information (who, what, where, when, why) on the back with a number 2 pencil. Then, store them with a sheet of paper between each photo to keep them from sticking together. Framed photographs might be able to be removed from the frames if the photograph itself is not stuck to the glass. Once removed from the frame, treat it as any other photograph. 

A basic rule of thumb – when it doubt, keep it and leave it alone. 

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or need on-site assistance. Contact me via email at 

The Very Rev. Chandler Jackson III is Priest in Residence at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Ozark, and serves as Dean of the Southern Deanery, and also as Diocesan Archivist. 

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