As 2020 draws to a close, Nancy J. Taylor, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Historical Society, has been reflecting on a uniquely challenging year for the national archives of the PC(USA) and other church organizations.
During a recent PHS LIVE webinar, Taylor discussed PHS’s response to those challenges and some of the initiatives she is most excited about in 2021.
In March the Society closed to researchers due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases. Taylor, named Executive Director in early April, praised PHS staff for adapting to a virtual work environment.
“Because we serve an international constituency, we have lots of experience providing services remotely,” Taylor said. “But the coronavirus pandemic pushed us to think even more creatively about how to connect our collection materials with a virtual world.”
PHS recognized the growing number of congregations conducting services on Zoom and social media and in response created two collecting initiatives to document this shift.
In April PHS encouraged worshiping communities to submit video of their Easter services. Many of the contributed videos offer messages of hope during the pandemic. Later in the spring, as citizens across the country confronted historic injustices in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, PHS began curating a collection of Pentecost sermons from pastors and congregations reflecting on the movement to affirm that Black Lives Matter.
PHS embraced new opportunities available through Zoom by launching PHS LIVE, a bi-weekly webinar series that focuses on historic records and stories and how-to demonstrations from PHS archivists and other staff. Taylor’s December 3 webinar was part of the series and can be viewed on the PHS website.
During her recent webinar, Taylor also highlighted upcoming work. “One of the things I’m really looking forward to towards the beginning of the year is seeing the results of our Building Knowledge & Breaking Barriers project,” she said.
Building Knowledge & Breaking Barriers is a two-year collaboration with Community College of Philadelphia. This spring, an exhibit team made up of CCP students will install an in-house exhibit at PHS. The instillation will be replicated on the BKBB website, where online visitors can also access information about CCP classroom work with PHS.
“We’ve been really honored to work with the student exhibit panel on an exhibit which is basically going to, through their perspectives, talk about their interactions with PHS doing research in our collection,” Taylor said. “They are so creative about how they use our materials to speak to their lives and to their understanding of the world.”
As the Society seizes new opportunities, it continues work that has long been core to its mission, including collecting paper records from congregations and mid councils.
“We are continuing to document the long history of the church and the more recent history,” Taylor said. “We are the entity that preserves the records [of the whole church] and the entity that helps share that history for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”