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We Have This Hope

December 19, 2019
Building Knowledge & Breaking Barriers Dinner, December 3, 2019.

--by Nancy J. Taylor, Acting Executive Director

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19)

This has been a year of change at the Presbyterian Historical Society, with a leadership transition and questions about our future sustainability requiring us to work in new, and sometimes unforeseen, ways. Despite such challenges, I am pleased to tell you we have held fast to our core mission and our recent transformative initiatives. We now arrive at the end of the year with a renewed sense that PHS has much to give to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and our wider community.

I want to thank the staff, Board, and all our supporters in the PC(USA) for their work this year in not only sustaining PHS but growing our reach and impact. You have anchored us in 2019 and launched us toward an extraordinarily exciting 2020.

Left: Board Chair Ernest Higginbotham with Acting Executive Director Nancy J. Taylor. Right: Six of eight new PHS Board Members .

PHS’s end-of-year celebrations started on December 3, when we marked our third semester collaborating with the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) on the Building Knowledge & Breaking Barriers project, funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Students, their families, project interns and professors, PHS supporters, and staff filled our meeting room for the event, with the highlight a presentation from the CCP fiction writing class that used images and texts from our collection as source material for class assignments. Attendees received a published anthology of their work, and the student authors autographed copies amidst a buzz of acclaim.

A total of seven CCP classes visited PHS this year to use our archival resources, including students studying Religious History, Architecture, and African American History. We have created contextual documents to accompany primary sources, and we will make this curricula more widely available next year—when the project’s student exhibit panel will also debut our new in-house and on-line exhibit. How will these students interpret their experiences visiting and conducting research at PHS? I am excited to see their work.

Left: CCP student and PHS intern Marcus Baldwin and Reference Archivst Jenny Barr in the archives. Right: CCP student and PHS intern Anthony McDonnell working on a blog for the PHS website.

We also recently celebrated the end of our Religious News Service Photographs pilot project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. We have scanned and made available on Pearl almost 500 historically significant images as part of this project, and we will continue to share them widely; this year’s Christmas card is an example. Look for more social media and blog posts about the RNS project in 2020!

Short video about the Religious News Service Digitization Pilot Project. Watch above or on the PHS YouTube channel

PHS also made great strides in furthering two collecting initiatives that will continue next year: LGBTQIA+ History and the Presbyterian Church and African American Leaders and Congregations History. Both are funded through the generous donations of our supporters. A highlight for 2019 was the 28 oral history interviews PHS staff conducted as part of these two collecting initiatives.

All four initiatives are transforming the way we serve the church, our community, and the world. It is important to remember, however, that these initiatives are made possible by the core mission of PHS—they stand on the collections we have built, the resources we have preserved, and the technologies we have developed to share Presbyterian and Reformed history more widely.

Corine Cannon oral history, 2019. [Pearl ID: 150680]. Recording made possible with donations made to the African American Leaders and Congregations collecting initiative.

Through the third quarter of 2019, PHS accessioned 290 groups of material, including records from 158 active and historic PC(USA) congregations. In July, we set a monthly record for the number of in-house researchers; by the end of October we surpassed the total number of research visits last year. We hosted three research fellows in 2019, and I’m very pleased to report that we raised enough money on #Giving Tuesday this year to award four fellowships for 2020.

During the summer, we launched a new way to share our history in-house, hosting a summer speaker series where Ira Dworkin, Julia Flynn Siler, and Crystal Sanders discussed their recent books. We’re very pleased that Julia will join us for the Presbyterian Historical Society Luncheon at the General Assembly in Baltimore next June to share more about her work on Donaldina Cameron and the Presbyterian response to sex trafficking in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Through the third quarter of 2019, PHS accessioned 290 groups of material, including records from 158 active and historic PC(USA) congregations.

As we take a deep breath, celebrate our 2019 accomplishments, and get ready for 2020, we look forward to implementing the recommendations of the PHS-COGA Task Force, which include strengthening our partnerships with national agencies and supporting the PC(USA)’s per capita funding system, which provides just over 60 percent of our budget through the Office of the General Assembly.

We also look forward to growing the financial support we receive from individual donors, congregations, and mid councils, as well as foundations, government granting agencies, and other entities. We have a renewed sense of hope for the future of PHS, and we ask you to come alongside us to buoy that hope with your financial support. Please consider making a gift or increasing your donation before the end of the year.

From all of us to all of you—grace and peace this holiday season!

Left: Visitors from First Presbyterian Church, Allentown, PA. Right: Researchers in the PHS reading room.