New Stated Clerks Orientation Roundup | Presbyterian Historical Society

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New Stated Clerks Orientation Roundup

May 10, 2013
Parish group in meeting, Iron Mountain, Mo., from KIT 299-15, Mr. Cook's tour, PCUSA Board of National Missions, 1956.

On May 7 I was pleased to deliver PHS's records management guidance to a group of new stated clerks gathered in Louisville. After the retirement of our irreplaceable Records Manager Margaret, who would usually undertake this portion of stated clerks' orientation in person in Louisville, this was left to me and a webcam. It takes a special breed of talent to be a clerk of any council of the church. The Wisconsin Presbyterian wrote in 1917 of the stated clerk of the PCUSA William Henry Roberts:

"He brought to the office great natural and acquired gifts. No man in the Presbyterian Church has a wider knowledge of the doctrine and polity of the church or is more conversant with the rules and deliverances of past Assemblies; few if any are his equal in these things. He speaks with authority in the Assemblies of the church and every Moderator no matter how learned he may be has been ready to sit at Dr Robert's feet as a pupil. Joined to the qualities that have made him the ideal Stated Clerk is that of a most charming personality. He is respected for his learning and ability; loved for himself."

Got that? The ideal stated clerk should master Presbyterian polity and history, compel adults to sit at her feet to learn as children would, and somehow remain charming and universally beloved. This is a tall order, but judging by the conscientious questions asked of me by the new band of clerks I spoke with, not an insurmountable one: All this talk about official paper records is well and good, but I communicate with people in presbytery mainly by text message, what about that? PHS collects records of permanent value regardless of their carrier; we sort things by the nature of their content, not their container. Your text messages on presbytery business are likely to be equivalent to inter-office memos dealing with present-day operations, not lofty deliberations about vision, mission or function, and will generally only have temporary value. Our recommended period for retaining general or routine correspondence is three years. If you do conduct serious business in saga-length text messages, I offer you the humble custom analog printer and the United States Postal Service.

Alternately, there are apps which dump all your SMS to your Gmail account, or to a plain text file or a spreadsheet. Be aware of which devices you conduct official business on, and take a moment every year or every six months to weed your correspondence, preserving long or otherwise significant SMS or email chains. We'll be answering more questions in this space in the weeks to come. For now, if you're a new stated clerk who couldn't make it to Louisville, drop me a line at, and I'll send you our presentation. Finally, I'd like to thank Joyce Lieberman and Diane Minter of Constitutional Services for all their help. Thank you, and I hope to see you next year!