Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
It shall be the duty of the church in which the classis and likewise the (particular) synod or general synod meets to furnish the following meeting with the minutes of the preceding.
Church Order, Article 45
Furnishing Previous Minutes]
The main concern of this article is making available the minutes and decisions of the broader assemblies. In Article 34 the Church Order stipulated that “in all assemblies there shall be not only a president, but also a clerk to keep a faithful record of all important matters.” That article provides for the transcription of the minutes. The present article requires the church in which the assembly convened to see to it that the minutes are preserved and furnished at the next meeting of the broader assembly.
In the earlier history of the Reformed churches this was necessary. Printing and postal costs were exceedingly high. Bulk printing and general distribution of synodical and classical minutes was prohibitively expensive. Consequently, the provision of Article 45 was necessary.
Today the provision of Article 45 is outdated. In our churches we have instituted the position of stated clerk, both at the classical and the synodical level. Besides performing the duties of corresponding secretary and compiling the agendas, the stated clerk acts as the custodian of the minutes and archives. He transcribes the script minutes into the permanent record. He sees to the printing and distribution of the minutes (Acts). And he takes care of the archives.
The minutes of our broader assemblies are readily accessible today. Each consistory receives a copy of the classical minutes to be filed with its own archives. Individuals can borrow the consistory’s copy of the classical minutes, or obtain their own copy by requesting it from the classical stated clerks. Our Acts of Synod are made available to all the members in the denomination free of charge.
Today too we see to it that the Acts or minutes of previous assemblies are available at our broader assemblies. This belongs to the duty of the stated clerk, and is one reason why the stated clerk, although he may not be delegated to the assembly, must be present for its deliberations. As a rule the Acts or minutes of the assemblies for the past several years are on hand.
Why do these previous minutes need to be at hand? For several reasons. First, they must be at hand so that the assembly can ascertain whether decisions previously taken were implemented and whether work assigned was carried out. Second, so that previous decisions on a matter can be consulted. Third, so as to prevent matters which were dealt with in the past from being raised again without substantial and new grounds. (Cf. Church Order, Article 46.) And finally, so that no new decision be taken which conflicts with a past decision.
In order to make ,the previous minutes not merely available but accessible, past decisions ought to be indexed. This is tedious but important work. A synodically-appointed committee has been working on indexing the past decisions of our synods, as well as the combined classes. This project should be completed in the near future. Such a tool will prove of invaluable service to ministers, classical and synodical committees, and anyone seeking information on past synodical decisions.
Care of Ecclesiastical Archives
Implied in Article 45 is the importance of the preservation of the archives of our ecclesiastical assemblies.
This importance is not always realized. How many consistories could produce all the minute books that were filled from the day of the church’s organization, as well as all the supplements to the minutes? Are the past supplements organized and filed? In many instances there are gaps, with minute books and supplements missing, having disappeared through negligence or forgetfulness. One of the “Questions for Church Visitation” is “Are the archives in order?”
There are good reasons why a church and why the broader assemblies should take care to preserve their archives. In the first place, the purpose is the preservation of the official decisions of the body. Secondly, the purpose is to make the work of the assemblies of value to future generations. And third, the purpose is to preserve a record of the history of the church, for to a great extent the history of the church is connected to the work of the church’s assemblies.
What should be preserved and included in the archives? It is impossible and unnecessary to include in the archives everything that is addressed to a body. Consistories receive whole stacks of mail which do not even deserve to be taken to the consistory meetings, not to speak of being included in the permanent archives. Notes of thanks, invitations to certain functions, various notices; etc. would only clutter the archives.
The following should be included in the archives of the local congregation:
1. All minute books.
2. A complete and updated membership file, including records of baptism, confessions of faith, transfers, and dismissals.
3. All important correspondence.
4. All committee reports, especially those dealing with matters of the exercise of Christian discipline.
5. Classical and synodical agendas, minutes, andActs.
6. All legal papers relating to the church’s incorporation, deeds of property, and proofs. of possession.
7. All documents that bear on the church’s origin and history.
8. Some suggest all weekly bulletins.
With a view to the orderly filing of and safe preservation of the local archives, every church should have a fireproof file cabinet or vault of some kind. Usually the duty of updating and preserving the archives falls to the clerk of the consistory. But consistories may also appoint some other consistory member besides the clerk to act as archivist. This may especially be wise in larger congregations.
Classical and synodical archives are cared for by the stated clerks of these assemblies. The annual report of the stated clerks should include a report on the status of the archives. The archives should be safely stored and not just kept in the personal possession of the stated clerk, probably tucked away in his attic or basement. If necessary safe and adequate storage space should be rented. One reason for the addition that is being built to our seminary is to provide a suitable place for storage of denominational archives. The archives then will be kept under one roof and under controlled conditions, thus making the archives more accessible than they have been in the past and at the same time assuring their preservation for future generations.