Schism at the Mennonite Church USA Archives

This week there was major news in the world of Mennonite archives. Or, seen a different way, nothing changed.

Some Prologue:

(WARNING: Initialisms Incoming!)

Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) was a denomination formed in a 2000 merger between the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) and the “Old” Mennonite Church (MC). The archival collections of the respective denominations remained on the campuses of two Mennonite colleges: Bethel College (an institution of the GCMC in North Newton, KS) and Goshen College (MC-affiliated in Goshen, IN). A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was developed in which MC USA paid an annual subsidy to the Bethel College Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) to maintain the GCMC papers under the umbrella (and ownership) of the MC USA Archives.

Now, to the present:

In the last year, MC USA moved its holdings off of Goshen College’s campus to its denominational headquarters and, at basically the same time, the MOU with Bethel College expired. The parties struck a deal that relieved MC USA of the burden of the subsidy (which last year amounted to about $42,000) and kept the collections at Bethel College, where they could be utilized by undergraduates.  Of course now the MLA has to fundraise to meet archival costs and the MC USA Archives have to liaise with another organization to get access to half of the denomination’s records.

This is simultaneously big news–because the denomination divested itself of a chunk of archives to cut costs–and no news at all because in practice the archives at Bethel and at Goshen were already separated by 12 hours of highway.

I wonder if the biggest change to the status quo will actually end up being the relocation of the main archives from the campus of Goshen College. The readings we’ve had for class have been talking about access in terms of organization and description of archival material, but there are other levels of access. I remember as a college senior constantly being thrown off by the archive’s limited hours. I eventually figured out how to log many hours with a collection of John F. Funk’s personal papers, but getting comfortable with the archives as a whole was a struggle (Archivist Colleen McFarland Rademaker was a huge help though!). I wonder if I’d ever have finished a thesis if I’d had to figure out how to get to Elkhart, Indiana, given that I did not have ready access to a car.

Bethel College made the choice to invest money to keep the archives on campus; I think the losers in this deal are Goshen College history majors.

MC USA, Bethel reach agreement on GCMC records

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