Q. We are processing the papers of a longtime minister and we’re having a difference of opinion. One member thinks it would be prudent to black out a number of negative references this strong-minded minister made about other people in his correspondence. Others of us worry about losing part of our history if this happens. Could you give us advice?

A. InterConnections posed this question to members of the UU Historical Society’s Board of Trustees. Here are perspectives from three of them.

The Rev. Paul Sprecher of Hingham, Mass., recommends  separating out those papers with negative references and placing restrictions on them until some date in the future or until those referenced have died. An alternative would be to make copies of the originals and redact the copies, he says.

Kathleen Parker of Pittsburgh, Pa., says, “I would not recommend blacking out the negative references. We would forever lose whatever “truth” we might gain from those artifacts. I have found letters at the Andover Harvard Archives that reveal things that are not very flattering––but the fact that they are in the archives in uncensored form tells me that it was thought that these items should not be lost to history. Negative references to others may be a reflection of many things––and a good historian will take that into account.”

The Rev. Gordon Gibson of Knoxville, Tenn., suggests the possibility of interviewing key remaining witnesses or participants. “If a curmudgeonly minister’s papers––or his or her antagonist’s papers––vividly describe a church fight, is there anyone still alive whose testimony should be recorded? Of course, care should be taken not to reopen wide any congregational wounds that are nearly healed.”

The UU Historical Society sponsors the Dictionary of UU Biography, and offers an annual prize to a youth who writes about a historical subject. It also has information on creating congregational histories.

About the Author
Don Skinner
Don Skinner is editor of InterConnections and a member of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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