A little more than a year ago, a main sewer line backed up into the basement of the IBSA building here in Springfield. Though the primary blockage turned out to be well outside our building, the plumbers also discovered a break in a secondary line. It was directly beneath the section of basement where IBSA’s Historical Library and Archives have been housed for decades.
In a typical year, the contents and maintenance of that museum-like room don’t require a great deal of time, except from a few devoted volunteers. But when a sewer line break demands that you carefully empty the room of its historic contents, seek to protect and organize them for an orderly reentry, then tear up the floor tile, jackhammer through the foundation’s concrete, dig a six-foot hole to find and repair the break, and then sanitize and renovate the room before returning its contents, well, let’s just say it’s one more way this past year hasn’t been typical.
Super-volunteers Susan Full and Deb Bier, both trained librarians and archivists, led the project to rescue and reorganize artifacts of Illinois Baptist history, with help from IBSA staff members like Barb Troeger and Jeff Deasy. In the process, practically every item was reevaluated, deduplicated, and either purged or restored into a new and orderly system for continued preservation and easier retrieval.
One of the final tasks in this restoration project was sorting through a stack of miscellaneous items that Susan and Deb set aside for my personal review. These included a large stack of ledger sheets from the 1960’s and earlier, where Cooperative Program and missions offering gifts from individual churches had been meticulously recorded by hand. There were also boxes of training materials that in themselves represented multiple generations of communication technology.
One box contained extra copies of IBSA Annuals from over the years. I expected to be able to discard most of them, until I noticed the handwritten names on some of the covers, and several notes and markings on the inner pages.
One was the personal desk copy of Dr. Jim Smith, who was IBSA’s Executive Director when the staff and office moved from Carbondale to Springfield in 1971. As we celebrated at the 2021 IBSA Annual Meeting, the move was an intentional missional effort to plant and serve churches throughout the entire state. But it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t popular among many at the time.
Other Annuals belonged to Dr. Robert Hastings, editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper for the better part of two decades, and my father’s friend and mentor. Still others bore the names of long-time servant leaders Janet Craynon and Melissa Phillips.
It’s probably no surprise that I decided to hold on to those “extra” Annuals, even if I have to convince my wife that we need to find a place for them at our house. There in that basement, alone among those boxes that day, I realized I wasn’t just analyzing artifacts or organizing records. I was handling hallowed history. And it is a history that includes sacrificially giving churches, evolving technology and training techniques, devoted servant leaders, and the daily tools they used to communicate and cooperate.
Someday we will all be part of that history. And we should all hope that something with our name on it will be worth keeping, because it somehow represents those same things for our era of history.
Our network of Baptist churches here in Illinois and the Kingdom work we do together span not only the geography of miles between churches but also the generations of time between leaders. In the words of songwriter Steve Green, “May those who come behind us find us faithful.”
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.