Pitts Theology Library at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology has acquired the archives of the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) of The United Methodist Church (UMC). Consisting of over 200 linear feet of materials spanning from 1940 to the present day, the archives hold much of the history of The United Methodist Church’s ministry and service in the southeastern United States. This includes records of the SEJ Conference and subsidiary organizations—such as minutes, reports, financials, and correspondence—as well as personal papers of prominent Methodists.

The acquisition was spurred by the 2022 decision by the Southeastern Jurisdiction Commission on Archives and History (SEJCAH) to close the SEJ Heritage Center in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, which had served as the official archival repository for all the jurisdiction’s agencies and ministries since 1996. The Center’s closure stemmed from several factors, including a reduction in funding.

The Commission voted unanimously to relocate the jurisdictional records and related collections to Pitts, acknowledging the library as a leading repository for records related to The United Methodist Church and Methodist history more broadly.

Nancy H. Watkins, outgoing director of the center, also notes that the approach to research itself has changed considerably in the last 30 years with the introduction of digitization technology that means researchers no longer need to travel to access these resources. “Digitization of materials is now a necessity, and it seems logical to have these records in a place like Pitts, where the digitization process has already been established.” The library plans to digitize the SEJ Conference Journals and will digitize other materials from the collection as needed.

Already home to a number of organizational archives, Pitts serves as the official repository for multiple academic organizations related to religious scholarship, including The Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). Earlier this year, the library also acquired the J. Michael Morgan English Bible and Psalmody Collection, which is valued at over $2.5 million. 

“With this acquisition, Pitts continues its work to preserve and promote access to church records, committing not only to collect, but to foster research and learning from archival collections,” says Richard Manly “Bo” Adams, Jr., Margaret A. Pitts Distinguished Director of Pitts Theology Library and associate professor in the practice of theological bibliography.

The collection will join other Methodist collections at Pitts, such as manuscripts of the denomination’s founders John and Charles Wesley, the records of the North Georgia Annual Conference, and The United Methodist Publishing House collection.

Head of Special Collections Brandon Wason says that the acquisition includes “not only the organizational records of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, but also records for associated organizations, as well as personal papers of individuals from the region, such as Harry Denman, an evangelist and lay leader in The Methodist Church, who corresponded with notable church leaders such as Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Both Wason and Watkins say that while the full research potential of these archives is not yet fully known, the documents can shed light on the administrative processes of the SEJ. Wason notes that the collections might particularly draw the attention of researchers exploring the jurisdiction’s strategies for engaging youth and fostering church growth and evangelism, as well as the SEJ’s ministry among Native Americans.

“It is likely that many people don’t know the functions of the SEJ Conference and may not be aware of the resources that the SEJ provides to the local church, so these records could serve an educational purpose—not only for students, but also for lay and clergy members of The UMC within the Southeast,” says Watkins.

“Given Pitts’ excellent reputation, we are confident that the staff will continue to collect, maintain, and make available the documents and other materials that give evidence of the work of The United Methodist Church within the Southeastern Jurisdiction.”

The transfer of the approximately 350 boxes of materials from Lake Junaluska to Atlanta took place in mid-May. In November, Pitts will welcome the SEJ Commission on Archives and History to campus for its annual meeting, which the library has hosted in previous years.

Those interested in the SEJ archives will be able to contact Pitts’ Special Collections department to schedule an appointment for viewing in the library’s Jeschke-Graham Reading Room.

 

Top photo (Brandon Wason): Letters from the archives between Harry Denman and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Denman and Billy Graham.