Central Pennsylvania United Methodists
Vote to Restore Former Conference Name
The United Methodist Church includes three distinct denominational traditions: the United Brethren Church, the Evangelical Church, and the Methodist Church. Within United Methodism, the Susquehanna Conference was created November 14, 1964, by the union of the Pennsylvania Conference of the former United Brethren Church and the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the former Evangelical Church. In 1968 that ecclesiastical body became the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church.
On October 18, 1969, the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church joined with other mid-state United Methodist congregations to form the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church. The name of the new conference and the date of the union were deliberately chosen to coordinate with statewide efforts to reorganize the denomination's structure and ministry in Pennsylvania. The previous week on October 11, 1969, congregations to the west voted to join to form the Western Pennsylvania Conference. The following week on October 25, 1969, congregations to the east voted to join to form the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. In addition to organizing the United Methodist Church for efficient ministry in the state, this coordinated action provided more accurate and consistent conference names in place of the ones that had been used in the past by the United Methodist Church and its predecessors – such Allegheny, Eastern, Erie, Genesee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Susquehanna.
On June 4, 2009, the Central Pennsylvania Conference voted overwhelmingly to recommend returning to the name Susquehanna Conference. The change was prompted by the addition to the conference of the Pennsylvania congregations of the Wyoming Conference [named for the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania]. While the Discipline specifies that "Changes in the number, names, and boundaries of the annual conferences and episcopal areas may be effected by the jurisdictional conferences," annual conferences traditionally have been given the authority to choose their own names. In this instance, the Central Pennsylvania Conference chose to disregard a recommendation against the name change by the Northeastern Jurisdiction Commission on Archives and History. Because the proposed name may not adequately identify the conference within national and global contexts, the logo for the conference's letterhead and website explains that the Susquehanna Conference is "A Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church."
The name change officially occurred at the June 12, 2010, special session to unite the Pennsylvania congregations of the former Wyoming Conference with the congregations of the Central Pennsylvania Conference. That session was held in Williamsport PA at the Cultural Arts Center and included ordination of the candidates approved by the Central Pennsylvania Conference and the Pennsylvania candidates approved by and under the guidelines of the former Wyoming Conference.
While the 2008 Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference had authorized the creation of a new conference, the change from “Central Pennsylvania” to “Susquehanna” was a change in name only, with the officers and structure of the Central Pennsylvania Conference remaining in place and papers filed with the State of Pennsylvania for a change in the name of the corporation and not the creation of a new corporation. All tax-exempt numbers and other legal identifications remained the same, with the name changed from the Central Pennsylvania Conference to the Susquehanna Conference.
A Brief History of the Susquehanna Conference Archives
The conference archives have traditionally operated with a minimum of conference fanfare or funding, and few people are aware of the quantity and quality of the materials that are presently managed by the archives. All of that is undergoing change. In truth, the present “conference archives” would be better called the “Susquehanna Conference United Methodist Archives and Research Center.” With offices on the third floor of the Lycoming College Library in Williamsport PA, the facilities are typically staffed three days a week and the archivist handles dozens of research requests from within the Conference and around the nation.
While most of the requests come as follow-ups to materials and information posted on the archives’ web site, lycoming.edu/umarch/, many scholars and researchers and students also visit the archives in person. The main room at the archives covers about 1000 square feet and houses 3 museum cases, one for each of the predecessor denominations (Evangelical, Methodist, and United Brethren). It also includes files for open and closed churches, journals and historical materials from the 30+ predecessor conferences that have contributed congregations to the present Conference, the most-often used research collections, tables for conducting research, and the central office.
In addition to the main room, the archives occupy space on the fourth floor of the Lycoming College Library that houses lesser-used collections. The largest space managed by the archives is currently off-campus in rented rooms at the former Becht Elementary School, about three miles east of the college. This location contains additional office space, boxes of materials and artifacts from 500+ closed churches, minutes and records of conference boards and agencies dating back to the 1800’s, most of the missionary collections, museum-type items and displays that cannot be housed in the main room, and surplus materials.
The archives and the Conference Commission on Archives and History have been faithful in their long-range planning for managing their ever-increasing materials and equipment and expenses, including the additional responsibilities involved in accepting items form the former Wyoming Conference. The following paragraphs summarize the history of the conference archives.
Originally, each of our primary predecessor conferences maintained archives for the preservation of records and historical items. The Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church kept such materials at the Methodist Book Room in Harrisburg until 1909, when the items were transferred to Williamsport Dickinson Seminary [now Lycoming College]. It also happened that Dickinson College’s Methodist affiliation, central Carlisle location, and academic facilities made it an unofficial depository for many conference and denominational items – and the library there was willing to serve in that capacity. The Pennsylvania Conference of the United Brethren Church kept its historical records and items at the Quincy Home in Franklin County. The Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Evangelical Church maintained depositories in Union County at Central Oak Heights and in the Evangelical Room of the Slifer House at the Lewisberry Home [now River Woods].
This was the state of the various archives until the 1960’s. In October 1962 the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church moved its conference offices to the United Church Center in Harrisburg and began using the basement storage area there to house its financial and personnel records, as well as copies of minutes and other materials from the conference boards and agencies. In 1968 Lycoming College opened its new Academic Center, including the present Snowden Library, and the conference archives received a room to share with the college archives.
Following the 1968 denominational merger that produced the United Methodist Church, there was a desire to consolidate the historical materials of the predecessor conferences – but the only appropriate and secure conference-controlled options, the United Church Center and the half-room at the Lycoming College Library, could not absorb the additional EUB materials. The display cases from Quincy were moved to Lycoming College and used in the main library for other purposes. The Evangelical Room at the Slifer House was pressed to the limit. Dickinson College in Carlisle again rose to fill the gap, but this time with a more formal arrangement. That institution agreed to accept, catalog and care for the EUB materials from Quincy and Central Oak Heights provided they would stay there for 30 years – with financial penalty to the conference should they be removed sooner. In addition, many surplus and duplicate materials that merely needed to be stored somewhere were placed in the unused upstairs rooms of the Newberry UMC in Williamsport.
This was the situation in 1989 when the current archivist took office. The following developments have led to the present configuration noted above.
• In 1994 Lycoming College moved the college archives out of the shared facility and allowed the conference archives use of the entire main room. The museum cases originally from Quincy were moved into the main room. Approximately $2000 worth of shelving was purchased for the space on the fourth floor – which was dedicated to closed church materials, over-sized periodical collections, and surplus materials.
• In 1995 the archives purchased a computer for use in the main room and donated it to Lycoming College with a formal agreement for the college to make the computer part of its network, service the computer, and periodically replace/upgrade the computer according to normal college standards for low-priority users. Note: This arrangement has worked exceptionally well, and the archives web site and email are provided by the college. The printer and scanner were purchased separately and are the property and responsibility of the archives.
• In 1997 water damage and lack of security at Newberry UMC necessitated moving the materials stored there to Lycoming College.
• In 1998 Dickinson College was planning a major library expansion/remodeling and released its entire Methodist/EUB collection to the conference archives without penalty. This material was transferred to Lycoming College.
• In 1999 the archives needed more space and received permission to purchase and install a $1700 bank of shelving in the public area of the Lycoming College Library adjacent to the main room, with the understanding that only uniformly bound serial collections would be placed there.
• In 2001 the conference offices moved from the United Church Center in Harrisburg to the new Conference Center in Mechanicsburg. The conference archives had been promised storage space in the Conference Center, but this did not happen. While the financial and personnel records were moved to the Conference Center, the historical records were moved to a storage area at Derry Street UMC. Here those records were sorted and re-boxed into approximately 80 cubic feet of archival containers.
• In 2002 Mission Central opened and the conference archives were given a storage room. Approximately $2000 worth of shelving was purchased for the room. The materials from Derry Street UMC, the materials formerly at Newberry UMC, surplus materials from Lycoming College, and all materials from post -1970 boards and agencies were moved to Mission Central.
• In 2007 more room was needed, and Lycoming College caged in 250 square feet of space in a maintenance shed. The shelving and closed church materials were moved from the fourth floor space to the shed. Shelving given to Mission Central was secured and placed in the fourth floor annex.
• In 2008 Mission Central asked the archives to vacate the storage room so that it could be used for an office. The shelving and materials there were boxed for temporary storage in Mission Central’s main warehouse until another site could be found.
• In 2009 the archivist determined that the dust, lack of heat, and other problems in the caged area of the maintenance shed rendered that facility inappropriate for long-term archival storage. The conference also determined it would be receiving a large amount records, historical material, shelving, and other equipment from the former Wyoming Conference. The Conference Commission on Archives and History determined that an appropriate permanent site needed to be secured for archival storage.
• In 2010 three rooms in the Becht Center, a former elementary school purchased and remodeled by Faxon-Kenmar UMC, were rented with the intention of the site becoming a permanent auxiliary site to the main room in the Lycoming College Library. For a total expense of approximately $2000 plus many hours of donated labor and services, all the conference’s material and shelving from Mission Central, the former Wyoming Conference archives in Endicott NY, and the Lycoming College maintenance shed were moved to the Becht Center
• In 2013 Faxon-Kenmar UMC sold the Becht Center to Pitter Patter Day Care. The Commission on Archives and History negotiated a ten-year lease that includes the original three rooms plus the former library of the facility. The three original rooms will house the closed church materials and the boxed minutes and records of conference boards and agencies. The former library will house lesser-used collections, display cases for artifacts, and tables for researchers.
While no human can tell what the future hold for the archives, we trust that the God who has thus far blessed this important ministry will continue so to do.