Making Progress Through Meeting Minutes and Meeting People

by Sophie Gibson, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I started the summer reading about the Reverend Ted Evans’ leadership and impact on St. Paul’s Memorial Church from 1947 to 1961, for my fellowship research project. Some highlights from my reading list were A History of Saint Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1910-1990 by Rev. Paula Swaebe Kettlewell; The Desegregated Heart by Sarah Patton Boyle; and The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness by Jennifer M. McBride. These readings, among others, gave me a range of historical and theological perspectives to ground my investigation in the context of other scholarship. 

I then turned my inquiry to written archival material (newsletters, photos, leaflets, and vestry meeting minutes) at St. Paul’s Memorial Church. I started with vestry minutes from 1946 (one year before the Reverend Ted Evans started as rector of St. Paul’s) and have progressed through 1962’s meetings (a year after Evans left). In those minutes, I found humorous descriptions of discussions from 1948 that could have happened in 2021, particularly around the infamous limited parking near St. Paul’s on Sunday mornings. I also found references to the concerns of the Civil Rights Movement as it unfolded throughout the 1950s. For example, at a meeting on December 19, 1955, “Dr. Lewis opened discussion of the controversial Integration–Segregation issue. In the course of the discussion, several of those present expressed their convictions rather earnestly, though no resolutions or motions were proposed or enacted on any phase of the discussion.”

This dialogue exemplifies a continuing source of questions and frustration in my research: the lack of specificity in written materials. I have turned to interviews with congregants who attended St. Paul’s during the 1950s and the following decades. I have made so many exciting connections and met so many people within my congregation in the process of identifying interviewees and discovering the joy of oral narrative. The interviews I have done so far have taught me so much about the lasting impact of Ted Evans’ leadership—each anecdote sharpens the image of St. Paul’s parish life since 1947.

There is one particular piece of my research that really shone through in the context of a fellowship in lived theology. In 1961, the same year that Evans left his post, Senior Warden George Cooper, Jr. called on the congregation to live more deeply into the call of “Christian service” by invoking Matthew 25:40: “Christ said, ‘In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these,’ not ‘In as much as ye have thought about doing it, or talked about doing it.’” The push to live more deeply into one’s theology is a timeless call at St. Paul’s. I can’t wait to learn more about how Ted Evans’ rectorship challenged the congregation to extend love and community to all. 

Read Sophie’s first blog post here.

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.