Geneva historian documents local LDS church's activities for posterity

Geneva historian's records of local church indexed with LDS headquarters in Utah

Until last week, every church history I've ever read has been mainly devoted to how the congregation was founded, how its present meeting place came to be, and what pastors or priests have led the flock — the bullet points of the past.

That's not the way Maurie Coleman does business, though. As volunteer historian of the Geneva Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Coleman's focus is closer to the present. He completed an indexed, 58-page history just for 2010 that rivals any high school yearbook for photos and information.

The history is available on CD, online and on paper. And, along with annual histories from other wards, it's on record at national church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Coleman is beginning his fifth year as church historian.

When he was asked to take on the project four years ago, he drew on his vast career experience to do the job well.

“I have a Ph.D. in instructional science, which is the art of creating training materials,” Coleman said. “My specialty has been doing that for adults in business settings.”

Having worked 30 years in this field for Arthur Andersen accounting firm, Illinois CPA Society, Lucent Technologies and Sears Holdings, he knows the power of visuals. Coleman's yearbook is largely designed around photographs submitted by members of the ward, or congregation.

The 65-year-old also takes many photos himself with his cell phone camera and the Olympus he sometimes employs. For each image that makes it into the history, everyone gets identified, no matter how many people are involved.

Arranged more or less chronologically, the book has a nice mix of group and individual entries from both inside and outside the walls of the chapel.

There are pictures of young Mormons serving elsewhere as missionaries. Scenes from a variety of Scouting activities sponsored by the ward. Photos of youth sports teams and young people's events.

Each time someone in the congregation is recognized for an achievement, there's a photo. Likewise for new babies, baptisms and memorials. Field trips, service projects, Relief Society meetings, special lectures, the Valentine's Day party, Memorial Day picnic, high school graduations — everything gets a mention. Even a surgery and a broken leg.

When ward members dressed biblically for “A Night in Bethlehem,” cameras were busy, of course, and Coleman chose several shots for his history. Another page introduces new members from the year, and there's a list of the different community organizations where ward members actively volunteer.

“What we're trying to do is show the flow of activity across the year,” he said. “This is what happened in the life of this congregation.”

Coleman said he spends a few hours each week keeping the history up to date.

In November, he lays out everything he has so far and displays it for the 300 or so ward members to verify and make corrections and additions.

In his latest publication, Coleman features a three-page index at the back that tells all the page numbers where each ward member can be found.

“There's some things you do for money, there's other things you do for love,” Coleman said. “They couldn't pay me to do this. I enjoy highlighting the accomplishments of other people.

“If we had more of this sort of thing in the world, it would be a much happier and more peaceful place.”

Ÿ“In the Spirit” covers churches and synagogues in the Fox Valley area; contact to submit information or ideas for upcoming columns.