by Mary Klein

Recently my granddaughter asked me, “I know you are an archivist, but what do you do all day?” That Monday I had answered a woman’s inquiry about her relatives buried in St. Mary’s cemetery and located the records which listed their ages and causes of death. The bishop’s office had asked for a confirmation date, and which bishop had laid hands on the confirmand. A priest had called wanting some background information prior to the bishop’s visitation. A Ph.D. candidate who had spent time in the archives a couple of summers ago, wrote to ask if I had any information on a specific topic connected with Bishop George Washington Doane. I polished an article for the bi-weekly e-news. I answered a question about whether our diocese still had geographical parishes. I made preparations to give a tour of the Cathedral to our Korean congregation. I processed a few of the thousands of recovered documents waiting for my attention. At the end of my explanation I told her, “My day is never boring! I look forward to coming to work, and I make great use of what I studied in college.”

When I look back on those college studies, sometimes I am still amazed. I was one of those young women of the 1960’s who had dropped out of college after a couple of years floundering about, had gotten married, was raising three children, and was perfectly content with my life. But at the age of 40, I began to experience an urge to go back to college that would not go away. I tried to ignore it, but there was a persistent voice deep within me that would not be quieted. I had never felt such a strong conviction to do anything in my life. So I began with one course, college algebra, which, miracle of miracles, I actually understood that time around. Next I took an American History course, which sparked enthusiasm and interest and great joy. Next I began going half-time, majoring in history; then full-time. (We had moved four times by then, and I was at my fourth college!) I earned my bachelor’s degree, then decided to continue for my master’s. All the while, that noisy, stomach-churning voice would not let me go. Eventually, after working at my university’s history research center, a county historical society, the Maryland Historical Society, and teaching college-level history (and following a move to Baltimore), Bishop Ihloff appointed me as diocesan archivist. My appointment followed after the death of my beloved predecessor, Garner Ranney.

I realize now that the persistent voice I had heard, the voice that would not let me go, was God – actually speaking to me, as if I mattered. I have no other explanation; I have never felt that sensation again. But I think the contribution I make in this ministry is worthwhile. In my own small way, I am part of the ongoing procession of people who keep the story of our Church, who pass it on, who are stewards of our truth. My work matters, because our story matters. Searching for truth may be difficult, and the truth may bring us up short, but truth is worth pursuing, even in our discomfort. If Jesus really is our way, our truth and our life, then we are bound to seek him and his truth as it continues to be revealed to us. If my time in our archives can shine even a glimmer of light on the truth we seek, then I am most grateful to that urgent, insistent presence that took hold of me and refused to let me go until the goal was accomplished. Each of us has a place to fill, and in spite of all my shortcomings, I am grateful and encouraged to be able to add my small bit to furthering the Kingdom of God.

Mary Klein has served as archivist for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland for 16 years. She writes regular features from the archives for the Maryland Episcopalian.