MACON, Ga. – Mercer University has achieved a major step in its aspiration to become a national center for Baptist scholarship with today's announcement that the American Baptist Historical Society (ABHS) will consolidate and relocate its vast collections to the University's Atlanta campus.
Mercer President William D. Underwood announced that the ABHS Board of Managers voted at its annual meeting this past weekend to consolidate its collections to the Mercer campus in Atlanta, pursuant to approval of a formal agreement. This will be the fifth home for the Society in its 153-year history.
"After reviewing the three final proposals, the Board decided that Mercer's proposed partnership and site best meets our mission and vision," said Board President Dr. Trinette McCray. "We struggled, we prayed, we evaluated each proposal carefully. After a thorough discernment process, the Board believed that this is the direction God is leading us."
"The Board's decision to relocate the archives of the Historical Society to Mercer creates a tremendous opportunity to advance the educational and service objectives of both institutions. By consolidating its collections on our Atlanta campus, the Society will enable more researchers and scholars to have easy access to this priceless collection," Underwood said. "We are very excited to be partnering with the American Baptist Historical Society in this endeavor."
According to ABHS executive director Dr. Deborah Bingham Van Broekhoven, for the past 20 years, the Historical Society has managed two locations, 350 miles apart, housing different parts of the collection. "Good stewardship of finances, staff time, the collections' growth, and accessibility of those collections to researchers – who often needed to visit both sites – was the compelling reason why the Board decided to consolidate."
Among the advantageous features of the Mercer proposal were impressive facilities for offices and the collections, as well as the potential to work with new and traditional partners on educational opportunities.
Mercer is providing to the ABHS more than 28,000 square feet of high-quality office space on the first floor of an impressive, well-maintained building on the picturesque and strategically located Atlanta campus. The space is in a facility that has conference and meeting facilities, including an auditorium that seats 250, a dining room that seats 110, plus numerous classrooms, breakout and conference rooms.
The mission of the Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and share Baptist history with a wide variety of publics. "The Society was founded in 1853 at a meeting of the American Baptist Publication Society, now Judson Press," said Van Broekhoven. "Like Judson Press, we are a ministry of American Baptist Churches, U.S.A. We have always collected materials from the whole family of Baptists, and today we hold the largest and most diverse collection of Baptist material in the world. This Board action is intended to solidify and expand the Society's ability to continue that broad vision."
The decision was the result of a two-year search. After conversations with institutions across the country, the Board of Managers received proposals and presentations from three organizations: the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, N.Y., and Mercer University.
McCray added, "The Board is very appreciative of the time, talent, and other resources put into offering the Society a new partnership. The enthusiasm for the Society's mission and substantial offers of aid communicated in the proposals encouraged the Board to envision exciting possibilities of some kind of shared ministries with all three institutions, regardless of our physical location.
"What impressed us was the incredible interest in communicating Baptist history and heritage in such a way that it brings forth a new generation of Baptist leaders in church and society. It is with excitement at this cooperative prospect that we take this step. It is the Board's determination to build upon the gifts of all our partnerships."