When the Rev. Dr. Harold Lawrence retired from the ministry this summer, he left behind a treasure trove of research about Georgia Methodist history, material he’s been gathering since 1974.
Wanting to find the perfect home for his collection, he turned to the Frank and Laura Lewis Library at LaGrange College.
“I’m heading into the oblivion of retirement and I didn’t want to take all of this with me and safeguard it in my old age,” he said with a smile. “It’s great to have a place to share it and have it utilized beyond my use of it.”
Lawrence served the United Methodist Church for 45 years, the final 11 years at LaGrange First United Methodist Church. He was the church’s longest-serving minister.
On June 10, Lawrence was honored with a reception at the library to celebrate his gift of research and artifacts from Georgia Methodist history.
He expressed his gratitude to President Dan McAlexander and the college.
“It’s just my pleasure to put it somewhere where it will not only be housed, but hopefully utilized by students, faculty and others long past my tenure,” he said. “I am humbled to have a place for this to be kept.”
Lawrence’s collection includes materials he’s gathered from Emory University, Epworth by the Sea, Wofford College in South Carolina, Methodist churches across the state and other sources. It includes about 300 volumes and pamphlets.
“These things have been very useful research tools, but this is more than just a collection of various books,” he said. “None of the institutions I mentioned have all of these things. I think now LaGrange College has a collection to rival all of the others.”
One of his earliest projects was tracing Methodist preachers in Georgia beginning in 1773 and going through the 1950s and ‘60s. That list has been entered into a database and will be available on a compact disc.
The collection also includes primary sources such as microfilmed church minutes, conference proceedings and women’s missionary society minutes. It also has microfilm of such Methodist newspapers as the Christian Advocate dating back to 1826 and the Wesleyan Christian Advocate dating back to 1878.
The sheer volume of Lawrence’s gift is tremendous, said Charlene Baxter, library co-director.
“We have about 30 boxes of material in our technical services area,” said Charlene Baxter, library co-director. “The inventory for Dr. Lawrence’s collection is 47 pages long. It even includes a copy of an 1858/59 LaGrange Female College catalog.”
Baxter said she expects the collection will be of interest to the college’s history and religion students and faculty, and to outside researchers.
“As an institution with a very, very long and deep connection to the Methodist church, we are very appreciative to Dr. Lawrence for entrusting us with his lifelong research,” she said.
McAlexander said the college and community owe Lawrence many debts of gratitude.
“Harold is a remarkable gentleman of many, many talents – a great writer, wonderful sermon-giver and terrific pastor to his flock,” he said. “He has given great service to this town, certainly to First Methodist Church, to this college as a member of our board and to our students who have eaten thousands of meals (at the church) on Wednesday nights.
“But we are especially grateful for this gift,” he said. “It is a gift not only to the college, but also to Methodism in the state of Georgia.”