This post was authored by our Simmons 438 Archives intern, Jacky Martin.
You may have heard of the Clarks before. Emory J. Clark Square sits at Fern Street and Concord Avenue. Emory’s Pharmacy was the first Black-owned and operated pharmacy in Cambridge.
But this collection is about Xonnabel.
Xonnabel Clark was a teacher and counselor for various area schools over the years. She received a Masters of Education from Harvard University. She raised five children. She was a very active member of her church, Grace Vision United Methodist. And I think – because I’ve not met her – that she is curious and passionate about learning and likes piecing puzzles together.
It’s the last two sentences that are important for this collection.
Clark became the unofficial historian for her church back in the 2000s, when the congregation needed to find the official deed for the church building. She traveled to the Cambridge Registry of Deeds and successfully located the document. That adventure sparked an interest in records and the history of her church that led to her working with the CHC to make the church into a historical landmark, and writing a report called The History of Grace Vision United Methodist 1871-2009: 138 Years of Christian Service (yes, we have a copy and yes, I’ve read it).
After spending two weeks with this collection, I understand her interest.
The Grace Vision United Methodist Church was built in 1887. Its original congregation was an outgrowth of a Sunday School-type program called the Sabbath School, which was run by Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist churches including the Harvard Street Church. The original congregation was called the Cottage Street Methodist Episcopal Church, due to its location on Cottage Street, before it moved to the Magazine Street building and renamed itself Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. Since then it’s gone through four name changes (from Grace M.E. to Grace Methodist to Grace United to finally Grace Vision United). That’s five different names for one enduring congregation.
And by all accounts, the congregation’s focus on community and outreach that started with the Sabbath School didn’t change. The church sponsored Scout Troops, ran arts programs, and remained an active part of the community. From the original Sabbath School to Grace Academy, the Grace Vision UMC strove to always contribute to the local community.
The collection itself is an interesting mix of official documents and informal photographs.
The largest part of the collection (aside from the History) are the church programs that Clark kept over the years. From Martin Luther King Day celebrations to joint Easter Sunday services with other churches to Anniversary services and banquets, these programs run the gamut of the various events that are a constant part of a church’s life.
More interesting – to me at least – are the newsletters and correspondence in the collection. Much of the collection consists of formal minutes from the multiple inter-church organizations that Grace United Methodist was a part of, but the rest includes church newsletters and messages to the congregation. My favorite is the “Cakeless Cake Sale” letter, which is written almost entirely in rhyme.
The collection is a unique snapshot of the life of a church, taken by someone who clearly cares greatly for this church and its history.
View the finding aid for this collection here. If you would like to learn more about this collection, please call us at 617.349.4683 or e-mail our archivist, Emily, at firstname.lastname@example.org to make a research appointment.