I fell into being Finedon’s church archivist quite by accident. I’m actually a lecturer in Renaissance Literature, although I do have a lot of library experience. Looking after the 885 books in the Monk’s Cell, as well as looking after the people who want to come and look at the parish records, isn’t the most glamourous job in the world – there’s a lot of need for fingerless gloves to keep warm (we don’t use the white ones you see on TV – The British Library advises against it) and then there’s the matter of emptying the dehumidifier and carrying buckets of water down the stone spiral steps to empty down the drain. And when I check behind the curtains for bugs, it’s the creepy crawly sort rather than the James Bond kind.
But I love the space and the collection. It’s a huge privilege to look after such a local treasure. In the few months before this current situation, the humidity levels in the Monk’s Cell had been too high to risk taking vulnerable books on and off the shelves (it damages the leather) and it had been too cold to spend much time in there doing research, so I know I have people waiting for information from me in Finedon and further afield. I was planning to catch up in the spring, while the universities were on holiday, but coronavirus has put that back even further. I’m very grateful to Father Richard for doing the necessary maintenance during this lockdown, but I really miss my visits.
As an archivist, a lot of my job is about keeping things safe, often behind closed doors. The word ‘archive’ sounds like it is all about things being old but it’s more about things being important and precious. Some people talk about ‘dusty archives’ and think it’s just super nerdy people locking things away. Don’t get me wrong – I’m pretty nerdy – but archivists hate dust (because bugs love it!) and it isn’t about a ‘lockdown’ – it’s protecting treasures for when people need them, and making sure they can access them when they do.
It’s been tempting for me to feel as though we’re just in a holding pattern, waiting for the lockdown to finish, to go back to belonging, waiting to go back to our cycle of festivals and seasons, and for whatever out new ‘normal’ will be. But our church is still there, not a building (or a set of books) being conserved and protected for when we’re ready, but a continuing and constant community of God’s people.
Waiting for the return of our traditional practices feels to me like a sacred act in itself, because it bears witness to the consistency and resilience of our faith. This waiting is not a wasted time. It is a space where we can continue to experience our interconnectedness in Christ, an indestructible treasure that can never be locked away.