G. Michael Strock, National Episcopal Historians and Archivists board member and head of its publication committee, has been calling dioceses at random to learn what is being done in Episcopal archives and history. His call to the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia netted him this story of a novel approach to producing parish histories.
Parish histories are valuable sources of information — for the clergy, the congregation, and for archivists and historians. They are not always easy to research and write and are often done quickly to meet an aniversary or other "big event". Producing a parish history is rewarding but the parishioners are not always knowledgeable about layout and design, printing techniques, and the minutiae of publishing a book. What if there were a company that specialized in high quality, affordable local histories for churches, libraries, and other organizations?
Surprisingly, such a company does exist. Located in Staunton, Virginia, Lot's Wife Publishing Company deals exclusively with historical works, handling everything from research through publication. Two of the founding partners are lifelong Episcopalians. Katharine Brown, holder of a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, has been historiographer of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia for 20 years and has written a history of the diocese. Nancy Sorrells, a graduate of Bridgewater College with an M.A. in Local History from James Madison University, has written the history of her parish, Good Shepherd, in Folly Mills. The other two partners, J. Susanne Simmons and Dorothy Boyd-Rush, have specialties in African-American research and German church and family history in addition to teaching and college administration.
The idea for a history-specific pupblishing company evolved over the years when three of the partners encountered each other in one work setting after another. The company was formed in 1995, and it's been busy ever since.
After much discussion , the partners chose to name the company after Lot's wife — "who stopped to look back- history's first recorded female historian." As Dr. Brown notes: "Lot's Wife is not a vanity press that will publish anything you bring to them, mistakes and all. We won't do that. We reserve the right to edit and, in fact, if we think something isn't worth publishing, we won't do it. The bottom line isn't the bottom line for us." The goal, rather, is quality — good quality.
The group has completed and delivered histories of four Virginia churches — Trinity Episcopal, Staunton; Christ Episcopal, Winchester; Salem Evangelical Lutheran, Mount Sidney; and Second Presbyterian, Winchester — and published three books for the Foundation for Historic Christ Church in Irvington. Other works include the award-winning history of Staunton Public Library, and they have assisted others in getting various manuscripts published.
The company does no advertising. "If we advertised," says Ms. Sorrells, "we'd be swamped." Word about the company is spread by those who have seen the finished product, such as the Rev. John Lane, rector of the 250-year-old Trinity Church, Staunton, whose parish history was the group's first official publication. He lauds the group for thoroughness and meeting both deadline and budget.
Looking back for this quartet has been anything but a disaster. The challenge of historical research, the power of putting words on paper, and the pride of seeing a job well done have brought the participants in Lot's Wife a strong measure of personal and professional satisfaction not found, they say, when "marching to someone else's drumbeat."