Guide to Archiving Presbytery Records

The Guide to Archiving Presbytery Records was developed in 2018 by the Archives Staff Circle as a result of United Church of Canada’s move to a three-court structure.

The guide can also be downloaded for user convenience.

Guide to Archiving Presbytery Records (PDF, 186 KB)


As the United Church of Canada moves to a three-court structure, presbyteries will no longer exist as a church court as of January 2019. In preparation for the dissolution of presbyteries, it is important for current presbytery staff and/or members to begin preparing their records to be transferred to the appropriate Conference Archives for long-term preservation.

A presbytery is responsible for the records that it creates, receives, and/or maintains in the course of its regular operation. Specifically, Section A.5.3 of the Manual (2016) states that presbytery is responsible for “keeping the records safe, secure, and under their control until the records are transferred to the appropriate archives.”

Presbyteries often do not have a physical location from which to operate as would a pastoral charge or a Conference. Therefore, the records of presbytery may be held by various members of the executive and records may travel between presbytery meetings in various locations and/or stored in the homes of presbytery members (or at their church offices, if they are members of the order of ministry). Because of this, presbytery members may be unsure of what records are situated where so it is essential that time is given to locate and gather the records of presbytery and to prepare them for transfer to the Conference Archives.

It is essential that members of presbytery know that the records of a presbytery belong to The United Church of Canada. Ministers, officials, or other individuals may not alienate them or otherwise assume personal control of them [Section A.5.4 The Manual (2016)]. They may also not destroy presbytery records without the permission of the presbytery, as documented in the minutes of a presbytery meeting.

Where to Start

The following steps are recommended in preparing presbytery records to be transferred to the appropriate Conference Archives:

  1. Ask your Conference Archives for a listing of presbytery holdings already deposited in the archives;
  2. Determine where non-archived records are currently held and gather them in a central location to review and prepare for transfer;
  3. Determine what records are needed for ongoing presbytery business until the dissolution of presbyteries and what records may need to be transferred to the new Regional Councils (See any recommendations from the United Church of Canada Transition Team);
  4. Consult the recommended list of records to be archived and contact your Conference Archivist if you have any questions;
  5. Remove and destroy any duplicates, according to best practices;
  6. Ensure that all file folders or binders are labelled correctly;
  7. Prepare a listing (by box) of the records to be transferred to the archives. Records may be arranged by grouping (i.e. minutes, pastoral charge files, financial records, etc.);
  8. Once lists are completed, get your presbytery, or the Executive, to approve the transfer of the records;
  9. Consult your Conference Archives to arrange transfer of records.

Active Financial Records

According to the Income Tax Act, certain records must be retained for a specified period of time (usually seven years). With the dissolution of presbyteries, these records should be transferred to the Office of General Council in Toronto for the remaining retention. Please consult resources from the Transition Team.

Artifacts and Gifted Objects

Presbyteries may have been gifted artifacts – or three-dimensional objects – of historical significance or in commemoration/ memory of members or events, such as quilts, banners, plaques, etc.. Conference Archives are not equipped to acquire such items due to space and lack of expertise in artifacts. It is recommended that presbyteries find new homes for such items, i.e. community museums or historical societies, or even a congregation that may have some.

Restricted Material

From time to time, some committees such as the Ministry and Personnel Committee, Pastoral Relations Committee, etc., may deal with sensitive incidents or issues that may require closure of the records for certain periods of time. It is highly recommended that these committees maintain as a separate case file the records arising from any sensitive incident or issue. The standard timing rule in the Conference Archives for closing these records is 75 years from the latest document dated in the file. By keeping the routine record separate from the incident record, it will allow the routine record to continue to be open and accessible in the Conference Archives and only the incident records will be subject to closure.

Electronic Records

In some cases, the records identified as “archival” will have been created electronically, as word-processed document files, digital photos, audio or video files, or databases. At the present time, the Conference Archives cannot accept digital versions of presbytery minutes, reports, correspondence, membership, financial, property, legal or other official records. Please ensure that all necessary documents have been printed and filed, in accordance with United Church guidelines.

Certain digital records – including photos, audio and video files – present special challenges for archives, whether they are transferred in their original electronic form, printed on paper, or carried on disks, cassette tapes, or other containers. If you have records like these, please consult with the Conference Archivist at the earliest opportunity, to ensure the appropriate preservation measures can be taken.

Please also ensure that the Conference has up-to-date addresses for any websites (or other social media involvement) run by your presbytery. Preservation of online content is being coordinated through the United Church Archives Network, based on the information provided by Conferences and Archivists.

Best Practices for Record Destruction

Not all records are archival and do not need to kept permanently. Certain records can be destroyed after holding them for a particular time period, as indicated in the recommended retention period shown above. In addition, drafts and duplicate copies of documents do not need to be kept.

Once these records are no longer needed to be retained, they must be carefully disposed of under controlled conditions. Any paper records containing personal, or confidential information, (including duplicate copies) should be shredded or destroyed by other permanent means. Such records should not be simply recycled as the information could be identified and distributed to other places and/or sources. Electronic records designated for destruction should also be deleted from all computer drives and other portable devices.

What Should be Transferred to the Archives?

The following chart has been developed to assist members of presbytery in identifying which records are archival and which are not. The chart also provides direction on how long to retain non-archival records before they can be destroyed. If there are any documents or items that are not on this list and you are not sure what to do with them, please contact your Conference Archivist.


Annual reports

  • Retention Period: Archival


  • Retention Period: Retain until results are confirmed, then destroy

Bylaws, Constitutions

  • Retention Period: Archival
  • Retain all historical versions

Organizational charts

  • Retention Period: Archival
  • Retain all historical versions

Correspondence and memoranda: general

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 3 years
  • General (for routine matters, e.g. requests for basic information, referrals to other sources)

Correspondence and memoranda: substantive

  • Retention Period: Permanent
  • Substantive (dealing with legal or other important matters, potential value for historical research on policy or issues, etc.)s

Legal documents

  • Retention Period: Archival

Minutes and proceedings

Minutes and proceedings of presbytery meetings and presbytery executive meetings

  • Retention Period: Archival
  • Includes appendices and attachment to the minutes (i.e. correspondence, reports, etc. tabled at the presbytery minutes); ensure the minutes have been signed and reviewed

Planning documents

Goals, Objectives, Priorities, etc.

  • Retention Period: Archival

Policy statements and procedure manuals

  • Retention Period: Archival

Visitation reports

Often kept as case files for each pastoral charge

  • Retention Period: Archival

Annual reports

Submitted by pastoral charges within the bounds of the presbytery

  • Retention Period: Archival

Please consult the Regional Council Archivist to see what reports to send.

Presbytery standing committee and ad hoc committee records

Minutes, reports, substantive correspondence, etc.

  • Retention Period: Archival

Case files or correspondence files

Usually these are substantive correspondence and subject files pertaining to each pastoral charge within the presbytery.

  • Retention Period: Archival

Records generated by or for presbytery or related to the work fo the presbytery

  • Retention Period: Archival

Finance & Property

Audited financial statement

  • Retention Period: Archival

Bank statements, pass books, reconciliation and cancelled cheques

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

This is a requirement of the Income Tax Act.

Budget planning documents

Retain until budget approved, then destroy

Budget, approved

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

Cash receipts

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

Deposit books/slips

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

Donor receipts

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

General ledger

  • Retention Period: Archival

Journal and subsidiary ledgers

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years
  • Accounts payable
  • Accounts receivable
  • Cash receipts
  • Miscellaneous and other
  • Payroll

Tax returns

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

Tax bills: Property municipal

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

Inspection reports

  • Retention Period: Retain until next inspection

Insurance policies: liability

  • Retention Period: Archival

Insurance policies: other

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years

Invoices: construction

  • Retention Period: Archival

Invoices: other capital

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 5 years

Invoices: operating

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 5 years

Property records: deeds, titles, leases

  • Retention Period: Archival

Property records

  • Retention Period: Archival

Utility contracts

  • Retention Period: Destroy after 7 years


Rolls of presbytery

  • Retention Period: Archival


  • Retention Period: While active

Mailing lists

  • Retention Period: While current

Registers: baptism, marriage, burial

  • Retention Period: Archival


Please consult the Conference Personnel Minister or the Regional Council Archivist for guidance.


Records created or maintained by any presbytery-related or sponsored entities

  • Retention Period: Archival

Please consult Regional Council Archivists for advice with such records. Incorporated ministries of the United Church should retain their official records, unless there is an agreement with the appropriate Regional Council Archives.

Audio and video recordings

Audio of video recordings created or sponsored by the presbytery (on film, videotape, audiotape, DVD, etc.)

  • Retention Period: Archival

Including records of presbytery events or activities; key speakers, theme or title or event and data of even described.

Candidates, ordinations, inductions

  • Retention Period: Archival

Biographical material

Biographical material of key members and clergy who have served the presbytery.

  • Retention Period: Archival


  • Retention Period: Archival

Bulletins, orders of service, programmes

  • Retention Period: Archival

Some Archives retain only select samples, e.g. special events/overview of year.

Historical data and histories

Historical data and histories of the presbytery or its pastoral charges (published or unpublished)

  • Retention Period: Archival


Anniversaries, others

  • Retention Period: Archival

Oral history records or transcripts

Tapes, CDs, audio files, etc.

  • Retention Period: Archival