Earlier this month, Dr. Elizabeth Pallitto set foot in the Gardner A. Sage Library on the campus of New Brunswick Theological Seminary and began work as the archivist for the Reformed Church in America. Her hiring signifies the re-opening of the Archives after a few months of staff vacancy.
Dr. Pallitto feels at home among the RCA’s documents and artifacts, even though she is relatively new to the denomination. She has a keen interest in history and brings experience working with rare books and manuscripts, which she had access to during her time as a humanities scholar.
“Bringing to life forgotten history is my mission,” she says. “I’m excited about this denomination and its history, and to work as a librarian in my field.”
Pallitto is trained in archival science and received her Master of Information degree from Rutgers University School of Communication and Information in 2021. Her role as the RCA’s archivist brings together her education, values, skills, experiences, and faith. The archivist is responsible for the collection, custody, and care of records of the Reformed Church in America.
“Throughout the interview process and in her first weeks on the job, Elizabeth has brought knowledge and enthusiasm, grounded and guided by faith,” says Christina Tazelaar, RCA chief communications officer, who supervises the Archives. “I’m delighted that she is taking leadership of the RCA Archives to preserve our records, our stories, and our history.”
Most recently, Dr. Pallitto taught English to refugees through the Reformed Church of Highland Park and its Interfaith-RISE program. Her original plan was to do this work as a volunteer while she looked for an archival position that utilized her new library science degree. Instead, she worked part-time with Interfaith-RISE for 16 months, enjoying it so much that she put off looking for another job. Through this work, Pallitto got acquainted with the RCA, gained a heart for its mission, and eventually applied for the archivist position with the RCA when the job was posted last fall.
“I could be an archivist in multiple institutions, but I’ve always been drawn to people of faith,” she says. “I was incredibly impressed by the way people in the RCA put their faith into action, helping people all day, every day.”
The RCA Archives cover more than a half-mile of shelf space and are home to documents, videos, sound recordings, and computer data from the denomination’s nearly 400-year history. Collectively, the Archives give a permanent record to the RCA’s calling and history as a people of God and attest to its mission in the world. As mandated by the Book of Church Order, the Archives retain records for “the administrative, legal, financial, and historical needs of the church.”
“The Archives plays an important role in the operations of the RCA,” says general secretary Eddy Alemán. “It preserves our history and heritage, and it maintains important records of the life and ministry of RCA churches.”
“It’s important to address history, own it, and move forward,” Pallitto says. “I feel the RCA is actively doing that, particularly in regard to anti-racism, and addressing the needs of contemporary people. I’m impressed by the way the Reformed Church is always reforming.”
A written record, she says, is important for tracking and learning from that progression.
“Only with written records can you have an accurate record toward self-reflection as a denomination, being in the world with both feet, trying to live out faith as a church, a classis, or denomination,” says Pallitto. “The truth is in the archives. Every time you go into a historical record, you learn something. You can use archives to gauge history. With archives, the history isn’t washed away.”
Records kept in the Archives include formal church records, Minutes of General Synod, regional synod and classes’ meeting minutes, General Synod Council (GSC) staff records, as well as historical documents and coverage of RCA ministries. The oldest holdings in the Archives date back to the 1630s during the days of correspondence between the New Netherlands dominies and the Classis of Amsterdam.
Archivist Russell Gasero preceded Pallitto in this role of collecting, preserving, and stewarding the Archives for 42 years before his retirement in June 2020. His son, Matthew, also served on GSC staff as digital archivist for a few years, following several years of volunteer work with the Archives.
Now, Dr. Pallitto continues the work of maintaining the RCA Archives, or “historical footprints,” as Gasero called them.
“I’m excited that Elizabeth is joining the GSC staff to take care of one of the most important areas of our work,” says Alemán. “She is the right person for the job! She is well-trained and passionate about the present and future of the Reformed Church in America.”
For research inquiries, visit the RCA Archives webpage.
Want to learn more about the RCA Archives? Check out A Historical Footprint: Reflections on a Life in the Archives, a memoir by Russell Gasero that is part of the RCA Historical Series.