Tag Archives: CUL Graduate Student Internship Program

World Council of Churches Records Available!

We are excited to announce that the World Council of Churches Records, 1893-1975 is officially open for researchers! Thanks to Amy Meverden for her hard work on this during her CUL Primary Sources internship.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Records comprise materials documenting the inception and institutional proceedings of the organization. Established to create dialogue between various Christian expressions of faith through publications, action committees, and assemblies. Collection contains materials such as correspondence, records, pamphlets, and photographs.

Records and documents relating to commissions, committees, conferences, and General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches including pre-Amsterdam, 1948 World Council of Churches in process. Includes various committees and commissions, including Life and Work, Faith and Order, Evangelism, World Council of Churches and International Missionary Council merger, Churches and International Affairs, Laity, Women in the Church, World Christian Youth, Church and Society, Churches Participation in Development, Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service, and History of the Ecumenical Movement.

Look to the finding aid for more information.

The Value of Ecumenical and Missionary Records

Credit to: WAB: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I had the pleasure of working on the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America (FMCNA) collections this summer and the following highlights the materials that I found to be most interesting and the ways in which these materials enhance my research. The WCC is an organization dedicated to ecumenical dialogue within the Christian tradition (and beyond), and the FMCNA organization is a missionary relief effort that, through various committees, sought to assist the underserved or populations in crisis.

While working on the WCC records, I found an extensive collection of scholarly papers and had the pleasure of looking at correspondence addressed to “My dear Reinie” (Reinhold Niebuhr) regarding papers presented at the WCC general assemblies. Among these papers were discussions of general theological interest, but also papers on ethics and education. I was pleased to see, firsthand, the level of scholarly discourse and intentionality engaged in by the WCC as it met to discuss ecumenism and a vision for the global, unified Christian church. One discovery that made me so proud was the forward-thinking nature of the materials circulated by the WCC on the inclusion of women and a push to discuss race issues long before such discussions were vogue. I know that these papers are published in volumes and circulating in general collections, but holding the hand-typed conference papers, seeing notes in margins, and reading correspondence regarding edits brings to life the work and efforts of the ecumenists.

My absolute favorite part of the WCC collection is the photographs series; I could look at these photos all day long. It was fun to see snapshots from the decennial assemblies, marking the passage of time through ever-enhancing technology and the preferred fashions of the day. From petticoats to bell bottoms, the photographs series documents the growth of the WCC movement, and takes a special look at Union Theological Seminary’s role. I was actually quite surprised at how involved Union’s professors were in WCC efforts, and pleased to see scholars emerging from their ivory towers to engage in ecumenical discussions via the black and white photos depicting hand shakes, scholars robes, and a general Union seminary presence at these assemblies.

The FMCNA collection is a missionary relief organization and the materials here reflect the efforts of the FMCNA to provide assistance to communities suffering from war, famine, natural disaster, and poverty. Going through the FMCNA materials is like reading a world history book that details events of the past century. From accounts documenting accounts of the Gripsholm cruise ship as it braved war zones to trade Japanese citizens for US prisoners of war, to journals documenting Guerrilla Relief efforts in Japanese-occupied China in 1939, the materials depict the many logistics involved in these relief efforts. What these materials convey is less a story of white colonial domination and more an account of assistance in the midst of crisis, as the FMCNA stepped in to care for the most vulnerable individuals.

One of the most disturbing images I saw while working on this collection was a newsletter in the Committee on East Asia materials that had a picture of toddler orphan children from China living among the corpses of the toddlers who did not survive. Starving babies were crawling over their now deceased playmates, crying, emaciated, and alone. For all the commercials of hungry children compelling television viewers to donate to relief organizations, I have never seen an image like this. The FMCNA stepped into many war-torn situations, similar to the one in China, and provided aid via the Orphan Relief network.

That’s the amazing thing that most people do not realize about the missionary records that we keep here at the Burke Archives and about missionary archives in general: some of history’s greatest atrocities are documented and recorded in the accounts of missionaries. Missionaries are on the front lines (and not just in a spiritual sense), in the literal, day-to-day sense of living through various crises, and exchanging correspondence that documents historical accounts and needs from the margins back to the “dominant culture.”

At the end of the day, this is one of the greatest research benefits of the missionary collections housed at Burke and one of the most useful insights I gleaned in working with the WCC and FMCNA records: the value of perspective, location, and presence in the midst of crisis.

The Burke Library Archives: An Unexpected Healer

Earlier this year I received the good news that I was chosen out of a large pool of applicants as one of the six graduate student interns for the CUL Graduate Student Internship Program 2012-2013. This program is designed to enrich the student’s graduate studies and professional training through hands-on archival work, while simultaneously providing an opportunity for the Libraries to benefit from the unique expertise and scholarly knowledge that doctoral/advanced degree students bring to related archival projects. Interns work a total of 375 hours throughout the academic year, focusing the bulk of their hours during the summer months. I was chosen to work at the Burke Library with Brigette C. Kamsler, Luce Project Archivist, to assist with processing the Missionary Research Library (MRL) and William Adams Brown (WAB) archival collections.

Currently, I am a doctoral student at Union Theological Seminary focusing on biblical studies. I grew up as a missionary kid in a fundamentalist Christian denomination and was born on the mission field (made in the U.S.A., born in Lisbon shortly after my parents began their time on the mission field!). I lived overseas for the first eight years of my life and have memories of the church that my parents planted in Portugal. I was born into a bilingual context and my first words were in Portuguese (“lua,” which means “moon”). The first self-portraits that I shaded in crayon on coloring pages during Sunday school hour were dark-skinned as the bulk of my friends and fellow church-goers were Angolan refugees, Brazilian immigrants, and Portuguese nationals. My child’s mind had no conception of my white skin, blue eyes, sandy hair, or the implications of my family’s presence as white, American, conservative Christian missionaries in the second-poorest country in Europe in the 1980’s. I grew up amid poverty with daily reminders of the devastation of alcoholism lining neighborhood stoops during the day and shrieks of domestic violence wafting faintly through apartment walls at night. I had very few toys and learned how to play the old-fashioned way with my brothers and the neighborhood children swarming the quiet street out front for a game of soccer, and the occasional romp through open fields to pick blackberries at the edge of town. I had no idea how little we had or needed.

Upon assimilating into an American lifestyle and attending public school, college, and graduate school in the U.S., I learned about the ill-effects of postcolonialism. I gained a new perspective on how white, Christian missionaries used the excuse of evangelism to exert power over other cultures in the name of the Gospel, subverting valid cultural experience to convert people to a “proper” (meaning, forced or white) enculturation. Desmond Tutu is famous for using the following anecdote (which exists virtually in various formats): “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land” (Steven Gish, Desmond Tutu: A Biography, 2004, 101). As I learned about postcolonialism, race matters, religious manipulation, and interrogated my own white privilege, I felt confused and ashamed that such a formative, integral (and happy) part of my life’s narrative was so painfully wrought through domination, power-abuse, racism, cultural degradation, and religious narcissism. When I began my studies at Union Theological Seminary, a liberal theological institution, I was received with curiosity and suspicion from certain faculty/peers about my Master’s seminary education at a moderate evangelical institution, such that I knew information about my upbringing as a conservative baptist missionary/pastor’s kid would make me even less popular. I learned to be ashamed of my upbringing as a missionary kid, to loathe this part of me that so intricately connected and implicated me in white colonialism, and would omit/frame generally this information when discussing my personal narrative for the next three years.

Working on the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Foreign Missions Conference of North America (FMCNA) collections has been a surprising opportunity for me to confront some of my guilt/shame issues surrounding my upbringing as a missionary kid. As I put on the white cotton gloves and sleeved into Mylar picture after picture of religious leaders gathering from around the world in the early- to mid-20th century, I entered into their narratives and saw the finer strokes of nuance that archival material tends to unearth. I placed the missionaries and ecumenists in their cultural contexts and began to consider that perhaps some of their intentions were good, though thoroughly enacted within contexts that were, decidedly, imperialistic, racist, sexist, and problematic for contemporary standards. Reading about initiatives to create active dialogue among the worldwide Christian church, I gained an ability to place alongside the essentializing narrative of white missionary colonialism the transformational implications of global disaster relief, orphan care, agricultural, and public service initiatives, which originated with missionary and ecumenical movements. Sleeving picture after picture, laughing over head shots of archbishops with bushy caterpillar eyebrows and imposing pontifical stances, marveling at the various Orthodox/Catholic/denominational headdresses, squinting to see the women and persons of color standing with various committees as leaders and change agents in landscape photographs, and celebrating the countries and diversities represented through the WCC conference photographs, uncovered and simultaneously healed a part of my narrative that I had not realized until this point was so deeply bruised.

I expected to walk into my internship this summer to house collections, learn a new thing or two about processing materials, and get really dusty. I did not expect to walk out with a renewed sense of narrative and a peace with my upbringing as a missionary kid. Who knew that the Burke Library Archives, with its crumbly materials and yellowing pictures, would prove to be a place of reflection and acceptance, of healing and renewal.