Tag Archives: ecumenism

United We Stand: National Workshop on Christian Unity Records

I just finished processing my first collection at the Burke Library and I am filled with excitement but also with anxiety. While the hard work of describing and arranging is over, the finding aid needs to be evaluated and then made available to the public. The idea that this document will be made public terrifies me but my function as a facilitator of the historical record is an honor. Thus, archivists (or in my case archivist in training) take the job of providing access seriously and perform a lot of steps prior to providing access to a finding aid. After all, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

The collection I have been working on is the National Workshop on Christian Unity records which consists of 8 archival boxes or about 3.75 linear feet. Compared to the size of other collections at the Burke this is a fairly small collection and can be at first glance discounted as one with superficial value. But after spending a few weeks analyzing and arranging its contents I believe that there are many things that we can learn from this series of records. As part of my preliminary processing I was asked to evaluate the collections’ research potential and its value to the Burke Archives. This was a valuable exercise because thinking about what the collection had to offer influenced the care that I took handling, describing and arranging the records. It also provided a good framework with how these records fit into a discourse, in this case, that of ecumenism. What can a varied collection of speeches, financial reports, agendas and minutes tell us about the organization that created them? What do they tell us about the movement?

But more importantly, what do they tell us about the interaction of that movement with the socio-political environment? There are many things that we can learn from this information; primarily we learn that the ecumenical movement is dynamic and is dependent on society. One of the things that I found interesting was the workshops’ origin in the Vatican II council. It was interesting to think of why in the 1960s, the Catholic Church thought it necessary to address Christian unity and promote a more progressive view of Christianity. When we put Vatican II and the National Workshop on Christian Unity in context we realize that the church is affected by its surroundings. The 1960s was a time of revolution, a time of unimaginable discoveries and unprecedented steps. The church was not exempt from this. The National Workshop on Christian Unity records contain, for example, speeches and correspondence addressing issues such as busing, inter-faith relations and interracial relationships.

Another factor I dealt with in processing this collection was the way in which organizations and individual people documented their own history. The collection starts with the first conference in 1964 and extends until 2008. The influence of technology is evident through the introduction of email correspondence in filing materials as well as multi-media including picture and audio cds. Furthermore, some files were contributed by staff that took care in preserving the organizations history.

Overall, the National Workshop on Christian Unity can reveal a lot more than thoughts on ecumenism. As I inventoried the records and assigned an arrangement, I thought about the stories that can found within the lines of the contents list. As one goes through each box one can virtually take a journey across time and space and travel from Baltimore, Maryland in 1964 to Chicago, Illinois in 2008. One also can note the story of people working together in local and national settings, in committees and subcommittees across the country to create an event that promotes collaboration and unity. It is powerful that a single record can say so much about the context in which it was created when it is arranged in a particular order. I have learned a great deal in this first month at the Burke Library and I am looking forward to learning many more lessons.

Unity in the Midst of Diversity

I have finished processing my very first ever archival collection, the American Bilateral Conversations Records in the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Archives Group.  When I started I didn’t have much of an idea of what most of that meant.  I had no idea what a bilateral conversation entailed and I was only faintly familiar with what ecumenical meant.  I have to say this; previous to processing this collection I was on the fence about whether or not I would like to be an archivist.  I knew that there would be things that I would like, but would they seem less enjoyable when faced with the downside, the dirty and the buggy (I’m not a huge fan of bugs)?   The answer is “Yes!  I’m hooked!”  I can deal with the mess and the dirt (and bugs) because I get to do all the things that I love.  Namely, organize, label, research and then make it accessible for others to use. It is the last one that gives me the most amount of satisfaction.  Now others will be able use this collection and hopefully it will lead them to new understandings and new connections that didn’t exist before. 

On the downside I spent 3 weeks inventorying and organizing the collection.  I felt that this was a little too long for the size of collection I had, but I have to keep in mind that I’m only there for 10 hours a week and it is my first time.  I need to squelch the urge to do item level description; I feel this is my biggest hurdle to get over.  The cataloger in me just wants to describe every little thing.  I was also nervous about having to write a history about something I knew so little about and I’m a bit anxious about doing it right.  I love to do research and I am truly interested in this topic, so much so that I would find myself distracted by some of the papers that were written for consideration at these ecumenical conferences.  I am impressed with the sentiments and recognition of the necessity of unity within all members of the church everywhere.  I took pictures of a few of the statements I found while I was sorting through the material, so that I would have examples of some of the quotes I liked and to show what the papers look like.  When reading the quotes keep in mind most of these papers were written in the late 60s.  (NOTE: I have “retouched” the papers in the photographs to get rid of the text that doesn’t apply to what I’m talking about; I didn’t want the distraction of other portions of the text in the photograph.  All of these papers can be viewed in their entirety by following the citations underneath the pictures.)

Hanlon

Daniel J. O’Hanlon, S. J. “The Ministry and Order of the Church” Credit to
WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 4, Folder 16, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I like the simple realization that what these church leaders were attempting to do wasn’t easy, but that division is a problem worth trying to fix.  I love Glenn E. Baumann’s statement about the right to worship within inter Christian marriages.  Following Baumann's quote, Monsignor Henry G. J. Beck had similar desire for unity rather than division on this same topic.


Glenn E. Baumann, “The Churches and Their Attitudes Toward Inter Christian Marriages “
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 5, Folder 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.


Monsignor Henry G. J. Beck, “Proposed Pastoral Guidelines for Inter-Christian Marriages”
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 5, Folder 2, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

I grabbed this one from a paper about the ordination of women because I liked the corrections that were penciled in.  I don’t know if you can read the words that are “carroted” in at the end but it says, “respond creatively to…” It is obvious that unity in all aspects was a difficult task.


Unknown, “The Ordination of Women”
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 5, Folder 4, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

This last quote by Robert McAfee Brown I just like.  I thought it was an interesting way to regard the study of the New Testament.

Robert McAfee Brown “Order and Ministry in the Reformed Tradition”
Credit to WAB: American Bilateral Conversations Records, Series 1, Box 4, Folder 16, The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

It is a fascinating topic and relevant even today, as ecumenical discussions are still on going. Some of the topics remain the same and some of the topics are new, but the idea behind unity in the church is still a driving force.  It was fascinating to discover that this tiny collection covers a very important era in the world wide ecumenical movement.  The collection mainly deals with Roman Catholic bilateral conversations; I learned it was in the early 60s; after Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church came into full involvement in the ecumenical movement, (which began at the World Missionary Conference in 1910 at Edinburgh.)  In fact, there was a recent New York Times Op-Ed article, "Opening the Church to the World," which discusses the effects Vatican II had on the international ecumenical relationships of the Roman Catholic Church. 

It is also interesting to note that the Roman Catholic Church tended to favor and encourage a methodology of bilateral or two-party conversations, while most ecumenical discussions were multilateral.  In one of the books that I used to research the history of the ecumenical movement, the editor, John A. Radano recommended “more analysis of these dialogue reports, and accounts of what they have achieved are needed…” The scope of this collection reflects this pivotal point in the history of the modern ecumenical collection and I am happy to add a new collection to canon of ecumenical records to help in that analysis.

Sources:

O’Malley, John W. “Vatican II Opened the Church to the World.” The New York Times 10 Oct. 2012. Accessed: 15 Oct. 2012.

Radano, John A. Editor. Celebrating a Century of Ecumenism: Exploring the Achievements of International Dialogue: In Commemoration of the Centenary of the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2012.