Rome 2002 Conference and Challenges for Theological Librarians in Asia


Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, June 14, 2004

Rome 2002 Conference and Challenges for Theological Librarians in Asia

Rescuing Memory

The Rome 2002 Conference was unique in many ways. It was an ecumenical conference bringing together more than fifty participants where groups of librarians, archivists and scholars of mission and religious studies were met together under the aegis of the International Association for Mission Studies [IAMS] and the International Association of Catholic Missiologists [IACM]. The Conference entitled “Rescuing the Memory of Our Peoples,” was taking place at the Centro Internazionale di Animazione Missionaria [CIAM] at the Urban University, Rome; run by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Reverend Dr. Sergey Shirokov, an independent researcher of the Moscow Center for Mission Studies, mentioned that ‘it’s significant that Rome at the beginning of the XXI century became the place for the conference “Rescuing the memory of our peoples.’ Here, in the ancient capital of the world, came theologians, scholars and archivists from various continents representing the main Christian confessions and tradition. He further said that this event opens a new page in the history of Christian mission, because the initiators of it became two of the most influential and leading international associations of missiologists ---‘the IAMS and the IACM.

The Conference was attended about 50 some experts including Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans; in which they’re in effect trying to organize and to preserve the historical memory of Christianity, and especially its mission, in the Third World. Under the pressure of globalization, poverty, war, and neglect, lots of irreplaceable historical resources ---documents, oral traditions, physical remains--- are in danger in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Archivists, researchers and others were invited from all continents to share experiences, review the impact of changing technology and the effects of globalization on the documentation of the story of the churches particularly in minority situations and where the oral and written history of the memory of the poor is at risk. Together they addressed ways in which the world community can better preserve representative story of its peoples. There was an emphasis on the participation of all members of the conference in sharing from experience and working together to plan a more satisfactory agenda to framework for the international support of church archives.
The conference apparently represented the continued development of the main concern of both IAMS and IACM, namely concerning for the collection and preservation of primary source materials relating to the life of the church around the globe. As the result of some previous meeting from 1980 and 1988 (in Rome) and then in 1992 (in Hawaii), the conference has sought to support and encourage the work of archives and documentation.
The conference has three major purposes:
1. Bringing together global representatives with a common interest in church and mission archives in and relating to Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.
2. The exchange of knowledge, needs and skills, including through regional surveys, documentation of known centers and resources, and the provision of training materials adaptable to a range of contexts.
3. Setting up an ongoing body to economically and credibly facilitate networking and representation for the support of Third World Christian archives.
The conference would also have been:
- Identifying the best practices appropriate to context, taking seriously both the present and the absence of information technology and the different economic and political environments in which archives operate.
- Having a special emphasis on the importance of oral history and the stories of the poor.
- Providing practical guidelines on records management for organizations.
- Reviewing the contexts in which documentation takes place and the information and collaboration necessary to ensure security and access of materials.
- Initiating plans for representation to and cooperation with professional archives groups, international agencies, ecclesiastical bodies and mission societies so that archives can be used for the empowerment and identity of ordinary people and minorities.
- Encouraging the establishment of regional networks, and
- Preparing and publicizing a fresh statement on Archives and Mission for the 21st Century.
All invited in this conference were asked to prepare a case study or paper for presentation. The conference included lectures, archive visits and workshop. I took part in the conference as one of and among other invited from the group of Asian theological librarians. My name was suggested to the Organizing Committee, Dr. John Roxborogh, by the Reverend John and Rita England who have been associated with the IAMS-IACM Organizing Committee.

Dr. Andrew Walls, a Scottish Methodist who is among the leading experts on Christianity in the Third World, summed up the archivist’s spirit by saying: “Never destroy piece of paper until you make at least two copies of it.” Walls gave a fascinating keynote address in which he reviewed the well-known statistics about the 20th century inversion in Christian demography. At the beginning of the century, 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and North America; today 60 percent live in the Southern Hemisphere. “We begin the new century with a post-Christian West, and a post-Western Christianity,” he said.
In this context, Walls argued, building archival resources in Africa, Asia and Latin America is a matter of survival for Christians everywhere. Given that theological reflections arises out of the lived faith experience of a community, if it doesn’t happen in the South, “there won’t be theological studies anywhere much worth caring about.”

Mission Archives: Considering the benefits
As a matter of fact many memories of people of faith are not being recorded. Where those memories are recorded often their preservation is uncertain, their location hazardous, and access and documentation non-existence. And therefore, it should be mentioned that in connection with the existence of [church or mission] archives centre sense of historical perspective and the concern of contemporary needs are factors that strengthening the ministry of mission.
David M. Howard once said that "it is this combination of historical perspective with contemporary needs that will greatly strengthen the ministry of any mission. And the archives of the mission can thus be seen as indispensable to the present and future vision and direction of the mission.” (David M. Howard from his presentation during the 2001 Consultation on Nondenominational Mission Archives). Consequently, to be the steward of a mission’s history is to care for and protect material that records the works of God acted out in the lives of men and women. We are challenged to keep in mind that now is the time to decide how best to retain the documents that identify our group librarians and archivists as unique and provide us with the means to continue to respond to God’s call faithfully and productively. Therefore, a mission and church archives will:
- Serve as a resource for current work.
- Remind individuals of the lessons from the past.
- Supplement fund-raising projects and publications with illustrations, photographs, and relevant documents.
- Facilitate training new missionaries.
- Enrich anniversary celebrations.
- Enhance visual and audio appeal to web sites and exhibits.
- Provide answer to legal queries.
- Be a resource to national leaders, indigenous churches, and other partners in ministry.
Mission records often contain information on third world churches and therefore they are a rich resource for Christians around the world to explore their personal faith and history. Researchers may also wish to consult mission records for graduate school and mission projects, articles on the mission field, books or dissertations, or genealogical information. Pamphlet of Vatican City 1997 entitled the Pastoral Function of Archives states that “Archives are places of memory for the Christian community and a storehouse for the new evangelization” [Prot. N. 274/92/118 - pamphlet, Vatican City 1997]. In connection with this simply statement, it is encouraged that those theological librarians and who teach mission and church history to assist in the responsibility of documenting mission, and convey to their students a vision of learning from the faith of those who have gone before, catechist and missionary, layperson and religious, minister and priest, women and men, minorities and elites, national and expatriate. For that reason, in the contexts of Asian churches and seminaries training on mission and church archives is not only important for individual church, but also essential for preserving Asian church history and their long relationship with missionary agencies as a whole. Taken together, the records of missions, churches, and individuals throughout the world bring us to a better understanding of the past and the past's impact on the present. As quoted by Martha Lund Smalley, Cecelia Irvine put it as follows: "History is not static or frozen; it must be reexamined and rewritten in the light of the changing perspectives of each generation of scholars from many different parts of the world. The contemporary documents of long ago must be scrutinized to provide new insights, for the interpretation of history is much influenced by the main preoccupations of the times."[Martha L. Smalley, The Preservation of Mission Archives: An Archivist's Perspective, 2001?].
In equipping theological librarians and archivists in the region with science of interpreting history and missiological movements, for the near future, such kind of Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Archive Management Training initiated and sponsored by the ETE-WCC/CCA and SATHRI in co-ordination with the ForATL apparently could be able to be developed systematically into an embryo of what so called a Continuing Professional Education for theological librarians and archivists in the region.
History does not just happen. Neither do archives [David B. Gracy II, Researcher's Guide to Archives..., 1988, Edited by John C. Larsen]. Therefore, that collecting records is useless unless they have a purpose and are actually used.
It is for the sake of the world Christian community as well as for its contributions to the academic or even non-academic worlds that churches and mission must operate on the premise that "faithfulness for the future requires faithfulness to the past. Missiologists, church historian professors and theological librarians and archivists can do more together in building up mission or church archive centre. We are all, theological librarians, archivists, researchers of mission studies and church historians involved in doing what we can. Together we can do more. We can help create a climate which values the past at the same time as we address the urgent needs of the present and the future as well.
The old Chinese proverb reminded me, as it saying:
"If you're thinking a year ahead, sow seeds
If you're thinking ten years ahead, plant trees
If you're thinking one hundred years ahead, educate your people."
[Bangalore, Asia Pacific Forum for Archives Management Training, June 14, 2004]







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