Elizabeth Lechleitner, writing from Silver Spring, Maryland on 14 June 2012 opens her Adventist News Network report with these two paragraphs:
“Seventh-day Adventist historians say a recent overhaul of the church’s research facilities signals a new commitment to deepening members’ historical understanding of Adventist identity and the denomination’s history.
“The church’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASTR) opened a new research center at Adventist world church headquarters last week, with a reconfiguration of existing space that allows the office to accommodate four times as many external researchers as previously.”
Lechleitner tells us that the June 5 official launch drew top church officials to the department, where they toured the new facilities and attended a brief ceremony.
And her report includes pictures of the event that you can access online, such as this one:
Adventist historian David Trim identifies a rare photo of an early church administrative meeting for current denominational officials, who look on. They were touring the newly expanded research center at Adventist headquarters on June 5 moments before its official re-opening. [photos: Ansel Oliver]
Let us ask: What may researchers expect to encounter is this expanded facility?
“High-density shelving houses publications and periodicals, while rare historical photos decorate the walls. More photos, video- and audiocassettes — along with 5,000 linear feet of the denomination’s documents — are stored in a nearby temperature-controlled vault. The center also includes a computer, on which visiting researchers can access the office’s extensive online archives.”
Ah, those extensive online facilities are becoming increasingly significant for all of us who happen to live at a distance from the church’s headquarters. How dramatically the situation has changed, just within the lifetimes of my more mature readers.
As a lad I soaked in every word of the celebrations that were held during 1944 in the Village Church that had served the Cooranbong community since 1897, the year in which the Avondale School for Christian Workers (now Avondale College of Higher Education) opened. People like poet and preacher Robert Hare were there; such pioneers of Adventist work in New Zealand and Australia were few, but cherished. By the time I graduated from Avondale in 1957, even stalwarts like A.H. Piper were awaiting the call of the lifegiver. Hence my years at Avondale witnessed a diminishing impact from the people who made Adventist history in the South Pacific. More than that, we had minimal primary resources from the founding years of Adventism in North America.
Not until 1970, when I became a student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, did I have access to a quantity of primary historical documents. In other words, during my first thirteen years as a minister in New Zealand and the United States, my study of Adventist history was confined almost entirely to second-hand accounts in books written by others.
All that changed dramatically when I was appointed director of the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre at Avondale College in 1976. The Centre was designed to serve the territory of the South Pacific Division. While it had limited “hard copy” primary sources, it had tens of thousands of pages of microform materials, copies of original documents from Millerite times to the then-present.
Now that a chain of similar research centres belt the globe, thorough and original research is a possibility for millions of Adventists. More than that, with computer technology and the relative cheapness of overseas travel, the magnificent resources of the Centre for Adventist Research at Andrews University and so much more are available.
Even so, we can rejoice in the work of General Conference leaders like Dr David Trim who have both the vision and the skill to make more-and-more primary documents available online. I find the above-mentioned Lechleitner report stimulating; here are some more paragraphs:
“One of my goals is to encourage more people to research our history, because I do believe that, as Ellen White says, ‘We have nothing to fear for the future except as we forget the way the Lord has led us, and his teachings in our past history,’” ASTR Director David Trim told church leaders, noting that people often leave off the church co-founder’s mention of “teachings.”
“‘The way the Lord has led’ is easy to remember, but ‘teachings’ requires, I think, some kind of analysis and study,” Trim added.
“Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson, who also spoke at the launch, drew parallels between research done here on Earth and the records God is keeping. The New Testament book of Revelation, he said, indicates that the record books in heaven will stand as eternal testaments to God’s justice and mercy.
“Likewise, Wilson suggested, the research center ‘will not only furnish people with a historical account and accurate understanding of the past, but will also truly be a center of spiritual impulse.’
“Let’s hope that people will see how God has led us in the past, how he will lead us in the future and how His teachings have contributed to the flourishing of His work in spite of the challenges and difficulties we face,” Wilson said.
“He also noted that the expanded facilities reflect the ‘added emphasis’ the church has lately placed on research. Last year, top church officials voted to establish a permanent budget for Adventist research meant to inform the church’s strategic plan. They also revised the name of the former Office of Archives and Statistics to include mention of its new research component.”
Thanks to you, Elizabeth Lechleitner, for your report that I have quoted so extensively. My message in this post should be clear: Let us both cherish this new availability of the sources for better understanding of our history, and use them with energy and wisdom.
Arthur Patrick, 14 July 2012