Remembering and learning from our past

Remembering and learning from our past: An interview with Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR)

David Trim, Rowena Moore, and Benjamin Baker answer questions about what they call “a three-legged stool—archives, statistics, and research” that represents a department at the General Conference headquarters.

Derek J. Morris, DMin, is editor of Ministry.

Willie E. Hucks II, DMin,is associate editor of Ministry

Editor’s note: David Trim, director; Rowena Moore, Yearbook editor; and Benjamin Baker, assistant archivist, serve as members in the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research for the world church of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Derek Morris (DM): We have been counseled, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”* How does your department at the General Conference help us remember God’s leading and teaching in our past?

David Trim (DT): This is one of the strongest affirmations by any Christian leader regarding the importance of Christian history and a particular denomination’s unique history. There’s also an important point in it that we must not miss. You know, the statement is often just read as, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us.” But it also says, “and His teaching in our past history.”

What is His teaching? What are the things we have learned? This is a wonderful statement on multiple levels. I do think, collectively, there is a lot more we must remember, because, in a sense, we have forgotten vast parts of our history and the Lord’s teaching in that history as well.

So, we as a collective team are preserving the record of our history. That is a large part of the archives. Of course, that’s only one leg of a threelegged stool—archives, statistics, and research. But the archives and the records part are absolutely crucial. So we work to both conserve and preserve the documents and to perpetuate institutional memory.

We are also increasingly doing research on the documents. There are the two sides to the documents: the conservation side, taking documents in; and the more active side, which is saying, “What can we learn from them?” Thus, we are trying to make research a priority now. 

Willie Hucks (WH): The Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrates—if that is the proper term to use—its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 2013. What are some events that will commemorate the founding of the church?

DT: I would say “commemorate” is the word I would use rather than “celebrate” because if we could somehow go back to 1863 and tell all those people gathered in Battle Creek, “We’re still going to be here in 2013,” it would cause some consternation and a lot of disappointment. On the other hand, none of us know the hour or time of His coming and God has unquestionably led in our church, and so we can certainly mark and be thankful for that leading. In terms of the events, the chief global event is May 18, which is the closest Sabbath to the actual one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the General Conference (GC), which has been set aside to be a worldwide day of prayer, remembrance, and recommitment to the shared movement.

The Annual Council of world church leaders last October voted to call every local church to get involved. This could be a profound moment of unity as we
collectively look back. We should also recommit ourselves to mission because the General Conference, above all, was especially founded for the purpose of
mission. That’s very clear in the records of that first session. It was founded to further the outreach of the church.

Also, a number of divisions are going to be organizing their own events. We’re looking to provide them with resources. For example, my colleague Benjamin Baker is working on providinphotographs. We have a wonderful pho­tographic collection; the Ellen White Estate, Andrews University, and Loma Linda University also have very good collections, parts of which are very familiar and get used all the time, and parts that are ignored. So, we’re trying to provide resources to divisions, unions, and local churches as they have their own events.

The other key event that the GC is sponsoring is an exhibition that will focus on the first approximately 60 years of the church—from 1863 to 1922. That will be located here in the General Conference complex. We are also working to create a traveling version that divisions can have in their own territory[ies]. It will be replicas of the original documents and photographs. There will also be a Web site with resources.

DM: We talked about archives, but you also oversee statistical records.What are some of the most important statistical records that are kept here in the General Conference?

Rowena Moore (RM): The main sta­tistical record we use and produce is the Yearbook. For the 2013 Yearbook, for instance, we will use the second quarter 2012 statistics from the annual statistical report, compiled in our department by Kathleen Jones, for churches and membership and the mid-2012 population of the countries around the world. So when you look at the Yearbook, you get a feel not only for the churches and members, you see all the countries that we are in as well. We also update the maps each year with new realignments of conferences or unions.

The Yearbook is different from the statistical report because you see names. You are able to compare Yearbooks year to year and see to where people have moved. You may find them in another part of the world.

It’s interesting to trace where peo­ple are and see what departments are in different fields. Some fields have very few departments; others have many departments and multiple ministries and services. You can see how fields are reaching their constituents and the nonchurched in broader ways. It gives a lovely capsule of the church.

Now, you might think, I know we have a medical work, but I’m not sure what it entails. If you turn to the health care section, you will see hospitals around the world. There will be clinics, nursing homes, and retirement centers, and also children’s homes and orphan­ages. You will be able to see that this really is a worldwide church. We are diversified in many ways.

And we have only a fraction in the Yearbook of our schools because we do not list our elementary schools.

For 2013, we’ll be showing accredited secondary schools. We probably have as many nonaccredited schools as we do accredited. But again, it gives you a view of the church that you don’t get in the pew on Sabbath morning, particularly if you have never worked for the church.

DT: Thus, if there’s a pastor trying to give his [or her] church members a sense of what does the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church mean, he or she will  have the resources. And there’s also a Yearbook Web site, www.adventistyearbook.org, and a directory Website, adventistdirectory.org, that enables you to find local churches and schools. There’s also a statistics Web site, which is adventiststatistics.org. There, you can download a lot of information. I like to think that possibly we are unique, or certainly very unusual, in that we make our key information and documents, both historical and contemporary, freely available to anyone who can access the Internet.

If someone sees a broadcast on television or the Web about Adventists, he or she can go online and discover a huge amount of accurate information about us from these Web sites. In adventiststatistics.org, you can download historical statistics for any field, union, division, or a combination thereof, since the church was founded. They are downloadable as spreadsheets for analysis. The key statistical records we collect are the number of church members, local churches, companies, and employees broken down into the different categories: ordained ministers, commissioned ministers, licensed ministers, those who hold minister of teaching credentials, administrators, those who have a missionary license or credential, and employees who have no particular credential. All of that data is on the Web site.

RM: One of the nice things about the archives’ Web site is that you can check on your family history. We have had so many people thank us because they have been able to go on the Web site and find information on relatives. If someone was a pastor, for instance, they can look for his name, not only in the Yearbook but written up in different union papers over the years as he moved around the church. You can do searches for your church’s history, to see who pastored over the years or when your church was inaugurated. There’s a wealth of infor­mation on the archives’ Web site. People get really excited when they are shown what is there and how to access it.

WH: How does your department con­tribute to the mission of the Adventist Church?

DT: Obviously, we do not, as a depart­ment, conduct evangelistic series, and so forth. We provide important resources, though. We help the church by providing background information for historical theological decisions. We have been requested, for example, to do two substantial reports for the Theology of Ordination Study Committee on Adventist practice and attitudes, both on ordination and on women’s ordination. Drawing on both statistics and the archives, we also contribute to policy decisions on how the church is organized. For instance, we were involved in the recent reorganization of the work in the Middle East and North Africa. I was asked to ascer­tain whether church structure had any impact on missions. And my suspicion was that it wouldn’t. I was surprised to see overwhelming evidence that the way the church orga­nized itself actually did have a major impact on mission. And a project we’re working on at the moment is looking at church growth in the Japan Union. In this work, we bring together both history and statistics; statistics are much more meaningful in a histori­cal context.

For instance, if you look at two years’ statistics, what do they tell you? Oh, look. The member­ship has increased! But does that mean anything? You will want to look at ten years, twenty years, thirty years, because then you can see trends. So, we very much see ourselves as contributing to the mission of the church in terms of informing decisions about how we organize and how we use and deploy resources.

Benjamin Baker (BB): I work on the archives side of Archives, Statistics, and Research, and enjoy focusing on the Web site. Local pastors can visit www.AdventistArchives.org and find information of great interest.

First of all, there [are] resources­ historical, theological, and anecdotal—for your parishioners. More and more, the pastors are expected, even required, to be knowledgeable­ maybe more knowledgeable than they are able to be. You can point your parishioners there.

We also possess theological resources, should a church member ask things like, “What is it Adventists believe about the Trinity?” We might have information that can assist. We also possess resources for missions. We have all the mission quar­terlies since they were first published a hundred years ago and the Sabbath School quarterlies as well, which often have mission resources. There [are] a huge number of stories and photographs so that if somebody asks, “Where can I find a different mis­sion story that everybody hasn’t heard before?” it doesn’t take a huge amount of work to find something.

DM: You earlier men­tioned researching things like church growth in Japan and the topic of ordination and women’s ordination. Is there other significant research that you are planning on over the next few years?

DT: Yes. One of the things we are working on is a book for the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary—an illustrated history of the church. We hope that it will be a  refreshing combination of the familiar and quite unfamiliar. It will draw from the exhibition we are preparing. 

Recently, we were also asked by the Fundamental Beliefs Study Committee if we had any documentation on how the current wording on belief number six was adopted. Actually, we had hundreds of pages of documentation. It is incredibly well documented about how all of the fundamental beliefs were drafted. Creation is a very vexed topic. And exactly how our church reached its fundamental beliefs and what the issues were, I think, is going to come up again. So we anticipate doing a search on that.

Another area is the relationship of the different levels of organization in our church; the relationship between the conferences, unions, divisions, and the General Conference. The discussions over this year have shown that there is a fair amount of misunder­standing on this topic, partly because our organization is complicated. So the GC now has, for the first time, a budget for research that can improve the effectiveness of mission, ministry, and administration.

So there are several large projects planned at the moment. And one of our jobs, when the research teams with whom we’ve contracted deliver their reports, is to ask, “What does this mean for world church leaders and even division church leaders?” Systematizing those kinds of findings will be interest­ing and challenging.

WH: If someone has information—arti­facts or other materials—they think will serve historical benefit, can they contribute to Archives, Statistics, and Research?

DT: We’re always happy for people to approach us and then we can say, “Yes, we’d be interested in that,” or “Perhaps you might like to send that to . . .” If anyone is in any doubt, err on the side of keeping rather than throwing away because one reason so much has been lost is because some of it was just never kept. If it isn’t of historical value, we will let them know.

BB: And they can contact us through our Web site. The adventistarchives.org site has a form that they can use to contact us. And we would much rather that people check before they discard.

DM: I want to thank you for a very helpful overview of the ministry of Adventist Archives, Statistics, and Research. And it has helped us see that there are some very valuable resources for pastors. And these Web sites will tremendously help not only pastors but other lay leaders as they seek to reaffirm the mission of the church and complete the work we have been asked to do.

* Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), 196.

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Derek J. Morris, DMin, is editor of Ministry.

Willie E. Hucks II, DMin,is associate editor of Ministry

April 2013

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