World Student Christian Federation Archives, Geneva, 1919-1956 A selection from the Geneva archives
Formation of the WSCF The formation of the WSCF was a radical step toward ecumenical cooperation at a time when no other worldwide, non-Roman Catholic Christian agency based on independent national organizations existed. Advances in transportation and communication at the end of the nineteenth century made realization of the WSCF vision feasible. The work was carried out through conferences and committee meetings, publications, exchanges of literature, and visits to national movements by its secretaries and agents. From its purely Protestant origins, it expanded its membership in 1911 to include Orthodox Christians.
Training ground for Church leaders The Federation served as a training ground for many individuals who later became prominent in the worldwide life of the Church, including Bishop Azariah of India, Bishop Honda of Japan, T.Z. Koo of China, Nathan Söderblom of Sweden, J.H. Oldham and William Temple of Great Britain, John R. Mott, and W.A. Visser 't Hooft. The reports and letters included in this collection provide insight into the contexts and issues that informed the development of the Church in North and South America, continental Europe, Great Britain, Ireland, Asia, Australia, South Africa, and other areas. Also, the role of women in the international student Christian movement is well documented.
New perspectives on world issues In its early years, the WSCF focused its energies on the formation and stabilization of national student movements, calling students to the Christian faith and the evangelization of the world. The First World War and its aftermath changed the emphases of the Federation as social problems, international relations, and the issues of pacifism and war came to the foreground. In 1920, the WSCF founded European Student Relief, a vast program of social service provided to thousands of students (later to be carried on by an independent body called International Student Service).
Turbulent time in Church history The WSCF has been an international interpreter and mediator for national student Christian movements through decades of changing issues, goals, and events. This material has been collected under the supervision of John R. Mott. Detailed reports from the field have been combined with records of theological reflection to provide fascinating reading and valuable "on the ground" documentation of a turbulent time in the world and in Church history.
Organization of the collection While the WSCF archives at Yale date primarily from the period when John R. Mott was General Secretary and Chairman of the organization (1895-1929), the Geneva materials are the official archives of the WSCF from 1925 onward. This collection focuses on the period 1919 to 1956, with some overlap of dates with the earlier collection in order to avoid gaps of documentation during the period of transition of the base of operations from North America to Geneva.
Correspondence and Reports The materials chosen for inclusion in this collection are of the same genre as those selected from the earlier archives, including reports and correspondence of committees, conferences, national student movements, secretaries, and officers of the WSCF. Whereas the WSCF archives at Yale were organized according to geographical or topical divisions, and then chronologically within those divisions, the organization of the Geneva archives tends more toward division first by chronological periods, and then by categories such as "Countries," "Secretaries," "Conferences," "Correspondence," etc.
This publication was made possible by the generous support of the Kenneth Scott Latourette Fund, Yale Divinity School Library
Martha Smalley, Yale Divinity School Library & Paul Stuehrenberg, Yale Divinity School Library
World Council of Churches Archives of the General Secretaries
Until now, the World Council of Churches (WCC) had six general secretaries: Dr. Willem Adolf Visser ’t Hooft (1948-1966), Eugene Carson Blake (1966-1972), Philip Alford Potter (1972-1984), Emilio Castro (1985-1992), Konrad Raiser (1993-2003), and Samuel Kobia (since 2004).
The General Secretary is elected by the Central Committee for five years. He is the chief executive officer of the WCC. As such he is the head of the staff. He organizes WCC governing body meetings, directs the activities of the Council according to the mandates and policies of the governing bodies and conducts analysis of trends affecting the ecumenical movement. He also provides and initiates reflection on emerging issues in the ecumenical movement and in the world, projects and promotes the image of the ecumenical movement, represents and interprets the Council to member churches, ecumenical partners, secular bodies and authorities. He finally identifies and defines long-range and evolving strategic directions of WCC.
Sections The archives of the ecumenical movement are housed in the WCC’s Library & Archives, in Geneva. They are divided into many different sections, reflecting the various bodies that were active in the ecumenical scene during the 20th century.
The records of the International Missionary Council, the Programme to Combat Racism and the Dialogue with People of Living Faith – all previously published on microform by IDC Publishers – are examples of such sections.
The present collection makes available on microform another section of the ecumenical archives, dealing with the first four WCC General Secretaries personal archives in the period 1920-1992. The documents in the archives consist of articles, manuscripts, personal notes, speeches and works.
1st WCC General Secretary: Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft (1948-1966) (*1900 Haarlem, Netherlands; †1985 Geneva, Switzerland) Netherlands Reformed Church/National Protestant Church, Geneva Visser ’t Hooft was the first general secretary of the WCC, 1938/1948-1966, and from 1968 onward its honorary president. He was active in the student Christian Movement in the Netherlands, became secretary of the World's YMCA in Geneva in 1924, and was the youngest participant in the Stockholm Life and Work conference in 1925. The doctoral dissertation that he presented to the University of Leiden in 1982 was entitled "The Background of the Social Gospel in America". In 1931 Visser 't Hooft became secretary, in 1933 general secretary and in 1936 president of the World Student Christian Federation. He was actively engaged in the preparation of the conferences in Oxford and Edinburgh in 1937, and appointed as general secretary of the WCC in process of formation at the meeting of the provisional committee in Utrecht in 1938. As WCC general secretary he visited many countries around the world making a vast number of personal contacts, lecturing on behalf of the Council and attending meetings. The bibliography of his literary output contains over 1300 titles. He was honoured by several Festschriften, numerous honorary degrees and awards. He published his Memoirs in 1973 and was from 1948 onward the editor of the Ecumenical Review, which was well-planned and of outstanding theological quality.
Paul Abrecht wrote after his death that without Visser 't Hooft "combination of gifts the WCC might never have existed. No other person in the leadership of those days possessed the acumen, imagination, statesmanship experience, daring, energy and languages necessary to bring it into being".
In 1987 the WCC central committee adopted a proposal to set up a "Visser 't Hooft endowment fund for ecumenical leadership development" and commended this endeavour and its success to the churches and the public for the strengthening of the ecumenical movement and its future.
2nd WCC General Secretary: Eugene Carson Blake (1966-1972) (*1906 St. Louis, Missouri, USA; †1985, Stamford, Connecticut, USA) United Presbyterian Church in the USA Eugene Carson Blake served as WCC general secretary from 1966-1972. After studying theology at Princeton Theological seminary, Blake became pastor of a large parish in Pasadena, California. In 1951 he was elected stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in the USA). In a sermon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1960, he made a proposal for church union of several churches in the USA, which developed into the Consultation on Church Union. He was president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, 1954-1957, and continued as a member of the general board until 1966. Blake was elected second general secretary of the WCC 1966-1972, while he was earlier member of its central and executives committees, 1954-1961, and chairman of the Division of Inter Church Aid, refugee and World Service, 1961-1966. He was instrumental in increasing Roman Catholic participation in the ecumenical movement, received Paul VI in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva in 1969, and was personally involved in setting up the Program to Combat Racism. He had considerable skills and guided the WCC in a period of expansion and reconstruction.
3rd WCC General Secretary: Philip A. Potter (1972-1984) (*1921 Roseau, West Indies) Methodist Church Philip A. Potter, a Methodist pastor, missionary and youth leader from Dominica in the West Indies served as WCC general secretary from 1972-1984. Besides 24 years on the WCC staff, he was a missionary to poor and mostly Creole -speaking people in Haiti, president of the World Student Christian Federation and a staff member of the Methodist Missionary Society in London.
A central committee resolution honouring Potter on his retirement identified some main thrusts the WCC owed to his leadership: "the insistence on the fundamental unity of Christian witness and Christian service which the gospel commands and makes possible, the correlation of faith and action, the inseparable connection between the personal spiritual life of Christian believers and their obedient action in the world".
An eloquent and forceful speaker and leader of Bible studies, Potter received numerous honorary degrees and awards.
4th WCC General Secretary: Emilio Castro (1985-1992) (*1927, Uruguay) Evangelical Methodist Church of Uruguay Emilio Castro, a Methodist pastor and theologian from Uruguay was the WCC general secretary from 1985-1992. He had previously served as director of the WCC commission on World Mission and Evangelism from 1973-1983. He studied at Union Theological Seminary, Buenos Aires, 1944-50, and was ordained in the Evangelical Methodist Church of Uruguay in 1948. Under a WCC scholarship, he pursued post-graduate work in Basel in 1953-54 under the guidance of Karl Barth. Returning to Latin America, he was pastor of Methodist churches in La Paz, Bolivia (1954-56, and in Montevideo, Uruguay, 1957-65). His church and ecumenical activities in Latin America have been numerous. Elsewhere, his ecumenical activities have been with the Christian Peace Conference and with the Agency for Christian Literature development. He received a doctoral degree from the University of Lausanne in 1984. His attendance at many conferences has included the WCC assemblies of 1961 and 1968, the Life and Mission Conference of the World Student Christian Federation in Strasbourg, and the 1966 Church and Society conference in Geneva.