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Digitizing history: reflections on expanding access to the WCC’s journey

Digitizing history: reflections on expanding access to the WCC’s journey

Georges ‘Yorgo’ Lemopoulos has served the WCC under five general secretaries. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

19 March 2020

In his ecumenical journey, Georges ‘Yorgo’ Lemopoulos has served the World Council of Churches (WCC) under five general secretaries, to three of them as deputy. He also served as co-coordinator for the WCC 70th anniversary. Lemopoulos reflects on the importance of digitizing the WCC’s governance documents, and how this can help better inform us all about the rich history of a global ecumenical pilgrimage.

Q: How does the digitisation of WCC governance documents reflect the increasing openness and access to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace for all people of good will?

Lemopoulos: Many values cherished by the fellowship and emphasized throughout the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace are embodied in the project of digitisation of WCC governance documents.

To give only a few examples, I would mention: transparency in the life of the fellowship, particularly in the decision-making processes at assemblies, central and executive committee meetings; sharing the power of knowledge and information with all those interested in the ecumenical movement; sharing the learnings from the experience of consensus with all member churches and ecumenical partners, particularly in times when decision-making around sensitive issues proves to be difficult and sometimes divisive; accessibility to WCC documents, particularly to researchers, scholars, ecumenists and students who may not travel to the headquarters of the WCC; empowering the younger generation with an easy access to the history of the ecumenical movement.

Q: What does “the ecumenical memory” mean to you?

Lemopoulos: I would say that “ecumenical memory” is to recall, study and analyse the history of a long and wonderful pilgrimage, involving people from all Christian traditions and all cultural contexts; people committed to working together for Christian unity, witness and service in the world; people deeply convinced that, through their collaborative engagement with the most important issues of justice and peace, healing a world filled with division, conflict, injustice and pain is possible.

The contemporary ecumenical movement has been for its protagonists – churches, ecumenical partners and people -- an amazing common journey, full of new experiences, of creative initiatives and prophetic actions.

Ecumenical memory allows learning from the experiences of the past with the aim of continuing the pilgrimage in the future.

Archives-empty-Hillert

WCC colleagues Martin Robra (left) and Ivars Kupcis (right) look at boxes of material from the archive now being digitized. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC, 2019

Q: What is your advice to younger generations about navigating their way through the archives?

Lemopoulos: My generation grew up visiting libraries to collect information for our studies or our formation. The younger generation seems to be more familiar and more at ease with what is available on the web.

Displaying archives through the web is recognizing the genuine interest of the younger generation for the history and the achievements of the ecumenical movement. It is also an attempt to facilitate their task.

I am grateful to my colleagues teaching at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey because they initiate the younger generation in the wealth and wisdom accumulated in the WCC archives. I am also indebted to professors who encourage their students to go to the sources and find firsthand information.

However, I do not want to limit myself to academic circles. The WCC archives can be a source of inspiration for young people actively participating in Christian movements, striving for justice and peace, dreaming for a better future, trying to take seriously the call of Christ to lift the poor and the oppressed and to turn away from those structures and habits that bring darkness rather than light.

Q: Are there also environmental aspects to digitizing documents so that we save paper?

Lemopoulos: Of course. Both in internal staff meetings and in major governance meetings of the Council my colleagues make all possible efforts to go “paperless.” This is a Council-wide policy. Digitisation is simply part of it. I would not say that we have been fully successful in changing a well-rooted culture. However, it is worth trying.

With regard to governance documents, as I spent many years on the staff of the WCC, I saw hundreds of copies of Minutes of the Central or Executive committees going to the waste after colleagues had left their offices. In addition, in the very first years of my service, I did not have a full collection of these reports and I was obliged to go very often to our library to find or verify a passage. Using the digitised version of these reports will certainly contribute in saving paper, but it will also help saving time.

Digital archive: Faith and Order Papers digital edition, Governance, and Assembly documents

Roman Catholic Church presents formal response to “The Church: Towards a Common Vision” (WCC press release of 24 October 2019)

For study group, developing “Come and See” text was a journey in itself (WCC press release of 14 August 2019)

WCC Faith and Order Commission illuminates the pursuit of church unity (WCC press release of 8 August 2019)

WCC Faith and Order Commission completes meeting in China (WCC press release of 25 June 2019)

“Come and See” text exemplifies ‘a new way of working’ (WCC press release of 19 March 2019)

Digitizing of Faith and Order Papers underway (WCC press release of 23 July 2017)