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.
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.
The June 5 official launch drew top church officials to the department, where they toured the new facilities and attended a brief ceremony.
“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.
The office has worked to restore numerous historical photographs once stashed in drawers, where they cracked and yellowed. Now treated, mounted and framed, the photos grace the walls of the research center.
For the occasion of the launch, ASTR staff also had on display a vintage glass slide projector similar to models used by many Adventist evangelists in the past, Trim said.
Among photos of notable Adventist historians on display is an early color photograph of the former missionary to India and world church President W. A. Spicer, after whom Adventist-run Spicer Memorial College in India is named.
“It’s nice to have a color photograph of one of our pioneers and remember that they were fully rounded people, and not living in black and white or sepia,” Trim said.
Another photo shows a meeting of the world church’s Executive Committee from 1958.
“As one guest observed, there are neither women nor anyone other than [Caucasians], so in some respects the church has changed,” Trim said. He added that Adventist world leaders meeting at a table in a sparse room is telling when many top leaders from other denominations would likely have met in “lavish, well-appointed” rooms.
“I think that says a lot about he Seventh-day Adventist Church,” he said.
As the 17-million member denomination continues to grow worldwide, Trim said he hopes the research center will help ground church policy and guide decision-making.
“We are keen that Archives, Statistics and Research not only takes things in, but also contributes to the wider mission of the church, and especially in helping the people [at world church headquarters] in making policy and strategy,” he said.
The expansion of research facilities is “a sign of our determination to lend some richness to our own understanding of what we’re doing,” Trim added.