This archiving project started at the beginning of 2003 with at letter which was sent out to all of the retired workers in the British Union Conference. The text of this letter follows:
24 February 2003
JOINT LETTER TO:
RETIRED WORKERS WITHIN THE
BRITISH UNION CONFERENCE
Since starting my work as Communication director here at the BUC office back in 1996 I have been fascinated by the possibilities which exist for the archiving of information. Some months back I went through the loft and collected a cardboard box full of old photographs. Mostly black and white, these photos seemed to span a period of at least fifty years. Although I recognised some faces, including those of my own parents, most of the images were meaningless to me. However I knew that many of these pictures were historically important and realised that if I could find someone to identify at least some of the faces and occasions I could at least start on the journey to producing a useful and valuable photographic archive.
My first discussions were with Mrs Valerie Pearce, who works in this office and has done so for some time. She looked at some of the photos and wrote some helpful notes about the people she knew before returning the box to me. I then tried Mrs Gill Huzzey, who still works here on an occasional basis. Again a number of photos were reclaimed from anonymity. The last person to look at the photos was Mrs Dorothy Taylor. As she no longer works at the office and lives some distance away I persuaded her (actually it didn't take much persuading) to take the whole box home and work through it at her leisure. When the box returned some weeks later it was a bit heavier, and glancing inside I realised that she had done a considerable amount of work. Looking inside it again just now I see copious notes, labelled envelopes, and other helpful slips of paper which will be invaluable when we finally get round to properly documenting the collection.
Unfortunately other matters have taken my time since the photo box returned but one day soon I am planning to scan the best of the old photos and make them available to the public in some way, probably on the BUC web-site.
Archiving may not be a subject which many people get excited about, but if you think about the way God has led in the growth and development of the Adventist Church here in the British Isles over the last one hundred years or so, you will realise that there are thousands upon thousands of stories to tell. A quick scan back through your own memory will probably highlight scores, if not hundreds of fascinating Church-related stories from your own life - stories which reflect God's leading and purpose for His people. You may not have photos to help in reconstructing these stories, but you do have the images that remain in your memory and it is these that I would like to turn my attention to now.
When you get together with people of your own generation, people you perhaps worked with in days gone by, what do you talk about? Isn't it true that you reminisce about the good times you had, and remind each other of how God led in your life? Why do you have such conversations? Is it simply nostalgia, or for the sake of the historical record? I suspect that in such conversations there is an "inspirational" element as well. We tell, and re-tell the stories to each other because they lift us up and strengthen our faith.
The way we know about God's leading in the past, and therefore what His will is for us today, is through the writings of people who experienced God in some way. It would of course be wrong to compare our conversations, notes, diaries, and memoirs, with the inspired writings of the scriptures, but there is perhaps something of a parallel. If we could tell all of our stories, relating to others the way that God has led us in the past, think of the inspiration, hope and encouragement it could give to future generations. Maybe you don't consider your own story important enough to tell, but if that is the case is there not a risk that your own modesty may stifle a genuine revelation of God?
OK, perhaps I'm getting carried away here, but my point is that if we do not organise our memories, record them and transmit them in some way, they will be lost forever. The world's knowledge of history will be poorer, the Church's knowledge of its own past will be hazier, and just perhaps, people's knowledge of God will be slightly less complete than it could have been.
Well, I'm doing my bit. I've kept a diary since I was thirteen (though mostly it makes exceedingly dull reading), I'm attempting to develop an archive of old denominational photos (as I'm sure a number of other Church institutions are doing as well), and I'm looking into ways of making archived Church information available to our members and the wider public. But there's only so much I can do. You are the ones with the vast store of experiences, the encyclopaedic and first-hand knowledge of Adventist Church history, and the personal knowledge of wonderful Christian people, many sadly now deceased. Some of you have memories of God's leading over fifty, sixty or even more years. The question is, what are you going to do with that knowledge?
Having read all of this I do hope that you will at least think about doing some writing in the near future. It may take some time before any of it finally makes it in to print (or other media), but getting it written is the most important first step.
May you continue to see God's working in your lives as you have done in the past.
John C Surridge