How Elim's history is set to have an exciting future

Dave Newton catches up with John Usher, former student and Pentecostal historian, to explore the important role history plays in our future

What have you been up to since completing your studies at Regents Theological College?

I took up doctoral research at the University of Birmingham under Professor Allan H Anderson. Allan is a world-class scholar of Pentecostalism and established the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies at Birmingham.

I was later made an honorary research fellow in the centre and then a research fellow at Roehampton. These fellowships have helped me to continue researching and writing on early Pentecostalism and to build an online, digital archive of Pentecostal resources, but in addition to that, I’ve been teaching Church History at both universities. I’ve also given papers at the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Münster (Germany) and elsewhere.

In your opinion, why is history so important?

“Never forget the things I have taught you,” it says in Proverbs 3:1-4. This hints at the wisdom of remembering and preserving our past. Technically, Church history starts with the foundation of the Church (traditionally held to be the Day of Pentecost), but I tend to make a distinction between biblical history and Church history.

Most who read this will recognise the importance of biblical history, but when it comes to Church history more broadly, Protestants have tended to be a bit more ambivalent. This is a pity because there is a rich tapestry of two millennia of testimonies, prayers and other writings of faith to be explored and enjoyed. For students, it’s obviously an important part of their vocational training, but all Christians can hugely benefit from reading Church history too.

More specifically, it is important to understand our own history as Pentecostals or members of Elim in order to be sure of who we are and recognise our role in God’s kingdom. Of course, all that is necessary for salvation may be learned from the Bible, but it’s really important for us to be informed more generally so that we are ‘always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” (1 Peter 3:15).

Why is now a key moment to ensure we capture and make accessible the Elim story?

With Elim’s centenary already four years behind us, the time seems right (if not a little overdue) for a more deliberate and professional effort to take care of our history. In this way, we can ‘bring out treasures old and new’ (Matthew 13:52).

The position we are in now is that if we don’t act quickly, we might lose items that are truly unique. This would not just be tragic for Elim but a loss for the Church more broadly and, yes, even the nation’s cultural heritage.

What is your vision for the Elim archives and how would this benefit our Movement and college?

The Elim archives are not currently up to a high enough standard for students or ministers, let alone external researchers, to use effectively. I think we can do better than this and send a message to the Movement that your memories and your heritage are safe with us.

I envisage a professionally run archive, which makes use of traditional methods and modern technology to make the resources more widely accessible. This would include an online catalogue and website with digital material, but also a physical location on campus, a place where students, ministers and external researchers could visit and find material in an orderly and efficient manner.

We are getting to a stage in Elim’s history when many of its churches will be reaching their centenaries and this will be the case for many years to come. In preparation for this, they will be turning to the archives, and I want to make sure we’re as ready for that as we can be.

This will result in some great stories coming to light, stories that can be published so that everyone can be encouraged. This makes us stronger as a Movement.

I’m excited about mobilising and equipping local ‘chroniclers’ who can begin compiling histories of their own churches and sharing their findings so that we can prevent this information from being lost. It’s a really exciting opportunity before us now!

How can others get on board with this vision?

Please pray that God would give us all wisdom as we embark upon this new chapter of Elim’s journey and that the archive and those who work there would be a source of real blessing.

Secondly, deposit your memories with us, so that we can take care of them and tell Elim’s story more completely.

Finally, if we want something to be done well then there is usually a cost implication and modern archives are no exception, so please consider making a financial gift and help us to restore and refresh the collective memory of our Movement.

You can keep the story alive

Get on board, donate historical items and artefacts and play your part in keeping the Elim story alive. Financial donations can be made by cheque (please make cheques payable to ‘Regents Theological College’, marking all gifts and donations ‘Archives’) or by card via Matt Hunter, Elim’s Finance Officer 01684 588973.

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