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Processing the Church World Service Records

March 15, 2021
Processing the Church World Service records at PHS

In 1946, seventeen denominations formed Church World Service (CWS) as a relief agency. Churches throughout the United States provided over 11 million pounds of food and medical supplies to communities in Europe and Asia that were affected by World War II. In the next two decades, CWS expanded its work into Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, and the mission of the organization shifted from providing immediate disaster relief to creating long-term development projects in partnership with local communities. CWS also began to work in the United States to provide aid after natural disasters and established refugee resettlement offices around the country.

Reports published by CWS in the 1990s

Over a hundred cubic feet of records were transferred to the Society from the Church World Service offices in 2001 and 2002. I am currently processing the records and have found program files, project evaluations, and photographs from CWS’s work around the globe, mostly from the 1960s through the early 2000s. There are files from each of the organization’s offices that focused on work in the following regions or continents: the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The files cover a wide range of topics, but some that may interest researchers include: correspondence from children’s rights campaigns in Latin America, surveys of radiological effects in the Marshall Islands, minutes of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, materials from consultations on anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, and files from NCC's Burned Churches Project.

Also included are meeting minutes from CWS’s literacy programs, communication department, and the files of the Executive Director. There are several boxes of CWS publications, including monthly newsletters, annual reports, reports from staff trips to other countries, congregational guides for supporting refugees, and resources for One Great Hour of Sharing. There is also correspondence and news clippings documenting relief work carried out by several denominations such as the American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, Lutheran World Relief, and the Catholic Inter-American Cooperation Program.

Newsletter and video cassettes included in the files on CWS's Burned Churches Project in the late 1990s, which raised funds to rebuild Black churches that had been burned in the United States. 

I am still processing the collection, but am near the final stages and hope to have a guide to the records available on the PHS website by summer 2021. There are approximately 15 cubic feet left to arrange and describe, mostly photographs from development projects and subject files on militarization. When completed the collection will be around 100 cubic feet and will benefit researchers interested in many aspects of global relief and refugee work. 

Booklets and guides on CWS's refugee and resettlement programs

The Church World Service collection will not only interest a wide range of researchers, it will also shine a light on the continued ecumenical commitments of the PC(USA). Your donations make it possible for PHS archivists to process records like those in the Church World Service collection and make them accessible for researchers. To make a gift to PHS and support this work, visit www.history.pcusa.org/give.