Ecumenical library renamed in honour of world churches' leader

By Ecumenical News International
November 27, 2009

The library of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva has been renamed the Philip A. Potter Library in honour of the third General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) - a leading figure in Caribbean Christianity.

In a ceremony last week which gathered some 70-80 guests spanning four generations of the ecumenical movement, the current general secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, said the decision to honour a “giant of the ecumenical movement” was taken at the September 2008 WCC Executive Committee meeting in Lübeck, Germany.

Dr Potter, who is now 88 years old, became General Secretary of the WCC in 1972 and retired from that position in 1984. At the WCC’s Ninth Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006, Potter was the only person among the several thousand in attendance who could make the claim of having attended every WCC assembly since the first assembly in 1948.

He served as the spokesman for youth at the WCC assemblies in 1948 and 1954, was the chair of the World Student Christian Federation from 1960 to 1968 and director of the WCC division of world mission and evangelism from 1967 to 1972.

“We give thanks to the Lord, and praise God for this gift given to the ecumenical movement, and that gift is Philip A. Potter,” Dr Kobia said during the ceremony.

Dr Kobia said that when as a young man working at the WCC he would want to find Philip Potter, “I knew where to find him, in the library.”

Dr Potter now lives in Germany with his wife, retired Lutheran bishop Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter. Libraries and books have remained a lifelong passion for him.

Responding to Kobia’s remarks on behalf of her husband and herself, Bishop Wartenberg-Potter said that when Philip Potter was young “he would faithfully go once a week to the library.” It was through the books and magazines there that he discovered a whole world beyond the Caribbean island of Dominica where he grew up.

Today that legacy is part of their home, she added. “In every room, I can promise you, there are books.”

Today the Philip A. Potter Library (formerly the Ecumenical Library) consists of more than 120,000 volumes, 1,300 specialized periodicals, some over a century old, and more than 12,000 boxes of archives containing nearly 20 million irreplaceable documents related to the history of the ecumenical movement.

The website of the library can be found here:

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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