By Easten Law – Associate Director for Academic Programs – OMSC@PTS
Welcome to The Occasional, OMSC@PTS’s new blog and digital magazine.
As you begin to peruse our offerings, you might be asking yourself: why is this new digital periodical called “The Occasional?”
Sure, it’s descriptive. We’ll be posting occasionally, this much is true.
But there has got to be more to it than that, right?
Yes, there is a lot more!
As noted on our main page, The Occasional is named after one of OMSC’s legacy publications dating back over half a century – The Occasional Bulletin from the Missionary Research Library (did you notice the cover pages of the original Occasional Bulletin adorning our new masthead image?).
So, what’s the story of the first Occasional Bulletin?
The year is 1950. The shock waves set off by the Second World War were beginning to settle and the outlines of a new contentious order were beginning to emerge. While the United Nations was assembling to try and institutionalize new means toward lasting peace, many nation states were fractured by cold war ideologies and struggling to chart their futures after decades of colonial rule.
At the same time, missionary endeavors were being challenged and reordered by post-colonial critique and indigenous voices. Similarly, the ecumenical movement’s quest to bring unity to the church was cracking under the growing weight of theological divisions. The foundations that held up common paradigms for mission and church were beginning to shake.
For both the world and the world church, the middle of the twentieth century was a time of resolute hope for meaningful change mingled with the unsettling awareness that there were no guarantees of success.
In 1948, amidst these changes, Dr. R. Pierce Beaver began his position as director of the Missionary Research Library (MRL) based in New York City. Founded by John Mott in 1914 with financial support from John D. Rockefeller Jr., the MRL was a product of the ecumenical vision to bring missionary agencies together for richer collaboration. The library served as a common repository and resource for all those researching and advancing the mission of the church. In 1929, the growing collection found a suitable home in Union Theological Seminary’s Brown Memorial Tower. Today, you can still access this wealth of ecumenical knowledge and missions history at the MRL Archives in Union Seminary’s Burke Library.
It was in 1950, under Beaver’s leadership, that the MRL began publishing a modest periodical called The Occasional Bulletin from the Missionary Research Library. This new Occasional Bulletin was itself a revival of the MRL’s first newsletter published in 1928, called simply the Bulletin. Issued ten to sixteen times a year for an annual subscription fee of one dollar, The Occasional Bulletin was, in Beaver’s words, “. . .devoted to book lists, foreign reprint articles, surveys, and brief research reports. . . At least one extensive bibliography is issued each year.” This humble description does not do justice, however, to the greater impact of the publication’s offerings. According to F. Dean Leuking,
“Beaver supplied the quality of scholarship and theological depth that made it [The Occasional Bulletin] a respected and much-used publication by teachers, students, church administrators, missionaries, and clergy throughout the United States and the World… He scanned the rapidly changing world of global mission at the mid-point of the century, just as momentous shifts were beginning to take form.”
Indeed, the Occasional Bulletin grew alongside Beaver’s distinguished career, becoming an indispensable resource that documented the changing dynamics of the world church across the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1955, Beaver left the MRL to become professor of missions at the University of Chicago Divinity School (you can access Beaver’s collected papers at the University of Chicago Library). There, Beaver’s missional sensibilities were merged with a powerful academic network that amplified the quality and reach of the Occasional Bulletin, which he continued to edit and distribute during his sixteen-year tenure.
In 1973, Beaver stepped into the directorship of OMSC and brought the Occasional Bulletin with him. By basing this premier source for missiological news and research at OMSC, Beaver laid an important part of the foundation for the center’s growth into the research hub it is today. After Beaver’s retirement in 1976, Gerald H. Anderson, OMSC’s new director, continued the work. In 1976, The Occasional Bulletin was renamed the International Bulletin for Missionary Research, signaling its role as a truly global publication from and for the world church. That work continues today in our quarterly academic journal – the International Bulletin for Mission Research (IBMR).
And that’s the story so far.
So what’s the first Occasional Bulletin have to do with the new online Occasional?
Today, the year is 2022. We are at an arguably similar point of change in the world and the church. The sociopolitical trajectory of many nations is fragmenting yet again. The diversity of the world church and its dramatic demographic shift to the global south continues to challenge and inspire. Moreover, the digital revolution has rewired society’s distribution and consumption of knowledge in a plethora of ways. All of this signals new challenges and opportunities that no institution of missional and theological education can ignore.
Today, OMSC is embarking on yet another modest project. Beginning this month (November 2022), we launch The Occasional as a blog and digital magazine for reflections, perspectives, and news on Mission Studies, World Christianity, and Intercultural Theology suited for a digital age. Our aim, much like Beaver’s initial offering, is simply to provide an accessible point of entry for the wealth of knowledge and experience that make up the world Christian movement. Like the original Occasional Bulletin from the Missionary Research Library, we endeavor to provide a simple no-frills medium for collaboration around new developments and questions.
We pray and hope you will find the resources and stories highlighted here beneficial to your work and prayers and welcome your contributions and feedback as we seek to both honor OMSC’s legacy and actively live into the future.
This is another chapter in the bigger story.
 R. Pierce Beaver, “The Missionary Research Library,” The Occasional Bulletin 5, no. 9 (December 6, 1955).
 F. Dean Leuking, “The Legacy of R. Pierce Beaver,” The International Bulletin of Missionary Research 14, no. 1 (January, 1990).