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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 CWM
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Date(s): Created 1764-1977
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
View subfonds/series records
Extent: 2,660 boxes
Name of creator(s): Missionary Society
LMS | London Missionary Society
Congregational Missionary Society
Colonial Missionary Society
Commonwealth Missionary Society


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Council for World Mission is a co-operative of 31 Christian denominations world wide, and was established in its present form in 1977. It grew out of the London Missionary Society (founded 1795), the Commonwealth (Colonial) Missionary Society (1836) and the Presbyterian Board of Missions (1847).

During the period after 1945, the work of the London Missionary Society (LMS) evolved from traditional mission fieldwork to a more democratic and decentralised structure based on the development of local churches and local church leadership. This response was brought about not only in answer to so-called 'decolonisation' but also to social and political change and demographic shifts in the post-war years. In 1966 the LMS ceased to exist as a Society and merged with the Commonwealth Missionary Society to form the Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM). The Presbyterian Church of England joined with the Congregational Church of England and Wales (a constituent body of CCWM) in 1972 to form the United Reformed Church. Its foreign missions work was incorporated into CCWM, leading to a name change in 1973 to the Council for World Mission (Congregational and Reformed). The CWM (Congregational and Reformed) was again restructured to create the Council for World Mission in 1977. This structure was more internationalist, reflecting greater ecumenism and church independence, and the end of Western dominance in the mission field. The CWM today is a global body, which aids resource sharing for missionary activity by the CWM community of churches.

The Colonial Missionary Society was founded in 1836 to work with British colonies, and to provide ministers for communities in Canada and America. In 1956 it changed its name to the Commonwealth Missionary Society, merging with the LMS in 1966.

The Council for World Mission is at present administered as an incorporated charity, under a Scheme of the Charity Commissioners (sealed on 14 June 1966, revised 29 March 1977 and further adapted in 2003), with the express aim 'to spread the knowledge of Christ throughout the world'. The Assembly includes members appointed by its constituent bodies, and meets once every two years. A Trustee Body is appointed by the Council, and holds at least one meeting per year. A General Secretary and other officers are also appointed by the Trustee Body.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records, 1764-1977, of Council for World Mission predecessor bodies, including records of the London Missionary Society, 1764-1966, the Commonwealth Missionary Society, 1836-1966, and some records of the Congregational Council for World Mission from 1966.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mainly English, with some French, Malagasy, Chinese and Pacific languages

System of arrangement:

The collection is divided between papers of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS) and papers of the Commonwealth Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/CMS), comprising one main accession, 1795-1940, and three accruals, 1941-1950, 1951-1960, and 1961-1970. Later accruals are in the process of being incorporated.

Conditions governing access:

Candidates papers are available only to 1940 and certain categories of medical records are closed. Otherwise unrestricted.

Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Descriptions of the sub-collections, the records of the London Missionary Society and Commonwealth Missionary Society, are also available online. An outline guide to the CWM collection was prepared by the Revd C Stuart Craig, published by SOAS in 1973, and revised in 1980. An unpublished draft guide to the CWM/LMS/CMS papers, 1795-1940, was prepared by Hannah Lowery in 1994. This has subsequently been revised and is available from the Council for World Mission web site at Unpublished lists for the three accruals to the collection, 1941-1950, 1951-1960 and 1961-1970 and detailed lists for certain sections of the London Missionary Society papers, including early missionary correspondence (to c1899), journals, reports (1866-1940), candidates papers (to 1940) and missionary portraits, are available in the Special Collections Reading Room, SOAS Library. A separate list has been prepared for the papers of the Congregational Missionary Society. Since 1999, records for the CWM archive have been gradually added to the SOAS Archives Catalogue and this process is on-going.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan by the Congregational Council for World Mission (later Council for World Mission) in 1973, with further deposits in 1988, 1991, 2001, 2005 and 2007.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies also holds the Council for World Mission Library of c13,000 books and pamphlets, and papers of the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee (Ref: PCE) and Women's Missionary Association (Ref: PCE/WMA).

Some CWM archive materials, including picture archives, are still held by the Council for World Mission, and are awaiting transfer to SOAS.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Further revisions made by Joanne Ichimura.

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
15 May 2000, revised Jan 2002 & Feb 2007

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