Tribute and Message for Rev. Dr. Philip Alford Potter
The World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) joins the global ecumenical movement in remembering and celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Philip Alford Potter who joined our creator on March 31, 2015 in Lubeck Germany at age of 93. A great ecumenical leader of this century who dedicated his life in the service to the churches and the Ecumenical Movement, the WSCF family is immensely honored to have become part of the life of Rev. Dr. Philip Potter.
Philip Potter, born in Roseou Dominican on August 19, 1921, began his ecumenical journey as a young 19-year old theological student at the Methodist Caenwood Theogical Seminary in Jamaica where he became the Study Secretary of the Jamaican Student Christian Movement from 1944 to 1947.
It was his leadership skills and gift of eloquent speech that enabled him to represent Jamaica SCM to the World Conference on Christian Youth in Oslo Norway and subsequently as the youth spokesperson at the first two assemblies of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at Amsterdam in 1948 and Evanston in 1954.
While pursuing higher theological studies in London in 1948, Philip Potter was appointed as Overseas Secretary for the Student Christian Movement of Britain and Ireland. Salters Sterling, senior friend of SCM Ireland from the 60's and current members of the WSCF Transitional Team remembers his first encounter with Philip "as a towering presence, strikingly handsome, wonderfully literate in speech and in writing, immensely hospitable, appealingly wise, extraordinarily understanding, deeply spiritual and a hugely important example of a person with great leadership ability clearly from a non-Caucasian culture.” “He was a younger D.T. Niles figure," he added.
It was during his term as Chairperson of WSCF from 1960 to 1968 that Philip Potter displayed his exceptional leadership and intellectual ability in leading the Federation in a critical and risky transitional period where debates on a new and radical theological understanding of the church's mission in the university world in a post- colonial context was introduced. Described by some as the period of the political storm that swept WSCF in the 60's until the early 70's, Potter led the WSCF in the decision process of decentralization, a shift from a Euro- centric leadership structure to regionalization, "reflecting the new mood of self-determination in third-world countries and the search for contextualization in theology and politics." This transition was pivotal in the formation and strengthening of new movements with a very strong political and theological orientation that the current generations of SCMs inherited and continue to live out.
As a biblical scholar and astute political thinker, he believed in the dictum that ecumenical leaders should have “the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Recalling his time in WSCF during an interview in Bad Segeberg, Germany in 2002, he reiterated the close relationship between biblical interpretation and newspaper analysis: “Without the Bible the newspaper is not very meaningful. And without the newspaper the Bible is not relevant.” And from the beginning it was a movement of both men and women together. “I believe it left its mark on all of us.”
Among his many ecumenical involvements and accolades received, his time with SCM and WSCF remained close to his heart. Having described WSCF as his "first love" to Thomas Wieser, his ecumenical contemporary and co-author of the centennial book the Seeking and Serving the Truth: First 100 Years of WSCF, he believed in empowering the youth and continued to support the ecumenical formation of youth and students, as an acknowledgement of his own ecumenical formation in the ecumenical youth movement. In honor of his contribution and commitment to WSCF, a Philip Potter Fund was launched by the Federation in November 2009. The Fund was "meant to ensure that the generation of students today and those who come after share our experience of global ecumenical leadership formation.” Prior to this, Philip Potter became the first president of the WSCF Centennial Fund from 1993 to 2002.
The legacy and ecumenical vision of Philip Potter has taken profound roots in the life and mission of the SCMs and WSCF today. His belief and teaching of radical contextual theology highlighting his non-conformist position against racism and all forms of social injustice and human rights lives on and has inspired the work the SCMs in today's era of neoliberal globalization, social injustice, increasing violence due to conflict and war. In his own words at the 1983 WCC Vancouver Assembly, he invited the ecumenical movement to be “truly a house of living stones, built on the rock of faith.”
The World Student Christian Federation invites all its member movements, senior friends, networks and partners in offering prayers, remembering and celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Philip Potter, a non-conformist and risk- taker, a beacon of the ecumenical movement, a leader with a prophetic vision and a world icon.
WSCF OFFICERS AND STAFF
3 April 2015
- Ledger C., WSCF History
- Webb P., Wieser T., Sjollema B., Tributes, At Home with God and in the World, A Philip Potter Reader, Philip A. Potter, Eds. by A. Fröchtling, M. Jagessar, B. Brown, R. Hinz, and D. Werner, WCC Publication 2013
- Sterling, S. email, 2 April 2015
- WSCF launches fund to honour Philip Potter, Federation News, April 2010
- Paul Löffler, “Sir, I Only Came with the Other Gentlemen!”Biography, At Home with God and in the World, A Philip Potter
- Reader, Philip A. Potter, Eds. by A. Fröchtling, M. Jagessar, B. Brown, R. Hinz, and D. Werner, WCC Publication 2013
- Hubert J. Charles, A Biographical Note on the Reverend Philip Alford Potter, April 17, 2