In 1617, when King James was about to reinstitute his control over Presbyterian churches in Scotland, William Brewster sounded the alarm by printing tracts, warning church leaders what was afoot. As the story goes, when he found out about the tracts, King James hired thugs to find and harass the press.
The harassment eventually led a group of "pilgrims" to board the Mayflower with the press in tow. Hence, in 1895 the name eventually became The Pilgrim Press.
The press currently combines several publishing concerns, including the Christian Education Press, Congregational Publishing House, Eden Publishing House and Heidelberg Press. Today The Pilgrim Press, under the leadership of new publisher the Rev. Timothy Staveteig, continues a rich tradition of sounding the alarm on social and moral issues, ever mindful of the publishing tradition instituted by that first publisher, William Brewster.
As Staveteig sees it, its mission today is to bring the values of the United Church of Christ into the marketplace of ideas, to uplift issues and questions and to preserve a free press tradition in society. But over the years the press has had to attend to finances to survive. Today, Staveteig says, the press is financially self sustaining and must make its own way.
"We need to pay salaries as well as contribute our share to 700 Prospect" (the national office), he says. "I think we do a pretty good job by contributing over $1 million to common and central services, including our Berea (Ohio) distribution center, in addition to other publication's expenses."
He adds that the Press' commitment to social justice, begun by William Brewster, has led to more cultural influence than financial success. For example, in 1957 The Pilgrim Press took a chance on publishing a book by a little-known pastor and academic, "The Measure of a Man," by Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1958, the press published "Black Mutiny" by William Owen. The author told the story of Africans being captured and placed aboard the ship Amistad. The book may not seem controversial to current sensibilities, but it was published several years before the Civil Rights Movement gained national prominence. In 1998, this book became the basis for the Steven Spielberg film, "Amistad."
Staveteig, who was hired to be editor of The Pilgrim Press in 1996, has a background that helps him continue the mission and tradition of the press.
Originally a student in chemical engineering, Staveteig left his studies for several years before returning to major in philosophy and religious studies and to go to seminary. He attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., became an ordained Lutheran minister and served as pastor to two congregations in Wisconsin. He also held editorial positions with Fortress Press and Westminster John Knox Press.
His desire to put ministry into action and his interest in ethics are evident in books he has acquired. Among these are "Say it Loud: Middle-Class Blacks Talk About Racism and What to Do About It," "War's Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes Against Women" and "Out on Holy Ground: Meditations On Gay Men's Spirituality."
"These books continue the tradition of promoting the values of the UCC to our society," he says, "by sounding alarms and informing readers of important issues."
Elaine Shelly is Marketing and Publicity Manager/Church and Educational Markets for Local Church Ministries in the UCC's national setting in Cleveland.