Written by J. Martin Bailey
September - October 2009
United Church News has roots in the early years of the 19th century, but the story of the publications of the United Church of Christ begins in the 1940s.
||The Rev. J. Martin Bailey, who edited United Church Herald and A.D. Magaizine, and the Rev. W. Evan Golder, editor emeritus of United Church News, combined talents in 2007 to co-edit "UCC @ 50: our history, our future." Photo credit: Randy Varcho photo.|
The magazines of the Congregational Christian and Evangelical and Reformed churches — Advance and The Messenger — played an important role in the sometimes contentious conversations that led to the Uniting General Synod in 1957.
There was no question where editors John Scotford of Advance and David Baker of The Messenger stood. Their editorials, for which they alone had responsibility, made it clear that they believed in church union. Later, when some E and R leaders showed impatience with the seemingly endless debate and litigation among the CCs, Theodore C. Braun, who had succeeded Baker, pressed his church to declare again its eagerness for the United Church.
Important to UCC identity In 1957, when the new church was born at a historic convention in Cleveland, the first tangible evidence across the world was the appearance of a new magazine, United Church Herald. The co-editors, Braun and Scotford's successor, Andrew Vance McCracken, agreed that their task was to introduce the people of the UCC to each other.
A series of "how-do-you-do articles" claimed major space, along with news of local churches, reports of mission efforts at home and overseas, and the story of the UCC's poetic new Statement of Faith. Historian Louis Gunnemann noted, "The birth of the Herald was not only of symbolic importance but also proved to have immeasurable influence in giving the United Church a sense of unity and identity."
In 1960 I went to work with the co-editors, seeking to broaden the readership of the Herald, using as a model The Messenger's "100 Percent Plan" in which congregations sent UCH to every family. Three years later I was elected editor by the denomination's Executive Council. I got the news during a mid-winter meeting of the Council and the boards of all the church's national agencies.
Tom Garner, a pastor from Nazareth, Pa., came out of the meeting to inform me. "I was told to assure you that the Council affirmed the principle of editorial freedom," he said.
There was often strenuous discussion about my editorials and some of the articles, especially when the United States came to terms with the civil rights movement and when it was torn apart by the war in Vietnam.
Occasionally, the editorials forced animated conversations among the church's leaders and boards. But always, the principle of the freedom of the editor was reaffirmed — even when the Herald began publishing the salaries of the officers of the church and the instrumentality executives each year.
I was especially pleased at the 9th General Synod, during a heated debate on the use of inclusive language, when the magazine was cited as a useful model. We had been following our inclusive style for more than a year, accepted almost without notice.
The magazine also had been redesigned. We moved from every two weeks to a fatter, monthly book with an emphasis on graphic design. Our readers were used to Life and Look; we reasoned that the church's historic interest in art and architecture could be better served with lots of photos that would help make church identity real; in a sense it was incarnational — words were shown "in the flesh."
A new idea is tested
Our editorial and design approach had won its share of awards when Bob Cadigan, the editor of the popular Presbyterian Life, called one day. "Put your feet up on your desk, if you have time to talk...I have an idea I want to test with you." He proposed that P.L. and the Herald invite the magazines of the churches related to the Consultation on Church Union to enter a joint publishing effort.
We set a date for a face-to-face conversation and several months later, with the approval of the two churches, announced that we would together produce and distribute a common magazine with specialized pages to meet denominational needs. Because both churches were emphasizing evangelism, we thought the name "A.D. 1972" declared a fresh and contemporary approach to affirming a faithful witness "in this year of our Lord."
A.D. was an exciting opportunity that gave a completely integrated staff the chance to offer the churches lively journalism. We were disappointed that other churches weren't ready to join our effort. We published articles on the major issues of the day, and a popular series about prominent "interpreters of our faith." In separate editions, we carried more articles about the identities of each of the churches than either publication had done before.
After 11 years, when the United Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in the USA ended a century-long division over slavery, the Presbyterians terminated the magazine. We had published 126 issues — double that number if you count the two editions of each issue. It had been an exciting ecumenical venture.
I understood then, and I understand today, that the Presbyterians needed to emphasize their new unity. My only regret was that the end came so suddenly; my great satisfaction is that 25 years later I still hear members of both churches say they miss A.D. My gratitude is that having made good use of the technology of the 1960s and 1970s, the United Church of Christ today is embracing contemporary communications methods, both creatively and enthusiastically.
At the time of his retirement, the Rev. J. Martin Bailey was associate general secretary for communication for the National Council of Churches.