Diversion & alarms: why do we maintain our existence and for what?

Author:Dickey, James R.

For some, the demise of our ancient (by Canadian publication standards) and often honourable denominational magazine came as a shock. For others, it was almost inevitable.


Are not the print media succumbing to the multiple paths of electronic communication? Macleans goes from weekly to monthly. Chatelaine to bi-monthly. Other magazines in the Rogers fold close altogether.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada's membership continues to wither rapidly. Presbyterians Sharing receives less support each year as congregations pare back to survive. Support for an Every Home Plan looks like a troublesome frill. Then too, there are the rising costs of production, distribution and especially postage. But consider.

The Presbyterian Record has lost money before. In fact, it was subsidized from general denominational funds for most of its long existence. In the late 1970s, in one of our periodic national crises, I (the then-editor, newly affirmed) was asked to continue publishing without subsidy. I agreed, on the condition that the magazine would keep any profit it made. That condition, being deemed highly unlikely, was agreed to. The Record made money for the next 20 years at least.

Am I hinting that I could have prevented the Record's end? That is, of course, a temptation--and a vain one, but let me beat about no bushes, especially burning ones. Was it necessary to expand the editorial staff from two to four? And there are four other positions listed on the masthead where there were once two. The magazine was at least as big as it is now.

In our quest for self-support it took a while before we could afford coated stock (shiny paper). Even then it was not of as high a quality as it has been. That said, I hasten to say that the magazine's look--layout and design--improved radically under both of my successors. But that hasn't helped.

To refrain from picking any more nits, I see something more fundamental, more ominous in the fall of the denomination's print flagship. When I first came to the Record over three decades ago, the Presbyterian Church had already suffered 13 straight years of membership decline. When I asked one of the prominent members at church offices how or why this could be, he replied: "Just dead wood." The membership has undergone an accelerated fall every year (but one) since. Some forest.

Since then I have been asked as editor and later as congregational minister to promote no less than 12 national renewal campaigns focused on...

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