Thoughts on UMR from supporters, former staff

In the days following the announcement that the United Methodist Reporter would cease publication, many expressions of regret, nostalgia and appreciation poured into the offices of UMR Communications.

Here are excerpts from some of the reflections and memories from United Methodists around the connection:

Danny Brown works the United Methodist Reporter press in the early 1990s.

The principles of good journalism aren’t all that different from Christian virtues. Be fair. Be honest. Hold those in authority accountable. Commit to integrity. Ask meaningful questions, and don’t fear the answers. Open windows to the world for people who are paying attention. I will miss the gracious way in which UMR has gone about living out these principles, and I pray for those of us who will carry what we’ve learned from UMR with us as we continue to read and write and report.
Rev. Eric Van Meter
Director, Wesley Foundation at Arkansas State University, and a
Reporter Special Contributor

The United Methodist Reporter, and its predecessor—the Texas Methodist—has been part of my life for more than 40 years. As a high school student, I received a subscription as a member of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference Council on Youth Ministries. It was the source of my awakening about the United Methodist Church: the good, the controversial, the connection. Through the Reporter, I knew I was part of an amazing global story, and I was energized by the possibilities.

The summer after my high school graduation, a beloved mentor asked the question: Have you considered seminary? As I thought about my own gifts and graces, I knew that being a third-generation journalist was something I aspired to. And then I recalled having recently read the Reporter’s coverage from the 1976 General Conference, which voted to support a new United Methodist “Television and Telecommunications Ministry” program. And that was it.

I understood my call to ministry to be a call to combine journalism and theology and to “tell the story” about the denomination and its work—and more importantly, about God’s love made manifest. My ministry has included appointments as a local church pastor, a conference communicator, a staff member of the General Board of Global Ministries, The Carter Center, and now, at Perkins School of Theology. I would not have been equipped, nor would I have heard this very unique call to ministry, had it not been for that article in the United Methodist Reporter. I owe the Reporter—and all of its staff through the decades—a debt of gratitude.
Rev. Connie Nelson
Director, Public Affairs and Alumni Relations
Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas

“Gettin’ the Word Out,” a painting by retired United Methodist pastor Kenneth Wyatt, depicts delivery of the newspaper’s first printing press in 1847.

In recent years the UM Reporter frequently provided interesting stories that were accurate, timely and showed discernment of facts and implications, with quality writing and visual appeal. But tsunami-like forces including explosive segmentation of audiences, diminished roles for annual conferences as mediators of information, economic disruptions and a plethora of sources and mediums for getting news, made it very difficult to sustain a denomination-specific, national newspaper without a generous benefactor or subsidy.

We will be poorer in the absence of what has become a credible, independent and skilled news reporting journal.
Neil Alexander
President and Publisher
United Methodist Publishing House

This is difficult news to hear. My first thoughts go to the staff members who have given so much and will lose their positions and livelihood.

My next concern is for a denomination that will lose a connection with each other (Cokesbury’s physical bookstores being another) and with broader constituencies.

My nearly nine years as a UMR columnist have been a delight. I have personally enjoyed every minute of it, and it was a highlight for my students, as well, to be published as contributors to the column. I cannot begin to tell you how much I have learned and how much writing these columns has influenced my teaching and understanding of congregational song.
C. Michael Hawn
Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, and
Reporter “History of Hymns” columnist

UMR staff frequently won religious journalism honors, most recently a 2013 award of excellence from the Religion Communicators Council.

We should all mourn the loss of the United Methodist Reporter. The newspaper and its staff maintained an ongoing and thoughtful discussion of issues central to our denomination, and did so while upholding high standards of journalism. This development further weakens our ability to engage with and understand persons with whom we may disagree. As an advocate for a particular cause I’ve sometimes been accused of creating divisions within the church, but in my view losing such a forum will lead to far greater divisions.
John Wagner,
Convener, United Methodist Kairos Response

I was so sad to hear that UMR Communications and UMR are ceasing operations at the end of the month. The death of a publication—a voice of reason and an expression of faith—is so sad, because in this day and age, there may not be a publication, even an electronic publication, to replace it.

Thousands of people across the country and world feel the pain of UMR shutting down the presses, turning out the lights and closing its doors.
Rev. Dan Gangler
Director of Communication, Indiana Conference

I wish this note was coming upon better circumstances or hopes of working on another big print-and-distribute project with you, but I wanted to reach out personally to say how sorry I am to hear of the closing of UMR Communications.

You have played a huge role in the world of ecumenical religious publishing and you should be proud of the quality of your work, your dedication to customer service and your creativity in providing the right solutions, time and again. That is my experience of working with you all, and I’m sure all your current and former clients will say the same.

I want to pass along profound appreciation and deepest regards from the board members of the Associated Church Press. On our behalf, and that of the many members who relied upon UMR for your fine work, I also offer thanks and hopes for your bright futures.
Gregg Brekke
SixView Studios

The Rev. Spurgeon Dunnam led UMR as editor/general manager from 1968 until his death in 1991.

When I think of the Reporter, I think of the Rev. Spurgeon Murray Dunnam III, who loved his double title: editor/general manager. “Energy” doesn’t describe Spurgeon. “Drive” comes closer—the drive of youth, superb intelligence, liberal theology and a love for words, whether in conversation far into the night or in pro/con statements on the editorial page. His 1970s-1980s staffs included some of the keenest reporters and editors in religious journalism, and the newspaper’s content won numerous awards.

By the mid-1980s, do-it-yourself printing (AKA desktop publishing) began pulling local church, district and conference editions from the United Methodist Reporter. UMR responses like the new nondenominational weekly National Christian Reporter and the bi-weekly United Methodist Review helped, but diminished income and an ill-timed fundraising campaign to build new quarters led significantly to Spurgeon’s death in 1991 at age 49.
John Lovelace
Former editor of the

Eight years ago, the Reporter took a chance on an associate pastor in a little town in Arkansas with barely a writing credit to his name. I honestly don’t believe many of the writing opportunities that have opened up for me since that time would have occurred without the Reporter believing in me first. I will be forever grateful for that, even as I grieve the demise of a company with a long history, a proud legacy, and a record of journalistic excellence.

“My harp is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those who weep”—Job 30:31
Rev. Andrew Thompson
Assistant Professor of Historical Theology and Wesleyan Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary and
Reporter columnist

The United Methodist Reporter and its predecessor publications have mirrored the Methodist and, later, United Methodist fortunes in the United States. Its early years were exciting times as this upstart denomination had grown from the smallest to the largest denomination in the country within a matter of decades. A major new chapter began over a century later in the early years of the United Methodist Church as Methodism’s hold on the American heart had begun to wane. Spurgeon Dunnam, beginning as a student worker during seminary, eventually transformed the UMR network into a national reporting and publishing phenomenon. Using state of the art technologies, UMR combined denominational and local coverage in an innovative format used well beyond the Southwest. The weekly impact of UMR upon United Methodist life was here to stay—or so we thought. As is often the case, just when such stellar witness is needed most, we lose it. Its proud heritage will be missed.
Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr.
Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership
Director, Lewis Center for Church Leadership
Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.

It was the Dunnam era that brought the paper into its own as an independent observer and shaper of the newly formed United Methodist Church. Spurgeon was a complex personality, the likes of whom are rarely seen. I think it’s safe to say that he was a genius of exacting standards who could almost never be fully satisfied with his underlings’ work—or his own, for that matter. The Wesleyan adage of “going on to perfection” was sacred to Spurgeon; we were always “going on” to perfection, never achieving it.
Cynthia Astle
Former managing editor of the

At its peak, UMR produced, printed and distributed some 300 local church editions of the paper, and more than 20 conference editions.

Following my graduation from SMU in journalism, my first job was as a writer/editor in the Agency Services Division of the United Methodist Communications Council of Texas and New Mexico. Thus began my long association with UMR: twice an employee, twice a board member.

This journey has provided me with many poignant memories, from a last conversation with Spurgeon Dunnam on his deathbed, to the opening of the new UMR Communications Center with Ron Patterson, to initiating innovative ministries of the digital age with Sarah Wilke. My passion for UMR’s mission was shared with my father, Bishop Ben Oliphint, who raised funds for the UMR Foundation. We both served as board chairs.

A brief stint as a UMR sales representative took me into dozens of churches across Texas, where I learned of the deep appreciation for the Reporter as a tool for connection with the worldwide Church.

The names and faces across the years of so many who believed in UMR’s mission and gave of themselves faithfully remain with me. Their gifts have served the Church well. While I grieve UMR’s loss, I also give thanks for its 166-year history of helping the Church tell its story.
Mary Brooke Casad
UMR Board Chair, 2002-05

Special Contributor to UMR

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This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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A nice compilation, with one minor quibble. I was Editor, not managing editor, of the Reporter from 2000 to 2005. Since I was the first woman to achieve this post in the Reporter's history, I hold that achievement dear to my heart. Only after my term was the top editorial position downgraded to managing editor. My prayers are with all of the Reporter staff.

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