One more institution—and some old friends—are gone

Editor’s note: This article was submitted prior to the announcement of the continuation of www.unitedmethodistreporter.com but CircuitWriter Media LLC., and is primarily in response to the end of the print edition of the United Methodist Reporter, and UMR Communications Inc. We include it to honor the legacy of that which has gone before. 

By Chappell Temple, Special Contributor

It was my first paying job in journalism and it gave me an incredible insight into the institution I had already decided to commit my life to serve. Each week, working on local church editions of the United Methodist Reporter while attending journalism school at SMU, I read and processed through the news items of hundreds of United Methodist congregations.

Chappell Temple

Every chili supper, every UMW meeting, every weekly financial report, every pastor’s column—they were all there. And so, over the course of time, each became an ongoing storyline for me, long before Facebook and blogs made mass communication an instantaneous experience.

Later on, after completing seminary and being assigned a church of my own, I became one of those pastors sending in weekly items to a drop-box in Dallas. And I still marveled at how others were working into the wee hours of the night, doing what I had once done. They gave form and order to bits and pieces of otherwise random information, transforming all of it into a newspaper with both local and national stories that miraculously arrived in each church member’s mailbox by Friday of the same week. (Or almost always, depending on the Postal Service!)

All of this is why, when the United Methodist Reporter announced they would have to cease publication because of dwindling finances, it felt like an old friend had died. I understand that the church press cannot stay immunie to the forces of change that have closed countless newspapers and magazines across the country in recent years. But I had hoped that, at least in its digital form, UMR still had many meaningful years of ministry ahead.

However, the sad truth may be that the world is, indeed, changing too rapidly for the church to keep up. It isn’t just the Reporter that has succumbed to societal shifts this past year, but other church institutions have done so as well. Cokesbury, our chain of bookstores dating back to the beginning of Methodism in this country (and named for our first two bishops, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury), closed the last of its retail stores in April. UM-affiliated Lon Morris College, the oldest private two-year school in Texas—and one where I was privileged to serve as president long ago—closed its doors last fall. And every month, across the nation, UM congregations dissolve in both rural areas and inner cities because they no long draw enough people to keep their ministries going.

UMR staff in the early 1990s gathered outside their Dallas office for a group photo. At that time, the ministry printed and distributed around 160 local church and conference editions. UMR FILE PHOTO

Of course, there are magnificent exceptions to the trend. How grateful I am to serve a congregation as vital as Lakewood United Methodist Church in Houston. But if we’re no longer able as a denomination to support so many of our institutions, I have to wonder if there isn’t a canary singing in a mine somewhere.

This is a time for persistent prayer and hard thinking about who we are as a people of faith, and what it will require for us to go forward and practice, as the tagline of my blog puts it, “faithful living in a fickle world.” For while it is never wise to merely cling to the past, it’s even more unwise to refuse to learn from its lessons, or heed its warnings.

In the meantime, pardon me if you see a little tear in my eyes these days. Some dear old friends, indeed, have just passed away.

The Rev. Temple is pastor of Lakewood UMC in Houston, Texas. He blogs at http://chappelltemple.com/.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

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

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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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