“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” wrote the ancient preacher of Ecclesiastes (3:1). I write to you with a sense of seasonal change. I have noticed lately the chill in the morning air and the bright yellow leaves signifying the presence of fall. But that is not the seasonal change of which I speak.
On Oct. 7, the trustees of the Religious Herald voted unanimously to merge with Associated Baptist Press effective Jan. 1, 2014. As with any “marriage,” some things will change while other things stay the same. If you have ever been the parent of a bride, you probably have something of a feel for the conflicting emotions residing in my own heart.
You want what is best for her and her husband (and for your grandchildren yet to be born), but the wedding brings with it some changes that cause grief. While most of the tears flow from happiness, a few may have their source in grief.
In like manner, as the father of the bride, I take great pride in the Religious Herald and am thrilled at the match. Together she and her groom will accomplish great things. They will continue the Herald’s storied tradition of being a reasoned and prophetic voice to Baptists in Virginia, in the Middle Atlantic region and beyond. The strength they bring independently will be enhanced as together the Herald and ABP form a new organization (yet to be named).
I view the future with confidence as I anticipate the place this new couple will take in the world. I believe in them. I feel the same anticipation and anxiety that the father of the bride feels as he watches the new couple leave the church for their honeymoon. They will face challenges, but they are up to the task.
Still, I confess that some sadness mingles with my joy. It is a sobering reality that the Religious Herald will not continue in the same form as in the past. I have had to struggle with the thought of being the last editor of the Religious Herald as we have always known it. I have stood in our hallway before the portraits of my seven editorial predecessors and imagined conversations with them. Only in the case of Mike Clingenpeel did I have benefit of an actual two-way discussion on the topic but was gratified to learn of his unqualified support. I believe each of the others, too, would have approved.
Although it is true that in no other industry have social and technological changes brought greater challenges and opportunities than in communications, current challenges are not the primary motives behind the merger. Newspapers, those that have survived, have invested heavily in the internet as social preferences and possibilities have changed. The challenges facing secular newspapers have been multiplied for religious newspapers as denominational support and loyalty have waivered. But the Religious Herald has a 185-year history of meeting challenges. These we were positioned to meet.
But the challenges of the future will best be met with the added strategic staff, combined financial strength and streamlined organization afforded by this merger. New technologies will make possible unimagined ways of information sharing, and the new, merged Herald will be better prepared to take full advantage of them. But this is only one motive for the merger.
What the new organization can do for Virginia and Mid-Atlantic Baptists is a greater motive. A greater cadre of reporters will mean news can be posted on a robust website as it occurs. Readers will continue to be alerted through email blasts as new stories appear. The immediacy of the internet makes it ideal for getting news. Papers can’t hope to compete in this area because by the time they are printed and delivered, the content is “olds” rather than news!
Print will not disappear after the merger, however, but it will change. Instead of duplicating what appears on the website, a new magazine designed to provide a greater depth of content will be printed bi-monthly. At this time, I cannot tell you what this magazine will be called because that hasn’t yet been decided. We thought about continuing the name, Religious Herald, but we asked ourselves, “If we were starting a new publication from scratch, is that what we would call it?” Probably not. I am quite certain that those who have relied on the Herald in the past will not be disappointed in the quality and quantity of reports available to them both online and in printed form following the merger.
Along with the continued support of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, individual Baptists and churches will have opportunity to demonstrate their support for a free and independent source of news and information by becoming members of this new endeavor. I am very hopeful that all subscribers will choose to become a member and that they will be joined by thousands of others. Basic membership will be modest with other levels of membership going up from there. Every member will receive the magazine as benefit of membership.
This model is similar to that of National Public Radio where individuals make donations and become members. Some cities have online “newspapers” that also use the membership model.
Loyal Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina have always valued truth-telling and have demanded that the press be free to report the facts without regard to pressure from denominational authoritarians. My conviction is that they will continue to hold those principles dear and support them with their gifts.
Like the changing of the seasons, what the Religious Herald was must give way to something new and necessary. And, as with each new season, merger will bring its own excitement and rewards.
So, in a sense, I watch as this new couple drives into the sunrise to make a new life together. I am very happy, and just a little sad. Though invited, I have chosen not to make the trip with them. That isn’t my place. My thoughts and prayers and hopes and heart go with them, and I will do whatever I can to help them succeed. But I believe the Lord is saying my future lies elsewhere. I’m not sure where exactly, but I am confident some exciting possibilities will emerge.
Jim White ([email protected]) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.