I exited the news business one year before my job was eliminated, so I didn’t have to endure the ignominy of termination. Every December, approaching fiscal year end, we awaited the annual bloodletting.
And now I find myself on the other side, one of those who operate in a distant location, in a place far removed. Today, we pulled the plug on a beautiful life. With a few “ayes” the directors approved recommendations to cease publication of the Presbyterian Record after the December issue.
I regularly drive past buildings that were once churches and are now homes and reception centres. Once vibrant congregations gradually declined to where they could no longer pay the bills. In most cases, they had enough cash to pay severances and leave a small legacy. In a sense, that’s the Presbyterian Record. After years of declining subscription and advertising revenue, despite valiant efforts to find new methods of sustainability, the corporation reached the point where windup was the only responsible move.
But the similarity ends there. The congregation of a dying church has a leaky roof, a mouldy basement, cobwebs and falling plaster. It looks old and it smells old. Not the Record. As if to spite the decline, its staff in recent years have continued to perform like athletes and artists in their prime. I can say this as a fellow journalist—because it’s always in the blood—that they produce awe-inspiring work. They will continue to do so until the final edition, despite working under notice of termination.
We pulled the plug on a beautiful thing.
The September meeting of the board of directors, where the decision was made, was short and to the point. The discussions had already taken place.
The windup committee had done its job. At one point, it grew deadly silent.
“We don’t know what to say,” came the quiet voice from one director.
At the final service of a local congregation a few years ago, I told the congregation that for every church we close, let us vow to plant a new one. Easily said. But where will these athletes and musicians perform their journalistic wonder?
Like walking into a congregation, opening the Record produced familiar faces, always with something fresh to say, perhaps a new voice or two, something to think about, laugh about, get angry about. I always came away feeling a little more hopeful, much like a good, healthy Christ-centred community.
Soon, that will be gone. And in its place? Scattered voices.
Yet we are reformed and always reforming. Unlike the engineer or architect, we don’t see the vision. We are the workers, receiving daily instruction. And we operate with this in mind: “This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” Matthew 16:18 (The Message)