This year your magazine, The Lutheran, celebrates 50 years of service to our church.
Everyone who is blessed with five decades on this earth has changed dramatically since their birth (at least physically, even if inside we feel virtually the same at 48 as we did at 18). And The Lutheran is no different. It is almost unrecognisable today from the very first issue published on 21 January 1967 under the interim joint editorship of Pastor T W Koch and Dr M Lohe.
However, casting a discerning eye over a full 50 years of the masthead also shows what has never swayed – The Lutheran’s commitment to serve and build up the church.
When the first full-time editor, Pastor E W Wiebusch, took charge in April 1967, he explained the scope of the publication in his first editorial: ‘THE LUTHERAN should be a teaching agency of the Church’.
The Lutheran started life as the ‘official organ’ of the fledgling LCA, a term never clearly defined. As then editor, now executive editor and LCA Communications manager Linda Macqueen wrote on the occasion of The Lutheran’s 40th birthday: ‘In 1967 the burden of being “the organ” of the LCA seemed to weigh heavily on The Lutheran’s shoulders. It was formal, unsmiling and austere. Later it became the church’s “official publication” and then in September 2001, without anyone noticing, it became the LCA’s “national magazine”.’
While some critics would see this transition as a gradual ‘watering down’ of the role of the magazine, others believe it has taken the shackles off, opening The Lutheran up to the voices of the whole church, rather than just its leaders and other pastors. It has allowed us also to exercise our God-given sense of humour.
The fact The Lutheran’s looks and content have been regularly altered across its life is nothing unusual in comparison with mainstream publications. In this case it perhaps reflects mostly the shift in its prescribed function, the diverse styles of those at the helm, the resources and production technology available and the changing face of the church it strives to serve.
In the early days there were barely any photos or illustrations; the writing style was formal and there was very little content not written by a church leader or other pastor. Along with intense devotional and doctrinal articles, much of it was made up of matter-of-fact records of the goings-on around congregations, schools, districts, departments and the national body. Pages and pages were dedicated to financial reports. Lay men had hardly any opportunity to contribute, women even less. It seems no questions went unanswered. Readers were told what was what.
A decade on, in 1977, some of these attributes were changing; there was more pictorial relief to the slabs of black text and even a column known as ‘A woman’s view’.
By the time The Lutheran turned 20 in 1987, a big shift in style, content and layout was evident. E W Wiebusch’s nephew, Pastor Robert Wiebusch, took the reins in 1986. The younger Wiebusch had formal journalism training and had served as editor of NZ Lutheran for 16 years.
While believing that the church publication should support the church, he approached the task more as a journalist than an advertising manager. He edited contributed news articles to meet space and style requirements, allowed and even instigated discussion on church policy and social issues. He introduced profiles of lay people, human interest stories, book reviews, film reviews and even a comic strip.
When he left the role in 1995, Grace Bock, who previously had edited Children’s Own for the former ELCA, Children’s Friend for the LCA and Lutheran Women for Lutheran Women of Australia, was appointed interim editor.
A cloud hung over The Lutheran’s existence as the church cut back its communications ministry and yet the first lay person and first woman to be editor held the office for four years. And she did everything from writing, editing, typing and laying out stories, to designing graphics and preparing the magazine to print-ready stage.
In 1999, after the establishment of a National Magazine Committee, the editor’s position was advertised. Grace did not apply to continue, and former youth worker Linda Macqueen was appointed. Her vision for the magazine involved telling real, honest stories of human frailty and brokenness that readers could relate to and see God’s love shining from. She also oversaw the injection of more colour to its pages, more life in its design and more voices in its content.
‘I wanted The Lutheran to take the masks off, to shoo away the pretence that the Christian life is a perfect life’, Linda said. ‘It took years to convince potential writers I didn’t want stories where all the questions were answered and loose ends neatly tied up. Life, including the Christian life, is not like that.‘
The changes most likely staved off the death of the magazine, as subscriptions held steady and even increased for the first time.
In 1967 many Lutherans had received a copy of the magazine because their congregation ‘invested’ in a subscription for every home. By the time Robert Wiebusch took over, subscribers were generally so because they chose to be – it was a whole new playing field. There were 16,000 subscribers in The Lutheran’s first year; 40 years later there were just under 8500 and today there are a little more than 6000.
Our priority is to reveal how God’s love comes to life in the families, congregations and communities of the LCA/NZ.
Linda became executive editor of The Lutheran when her role broadened to include managing the rapidly expanding demands of LCA communications. Journalist Rosie Schefe was appointed acting editor in 2013. Overseeing further modernisations, she remained editor until the end of 2015 when she accompanied her husband Geoff, by then ordained as a pastor, to serve in his first parish.
I was appointed to succeed Rosie in this always daunting but blessed role from 2016. Like Pastor E W Wiebusch way back in 1967, I see the responsibility of the position as ‘enormous and frightening’ and, like him and the others who have come before me, I look to God for strength. I believe that, rather than primarily existing to ‘teach’ our church, today the duty of our magazine is to inform, empower, encourage, uplift, challenge and give a voice to every member of the LCA.
Our priority is to reveal how God’s love comes to life in the families, congregations and communities of the LCA/NZ. But is that really so different from the past 50 years?
In his first editorial Pastor E W Wiebusch also said of The Lutheran ‘… through the years it is hoped to cover all areas of faith and life’. The LCA president (now bishop) would have a column each issue and the boards and departments would be invited to give information and to promote their mission and ministry work, as they are today, particularly through the Go and Grow section.
While increases in operational costs and diminishing numbers of subscribers are placing pressure on The Lutheran, we do not despair. We will serve God through this ministry of the written word for as long as he wills it. The future is in his hands, as it always has been.