New Directions is a publication which it is easy to misunderstand. The most fundamental, though understandable, misunderstanding is to think of it as the `In House Magazine’ of Forward in Faith. Though the Council of FiF pays for the magazine and appoints its editorial panel, New Directions has never been that. It is a partner of Forward in Faith rather than its offspring.
New Directions was one of the products of that very lively period which immediately followed the synodical vote to ordain women in 1992, when Catholics in the Church of England took stock of their position and realized that they needed new institutions and a new voice. Its independence as a journal was sealed by its initial appearance as a monthly supplement to the Church of England Newspaper. Its masthead of those early days `Serving Evangelicals and Catholics seeking to renew the Church in the historic faith’ has not changed.
When Forward in Faith became a subscription organization, it was agreed that New Directions should be part of the membership package and that a free tabloid `in house’ publication Forward Plus should join it, together with a Sunday pew sheet for use in the parish, Forward! The establishment of a larger international website has completed a communications package of which we are proud and which seeks to serve the constituency in different ways.
The relationship between FiF and New Directions has not always been a comfortable one. No-one could suppose or pretend that the combination of investigative journalism, Spectator-like comment and Private Eye-style satire suits all customers. New Directions has been accused of being lewd and irreverent, overintellectual, anti-Catholic, and many things besides. Complaints reach my desk, and I by to answer them or pass them on. What I note with interest and approval, however, is that New Directions is a paper that cannot be ignored. Many people who have proudly told me that they bin it, burn it, or feed it to the dog, nevertheless show a knowledge of its contents which contradicts their claims!
New Directions has brought to religious journalism a robustness and depth which has been lacking for most of the last century. The religious controversies of the nineteenth century were heated and sometimes abusive. The Church Times-the `gadfly for God’-was a mouthpiece for a revolutionary faction: the Catholic Movement For many years I was amused by a column called `a hundred years ago’- its tone was very unlike the present one. At the same time the Church was, or felt itself to be, coterminous with the nation: the British Constitution at prayer. It was, in both senses, big enough to take controversy.
As the Church of England has diminished in numbers and influence, it has become more self-conscious, thin-skinned and sensitive. The ten years of New Directions coincided with the period when it became clear that church attendances would, and then did, drop below a million for the first time. Those ten years, not surprisingly, saw an expansion of ecclesiastical `spin’ on an unprecedented scale. The Church felt the need to tell itself good things about itself (which in glossy brochures and diocesan freebies it increasingly did). The bearer of bad tidings was an unwelcome guest. My own view is the opposite. The heated national debate about the ordination of women put gospel issues in the media and before the nation. Personally I had media coverage that it would take £millions to buy. No-one is interested in `spin doctor’ pretence.
New Directions has necessarily been a bearer of bad tidings, for things are bad. The liberal agenda has unfolded with remarkable rapidity, so that, for example, the last Lambeth Conference was the first to be attended by women bishops and their spouses; the next (if it ever happens) will be the first attended by openly gay bishops and their partners. All these innovations have been hailed as gestures of inclusion, whilst the number of actual church members has continued to decline. Nor has the Church of England’s own exercise in inclusivism, the Period of Reception and the Act of Synod, been without its difficulties. New Directions has drawn the attention of the wider church to shameful abuses of the system that, perhaps as a result, are now less frequent.
But there has been Good News too. Articles of serious theological worth from both a Catholic and an Evangelical standpoint have given the paper the reputation (to paraphrase the Archbishop of Canterbury (see p5)) of reaching places that other papers do not reach. Short articles of devotion and teaching have nourished both clergy and laity.
The task of the Christian minister, it has been said, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That being the case, and despite inevitable lapses of taste and discretion, New Directions has fulfilled its vocation. I thank all those who have worked on our behalf to produce a worthy champion.