Looking back and looking forward
In this 200th edition of New Directions we asked past editors to look back over 200 editions Sara Low (Editor, 1992 until 2005)
It really began with a yellow blouse. I had put my name down to speak in the fateful 1992 debate and wanted to ensure I was called.
Simple research told me that yellow was the most noticeable colour so I bought it, wore it and got to speak. The speech went well, the vote did not and the rest is history.
A new venture
John Broadhurst and Geoffrey Kirk had noticed my speech and that I had been in publishing and phoned to ask if I would edit a new venture, an orthodox supplement to the Church of England Newspaper. I agreed on the condition that it was to include all Anglicans and others who wanted orthodoxy and that it was never to become a ‘house journal’ for disaffected Anglo-Catholics and, secondly, that no subject was off limits. We wanted to be a force for renewal and reform.
We put together a team and met under the benevolent eye of John Martin, the CEN Editor, who didn’t agree with us but wanted there to be ‘fair play’. It was a misunderstanding of the nature of English establishment life that was, in the end, to cost John his job but without his courage there would have been no place for us to speak.
Before we had gone to press we had two letters from very different evangelicals. One was from the great teacher, parish priest and spiritual director, Preb. John Pearce wishing us well and the other was from Revd (now Bishop) Peter Broadbent lamenting our existence.
Brimming with ability
What was cheering was to discover that the orthodoxy constituency, far from having no talent – the lie fondly peddled at preferment panels – was actually brimming with considerable ability. We were never short of material. We were privately congratulated by the editor of the Church Times at being able to print stuff he didn’t dare. The line was inevitably counter-cultural as the Establishment was so keen to become a spiritual rubber stamp for the moral enormities of the State. There was also no place in ND for the crippling culture of deference. (One of our editorial board was summoned to his bishop who was holding a copy of the magazine at arm’s length over the Episcopal waste paper basket. Theatrically he let it drop with the words, ‘It is a pity that so much talent should show itself so opposed to the mind of the bishops!’
Another was curtly told by his bishop that his ‘career’ was now in ruins. We had a phone call one morning from an Archdeacon warning us that his lord and master (not Jesus) had expressed great displeasure at our most recent issue. The agreed response was always the same. Was the article true? Were the facts accurate? If they weren’t we would publish an apology. If the complainant wished to put an opposing view they would be granted space. In twelve years we had to retract only one line and apologise to the vicar whose liturgical practice we had misrepresented!
From 4 pages to 32
Not long after John Martin’s removal, ND had to start again. We were no longer welcome at CEN and it could have been curtains. As ever Geoffrey Kirk was ahead of the game and had constructed a plan for a 32-page Tablet-style magazine. We had to convince the Council that this meant FiF had to become a subscription organization. Seven thousand (the number coincidentally who had not bowed the knee to Baal [I Kings 19.18]) signed up immediately.
From a 4-page spread to a 32-pager was a huge ask but, with an amazing hard-working board, we hit the deadline and every one thereafter. Board meetings will always remain a brilliant memory for me. For three hours once a month the room hummed with prayer, ideas, inspiration and so much laughter. At the end of it we had articles to commission, copy to write, stories to follow and, day by day, it came together on my desk, usually long into the night after the day job phones stopped ringing.
Interviews and investigations went side by side with prayer and patristics, current affairs and Christology. We owe an enormous debt to those whose uninventable lunacies helped fill 30DAys. We really could not have made them up, though Geoffrey did his inimitable best with the exploits of Archdeacon Andrew Armitage-Shanks and his various scarcely fictional successors.
There were moments of high drama. Four bishops were on the phone before breakfast one morning condemning us for giving credence to a scandal about the Church Commissioners’ Finances. Of course it proved all too true. Another day saw one of our reporters meeting with a Fleet Street reporter to compare their leaked documents and who would print what.
Aimed at reform
The deeply flawed and corrupting appointment system came under our scrutiny and, while the heart of our discoveries have been agreed by the Church’s own subsequent enquiries, sadly little has changed.
Our aim in all this was to reform the Church of England. When that proved impossible, it was to gather those committed to Christian unity and seek a provincial settlement with its own ecumenical life and fulfil the dream of the Oxford Movement, reunion with Holy See. Some have crossed and some are crossing yet. Others, old friends and new, I pray, will follow and experience, as we have, the sheer joy, relief and release of so much energy for the Gospel.
Insofar as New Directions worked to reveal this truth and bring us all to a point of decision, I believe it did its job.
Nicholas Turner (Reviews editor, 2000 to 2005; Editor, March 2005 to January 2011)
It is still one of the most vivid memories of the past few years. Walking along the Leeds–Liverpool Canal on a grey November day in 2004, my mood as gloomy as the weather: I had just received a letter announcing the resignation of Sara and Robbie Low from the editing of New DirecTions. Struggling to discover some possible excuse for not taking up the responsibility, I strode angrily on for miles in the cold and damp.
Knowing well enough, of course, that I would have to take on the task. This has, after all, been one of the great strengths of Forward in Faith: there is work to be done, and we get on and do it. It may be this sense of common commitment is not as great as it was, but it is still far greater than in any other similar CofE organization. I am not the only one landed with unwanted work (and it was difficult and demanding), so while I moaned like mad, I knew no one would take any notice, and nor did I expect them to. Unfortunately by the end, I had run out of energy, which was rather hard on my successor.
Our principal shop window
My real enthusiasm was in the production of the magazine, in what it looked and felt like. It is our principal shop window onto the world: it has always been a major commitment from FiF, and a valuable one. I know nobody claims to read it, and they all have a list of criticisms, but it was and is noticed.
We had two revamps during my time; first to full colour in 2005, and then with a redesign and the addition of four extra pages in September 2009. That, for me, was the high point. A month later Pope Benedict announced his offer of the Ordinariate, and the whole dynamic changed.
My original dream had been to turn it into the monthly magazine of the new province, which was why I was keen to have the opposition write for us as well. Christina Rees obliged on a number of occasions, but it was telling that so many others, from Watch, Gras and Inclusive Church (yes, I asked them all many times), would not or could not write for us. Some promised, but in the end could not find the words, or perhaps they were warned off. Or perhaps, they realized that there was no point in engaging in any discussion. After all, they were winning the liberal battle: why risk debate with those destined to destruction?
Looking back, I wish there had been a way of turning this to our advantage. It gave us the theological high ground. We would listen to their views; they wouldn’t listen to ours. Certainly I received much criticism from our own readers, and would have faced still more had I been more successful; but then another limitation was that ND has never paid anyone for writing or editing, not even archbishops. So when the Bishop of Winchester wrote his long piece on the Civil Partnership Bill for us, and not the Church Times for example, that was a quite a triumph
Fast and hectic
What do I miss? The long Monday morning phone conversations with Geoffrey Kirk were great fun, and nearly always productive. Solving the final production problems, by phone or email with Len Black, was exactly what magazine editing is about, fast, hectic but often with excellent results. By contrast, my consistent and relentless failure was the editorial board. The worst was another November day: I left home as usual at 06.00 and got back at 22.00, eight hours train and tube, and the entire meeting in the middle produced just one page of text. I am still ashamed at how completely useless I was: I simply never cracked it.
Realistically, even with the internet, rural North Yorkshire is too far away for such a job. I should have known more people, been in a position to network more enthusiastically, and been able to accept the various London-based church invitations. And I rarely felt more isolated than when facing the task I particularly loathed, and therefore left to the last possible moment, writing the dreaded editorial (only one, the other was shared out).
A satisfying challenge
Any last piece of advice to writers? If you can keep to the word count you are given, you will go far. I still find it amusing and incredible how month after month some writers would always exceed their limit, and then ask if the extra could somehow be squeezed in, just this once, because it is so important, because… Do what you are asked. That is part of the fun of it, and the challenge. Anyone can write 1000 words (or 2000): it is getting the point across in 500 (or 1000) that is the skill. When it works, and some of the articles I included were little masterpieces, it is wonderfully satisfying. Worth all the hours and the carping? Of course.