How much do you really know about the magazine you’re reading?
Faith Today magazine is turning 30 this year, and just like all of us who have reached our third decade, it brings with it a lot of great memories to reflect on and a great deal of potential ahead. Later this year we’ll select and share 30 great articles from the past using our Facebook page and website. But let’s kick off the anniversary now with a summary of what’s been going on.
In the beginning: The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada was founded in Toronto in 1964 by an interdenominational group of Ontario pastors. In 1967 co-founder Harry Faught, pastor at Danforth Gospel Temple, crossed Canada with American theologian Carl F. H. Henry, holding meetings from Vancouver to Halifax and inviting individuals to join. Over the next two decades the EFC started commissions to study various issues, published a quarterly magazine called Thrust, sponsored preaching seminars and encouraged co-operation among evangelical denominations and individuals from mainline churches.
Brian Stiller, a Pentecostal pastor who served as national director of Youth for Christ, became the first executive director of the EFC in 1983 and quickly transformed the organization, building its individual membership to 17,000 and expanding its budget. Stiller was named editor-in-chief, and he would oversee the magazine until leaving the EFC in 1996 – 1997.
“There were a number of denominational magazines, but they seemed dowdy,” Stiller wrote in the 10th anniversary issue. “There were no newspapers such as B.C.’s Christian Info News or Christian Week. We settled on a concept of a Canadian magazine, unabashedly by and for evangelicals, not a journal such as Christianity Today or a Christian-living magazine like Moody, but a news/feature publication.
“We used as a working phrase, ‘Tracking the footprints of God.’ By looking across the nation and writing about the many ways in which God was using his people – by seeing his tracks – we could gain perspective on God’s agenda.
“Another part of our vision was to present an attractive and readable publication. Would a person pick up our magazine if it were sitting next to Maclean’s or Time?”
1983: Faith Alive debuted as a quarterly that summer, with a cover headline about leadership and a photo from the 1982 movie Gandhi. The next two issues featured cover stories on abortion and then on Billy Graham. Editor for the first three years was Lori (Mitchener) Gwynne, recruited by Stiller from Trinity Western University where she had been director of publications. The preferred name, Faith Today, did not become available for legal reasons until 1986.
1984: Cover stories tackled post-secondary education, homosexuality, sports and marriage. All would be addressed again on the covers of future issues, showing how important they were to readers and how a magazine delivers information, including corrections and alternative points of view, over a span of time rather than claiming to offer a final word on any given topic in a single issue. The magazine co-sponsored its first conference for writers at Ontario Bible College.
1985: Trends among Evangelicals, charitable giving, media and youth were the cover headlines. Audrey Dorsch was hired as an editorial assistant and, when Gwynne left late the following year, became managing editor. She had worked in newspapers in Western Canada and also founded Word Alive, the Canadian periodical of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
1986: Dorsch became editor, serving until 1995 and increasing the publication frequency to six issues per year. Her role in building a sturdy foundation for later editors, especially in focusing on news and journalistic excellence, cannot be understated. Cover topics included the “Moral Majority,” prison life, Expo ’86, child sexual abuse and fresh takes on previous cover topics of abortion and education.
1987: Cover stories tackled “Modern Jesus,” Christians in Parliament, Natives, the United Church, “Religion in the ’80s” and business.
1988: A key issue tackled abortion (the third time as a cover story). The Supreme Court of Canada had struck down Canada’s abortion law (the Morgentaler decision). A proposed new law was seen as a compromise and voted down by pro-choice MPs as well as strident Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. To this day Canada has no legal protection for the unborn. Other cover topics were medical ethics, parenting, refugees, global missions and the arts. Designer Rob Robotham was hired to lay out the magazine and has served in the role ever since – its longest serving staff member.
1989: Cover topics: “Funding the Church,” “God in the City,” New Age, ethnic churches, Canadian labour, Israel.
1990: Cover topics: “The 1980s Overview,” evangelism, public education, changing family, creation/evolution, justice.
1991: Cover topics: Quebec, Reform Party, War, Native church, poverty, seeker services. The design of the magazine was refreshed, as Dorsch felt it was looking outdated.
1992: Post-secondary education made the cover a second time. Other topics included: mobilizing laity, Canadian unity, ethical choices, family abuse and the Charter of Rights. The EFC hired a young Bruce Clemenger, who worked in research and national affairs and eventually rose to become EFC president in 2003.
1993: Homosexuality made the cover a second time, along with revival, aging, private faith, municipal politics and women in ministry. Several articles celebrated Faith Today’s 10th anniversary. Writer John Cambridge reported 20,000 copies were printed each issue, an amount that has held steady for 20 years.
1994: An issue titled “Heavenly Bodies: An FT Guide to the Universe of Denominations” became one of the most requested back issues in the years that followed. Other cover topics examined professional ethics, recession fallout, youth in church, reinventing dad, and religion by remote.
1995: A freelance writer named Gail Reid wrote a cover story on the Toronto Blessing, a charismatic revival that spread worldwide. Reid later became editor starting in 2000. Other cover topics featured “Retooling the Pastor,” the public image of evangelicalism, euthanasia (with Sue Rodriguez and Robert Latimer on the cover) and marketing the church. Sports also made the cover a second time.
1996: This year and the next saw significant changes. Marianne Meed Ward, who had been trained as a journalist, became editor after many years as a staff writer; she would stay three more years. (To fill the writing shoes she was vacating, she hired Bill Fledderus, who in 2013 is a senior editor.) An issue on sexuality raised controversy. Other covers treated end-times prophecy, social justice, new missionaries, Chinese Christians in Canada, and parachurch ministries. At the EFC then-president Stiller was on loan to help with serious financial challenges at Ontario Bible College and Seminary (now Tyndale University College & Seminary). Bruce Clemenger moved to Ottawa to help launch a new EFC office there called the Centre for Faith and Public Life.
1997: The magazine’s appearance was dramatically redesigned, starting with an issue titled “The Quest for Spirituality” featuring an image of John Travolta portraying an angel. Other covers examined Promise Keepers, cell church, the arts (a second cover appearance), the Internet and attitudes to culture. At the EFC Stiller left to become president of OBC-OTS. Gary Walsh, bishop of the Free Methodist Church, became EFC president, restructuring the organization and strengthening its focus on facilitating ministry partnerships.
1998: Robert Latimer, who killed his disabled daughter Tracy, appeared on a euthanasia-related cover for a second time. Other covers examined racism, burnout, the Bible’s influence, servant leadership and divorce.
1999: Larry Matthews became editor for two years, first to cover a maternity leave for Marianne Meed Ward and then to replace her when she moved on. Covers examined ethical investing, political power, science and faith, the near-future of church and religious persecution overseas. A cover on relations between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics generated some controversy.
2000: Gail Reid became managing editor of Faith Today and director of communications of the EFC for the next 12 years, with Bill Fledderus taking on editing duties for much of the magazine. Covers examined eroding confidence in global mission, healing, Christian teens, Native Christians (a second or third cover appearance), restorative justice and church choirs.
2001: Magazines covered hockey ministries, infant baptism and dedication, marriage (a second or third cover appearance), helping the homeless, the Alpha program and children’s ministries. The Word Guild, an association of writers and editors, formed to take over the writing conferences and national publishing awards Faith Today staff had developed.
We settled on a concept of a Canadian magazine, unabashedly by and for evangelicals.
2002: Freelancer Krysia Lear was hired to help edit several issues while Bill Fledderus was away on parental leave. Later another freelancer, Karen Stiller, joined as associate editor (yes, she’s married to Brian Stiller’s nephew) and continues on the team to this day. Covers examined arctic revival, outreach to bikers, Christian relations with Muslims, reaching twenty-somethings, the dramatically increased popularity of Christian fiction, and ethics in genetics and reproduction. The magazine also refreshed its design and announced it was repositioning itself, leaving news to the many competing Christian periodicals and Internet sources and instead offering more analysis, profiles, equipping and inspiring content.
2003: Cover topics included prayer walking, Christian camps, homes for seniors, cowboys for Christ, fighting AIDS, and seizing Christmas. At the EFC Walsh left and Clemenger was named president. The EFC began intervening in a series of legal cases about extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, an issue kicked off by provincial court decisions in 2002 and not resolved until 2007. The EFC also launched www.Christianity. ca, a website that made freely available a large number of articles including news reporting, most republished from a wide variety of Canadian Christian periodicals.
2004: A key cover story this year addressed Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, which was shown to various ministry leaders across Canada at special advance screenings. Other covers addressed Christian radio, design or chance, prison ministry (again), persecution (again) and Canada’s best Christian workplaces.
2005: An EFC-sponsored event called Celebration 2005 was featured on a cover this year. The EFC encouraged and co-ordinated local events across the country in the three weeks after Pentecost as a way to magnify the visibility of the Church in Canada and its many local acts of public service. Similar events were held in the years that followed. Other covers addressed evangelism (again), Christian filmmaking, end-of-life issues (again), homosexuality (again) and the Narnia stories of C. S. Lewis (in conjunction with a new film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
2006: One of Faith Today’s most widely read issues ever, “Faith and Politics,” was published, including articles by top Canadian leaders including Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Paul Martin. Eight months later, another cover story that benefitted from connections built through the EFC Ottawa office looked at how some Members of Parliament connect their work with their Christian faith. Other covers looked at online dating, Olympic athletes, stand-up comedians and making congregations more intercultural. On the political front, the EFC signed a joint declaration on marriage with 40 denominational and religious leaders including Roman Catholics, intended to give guidance to parliamentarians and other Canadians as the legal definition of marriage was widened to include same-sex couples.
2007: The movie Amazing Grace, about William Wilberforce and other Evangelicals who helped outlaw slavery in the early 1800s, made the cover this year with reminders that international slavery still needs attention today. Other covers looked at the effects of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms after 25 years, struggles with debt and consumerism, Sabbath rest, healthy functioning of boards at churches and charities, and Ontario’s new lieutenant-governor, an Evangelical named David Onley.
2008: Faith Today celebrated its 25th anniversary with a package of articles profiling people featured in the magazine years earlier and where they were in 2008. Other covers tackled climate change (yes, it was controversial), Islam in Canada (ditto), the bestselling novel The Shack (ditto again), religious freedom in China, and spiritual formation.
2009: A cover story on fighting human trafficking earned attention beyond usual readership circles this year. Another examined doubt, while still others updated familiar topics: post-secondary education, the influence of Billy Graham, how to rise above the economic crisis, and Christian activism on abortion and euthanasia. Faith Todayadded a new technology called “digital editions” so subscribers could search and download back issues at www.FaithToday.ca/digital.
2010: A cover story on “Canada’s 30,000 Adoptable Children” dovetailed with the EFC’s increasing emphasis on such issues, leading to the 2012 launch of www.AdoptionSunday.com. Other covers looked at Filipino Christians in Canada, outreach lessons from the Vancouver Olympics, sex education (now a political issue in public schools) and the country music singer Paul Brandt. Faith Today added a free mobile application for readers with Apple devices (available at www.FaithToday.ca) and a social media page at www.Facebook.com/FaithToday.
2011: The summer issue with the headline “Jesus’ Facebook Friends” was distributed exclusively as a digital edition, beginning an ongoing experiment with new technology that has since reoccurred each summer. The five print issues looked at including children in church, fighting prostitution, young women in the pro-life movement, free speech, and relations between faith and science. Faith Today added a free app for readers with Android devices (available at www.FaithToday.ca).
2012: Perhaps these may still be on your shelf: “Writing for Hollywood,” “Beyond our Cultural Comfort Zones,” “Marketplace Missionaries,” “Virtual Virtue” (digital only, of course), “Hemorrhaging Faith,” and “Gospel Music Making a Difference.” In May the magazine removed a paywall that had prevented non-subscribers from viewing back issues at www.FaithToday.ca/digital, thereby increasing web traffic dramatically.
2013 and looking ahead: Managing editor Gail Reid retired in January after 13 years, and the magazine looked to hire a new associate editor to work with senior editors Bill Fledderus and Karen Stiller. Plans are afoot to refresh the design of the magazine and its website late in the year. The website www.FaithToday.ca currently appears as a section of www.theEFC.ca, but a freestanding website would be simpler and more attractive for visitors – and ultimately make it easier to enlarge the readership and draw newcomers into the orbit of the EFC.
Clearly, there is much to look back on – and forward to – at Faith Today. Thank you for your faithfulness as a reader, and special thanks to all our advertisers whose support is so crucial to the health of the magazine. If you have ideas about what you would like to see in the future, please drop us a line at [email protected] or on our Facebook page anytime. FT
BILL FLEDDERUS of Hamilton, Ont., is senior editor at Faith Today. See a similar article like this from 2003.
Author: Bill Fledderus