By John Cambridge. Reprinted with permission from the July/August 1993 issue of Faith Today.
U S. President Reagan calls the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire;” 269 civilians die when the Soviets shoot down a Korean airliner; Jeanne Sauve becomes the first woman appointed governor general of Canada; Lloyd Moseby is the first Blue Jay to score 100 runs in one season; eight percent of Canadians claim no religious affiliation; and a brand new magazine for Canadian evangelicals makes its debut.
That was 1983. It seems a world away.
In a light, spacious office on the ground floor, tastefully furnished and modestly equipped with ’90s technology, Brian C. Stiller, executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and editor-in-chief of FAITH TODAY, chats in assured, measured tones, recalling a different world.
In another time, 1983, and another place the first issue of FAITH TODAY was prepared, not in its own suite of offices, but in borrowed space – a storage room in which sardines would have complained.
The total EFC staff at the time was three people. Stiller occupied the storage room, while his secretary, Lorna Cheetham, used a TV tray as a desk. The magazine’s first managing editor Lori Gwynne (then Mitchener) mildly described it as “pretty rustic.” Office equipment ran to two typewriters, plus of course the necessary paper clips and red pencils.
The new editors put together a magazine they decided would not be another Christianity Today or Moody, but a uniquely Canadian evangelical Time magazine, a Christian Maclean’s..
It was not FAITH TODAY then. It was called Faith Alive, but that name was the second choice. The name FAITH TODAY was already held by another publication which, though defunct, still had financial loose ends.
After 21 issues of Faith Alive had reached their evangelical readers, the first-choice name became legally available and with the first issue of 1986 Faith Alive became FAITH TODAY. In November of that year the EFC moved to its present location in Markham, just beyond the official boundary of Metropolitan Toronto. The FAITH TODAY/Evangelical Fellowship of Canada office is in a clean-looking, low-rise building situated in an industrial development.
Gwynne is a Californian who likes to take an idea and work it into something concrete. She is good at getting things off the ground.
When Stiller met her he was a volunteer with the EFC speaking at Trinity Western University in British Columbia where she was director of publications and editor of Trinity Western World. He asked her to submit a mockup of a magazine to succeed the EFC’s magazine Thrust which, says Stiller, was dull. He wanted something that would capture people’s attention.
“I didn’t know anything about magazines. Lori came up with a design that really surprised us. It was really Lori’s understanding of putting together a production that made it work. I had a vision of what it would do but she had the ability to design the vision into reality,” Stiller recalled.
“I sold all the advertising and learned to write copy myself. It was exciting and new and fun and frightening. In a sense it just came forth from us.
‘We lived day to day, money-wise. I went out and raised my own support because there was no salary. I promised Lori and Lorna that I would ensure that they had a salary every month, but I didn’t know where it was going to come from. We had a sense that something special was about to happen. We were very conscious that history was being written.”
“What was exciting,” Gwynne recalled, “was to take a theme and do a complete walk around it.” The first issue, she claims, was basically thrown together, and she remembers doing a lot of all-nighters.
After FAITH TODAY, Gwynne left journalism temporarily to start a family. She now lives in Mount Forest, Ont. with her husband and two young children. Just this year she returned to Christian journalism, as editor of Fellowship Magazine.
The EFC began in 1964 as a centre for evangelical thought and fellowship, born out of the thinking of pastors that the evangelical community of Canada needed a voice in a time when many voices were shouting to be heard. The embodiment of that voice appeared not only within the pages of Faith Alive, but in the person of Brian Stiller. The publication’s personality, an essential requirement for a magazine, formed around him because he was at the forefront of ideas with the EFC.
“It met a need; it filled a niche; and it spoke to a mind,” Stiller said. “It helped to represent evangelicals to the broader community in a professional way so that outsiders would understand that evangelicals weren’t some little funny, fundy group in the corner. It helped evangelicals realize that we had a substantive, legitimate and coherent message to offer the world.” For Stiller, the u1timate compliment evangelicals could pay was that the magazine did not embarrass them.
It did not deliver the message in half measures. Early issues probed the topics of gays in the pulpit, Christians in professional sports, abortion and politics from a Christian perspective — the kinds of issues it continues to examine,
On Parliament Hill senators and MPs receive the magazine. It is an impression maker and it has surprised many of the other communities in that evangelicals do have something to say, and in a fair and balanced way.
Audrey Dorsch joined FAITH TODAY in 1985 as an editorial assistant and, when Gwynne left late the following year, Dorsch assumed the role of rnanaging editor.
She paid her dues in western Canada working first with a senator in Edmonton and then with several local newspapers. Her last job before moving east was to start Word Alive, the Canadian house organ of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
If she has brought any particular character to the magazine, Dorsch said, it was that she “perhaps increased the emphasis on news and journalistic style and approach.”
The most common type of query letter or article proposal she receives is for an essay/Opinion piece. She looks instead for writers “who want to interview various knowledgeable people and bring those thoughts, insights and information together into a reporting kind of article.
“I like to see us more as reflecting what evangelicals today are thinking . . . rather than setting a path or teaching.” A phrase Dorsch likes to use is that FAITH TODAY is reporting rather than exhorting.
Dorsch pulls together all the elements that make up the magazine. And she harnesses the talent that turns ideas and vision into the reality of print – the writers.
Part of FAITH TODAy’s mandate is that the field of Christian writing should be enhanced and developed for the broader Christian community, One of the ways it has attempted to achieve that – and most successfully – is through the annual writers’ conference.
The first of these took place in the fall of 1984 in Toronto, where for several years they were co-sponsored with Ontario Bible College.
The conference expanded to Regina the following year and then to B.C. The “God Uses Ink” conferences have continued in Ontario, while in the west they faltered, This year for the first time FAITH TODAY cooperated with Briercrest Bible College in Saskatchewan to “resurrect” a western conference, Dorsch would like to see one in the Maritimes as well.
Attendance has usually fluctuated between 75 and 150, with a trend toward attracting a higher calibre of writers who are taking their craft seriously.
The magazine has been consistent over the past decade in quality and content. Its last major change came two years ago with the May/June ’91 issue, when the entire publication underwent a design overhaul. Dorsch thought it was beginning to look a little dated.
The new logo design reflects the stable, conservative, traditional, trustworthy nature of our FAITH, while the word TODAY conveys a more contemporary, on-the-edge image.
“We want both of those components in our magazine,” said Dorsch.
Twenty thousand copies now roll off the press every other month; more than 17,000 are paid subscriptions. The rest are given away as samples or promotional copies. Annual production costs reach $200,000. To produce the first issue cost about $13,000.
“If 50 or 100 years from now someone looks back and wants to find out what was happening in Canadian evangelicalism in the ’80s and ’90s, will FAITH TODAY have what they need? Are we missing something that’s important for people to know?”
The editorial team asks those questions frequently; you be the judge.
John Cambridge is a freelance writer in Toronto.