‘Monday Morning’ was ‘the family newsletter of the Presbyterian Church’

For most of its life, the magazine was underwritten by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which sent free subscriptions to every pastor and co-pastor. But Monday Morning lost its subsidy in a round of cost-cutting in the mid-1990s and was forced to try to support itself through advertising revenue and subscription sales. Its readership was aging — in recent years, its strongest support came mostly from retired pastors and their spouses.

For a generation or two, Monday Morning was taken for granted, just part of the Presbyterian landscape. It was named for “the off-day for preachers, after their hard work was done . . . a day to react, reflect, to gab, to chat with other preachers about what was going on behind the scenes in the Presbyterian Church,” said Houston Hodges, who edited the magazine for a few years in the late 1990s. The magazine “came free; everybody expected it. It was like breathing out and breathing in.”

But “in the end, Monday Morning, like many publications, was a victim of changing times,” Gary Luhr, the PC(USA)’s associate director for communication, wrote in announcing the decision to close the magazine. “Technology and a new generation of church leaders are changing the way the church communicates.”

Luhr pointed out that a survey done by the PC(USA)’s Office of Research Services “found limited interest in the magazine among non-subscribers” — and speculated that some of the conversation that used to take place in the magazine now is occurring through e-mail and on the Internet.

‘An old friend to a lot of people’

“It will be mourned, its passing — it was an old friend to a lot of people,” said Vic Jameson, a former editor of Presbyterian Survey, the predecessor to Presbyterians Today magazine.

But there is a possibility that some form of reincarnated, Web-based Monday Morning could reappear — Luhr’s announcement states that “plans are being explored to launch an online discussion forum similar to Monday Morning in 2002.”

Sue Boardman, the magazine’s current editor, describes the magazine as sort of the “family newsletter” of the Presbyterian Church — saying it’s been unusual among denominational publications because it didn’t just provide information to readers, but also allowed readers to communicate among themselves, with the guidance of an editor.

“The difference is that Internet conversations are in many ways off-the-cuff, spur of the moment kinds of stuff,” while Monday Morning provided “a thoughtful, reflective, shaped conversation,” she said.

“I regret the need to terminate Monday Morning, ” the moderator of the 213th General Assembly, Jack Rogers, said in an e-mail interview. “I understand the financial pressures and the fact that it primarily has an older readership. Many of us in that older category are having a hard time adjusting to the reality of electronic media being the primary mode of communication. We still prefer print media on which we can reflect. Monday Morning not only gave people, primarily pastors, a place to ventilate their feelings, but it often was the venue for creative ideas. I hope that the church will find the means to communicate even more effectively in a way that will make that communication even more accessible to the whole church.”

Houston Hodges became Monday Morning‘s editor in May 1996, and stayed 2-1/2 years, during the time when the publication was trying to make the shift from being a publication subsidized by the denomination to being self-supporting.

“We were always just one financial statement from disaster,” Hodges recalled. But “we really tried hard, did everything we could to keep it going.”

In January 1999, Boardman took over as editor. She is a 43-year-old Presbyterian minister, whom Hodges described as “the exact profile of the reader we needed to get” if the magazine were to survive. “She writes younger than I do,” said Hodges, who’s 71. “She drives a new red VW bug, and I drive a Crown Victoria.”

The magazine did make some progress towards financial solvency after the changeover, Boardman said — but that was undercut by increasing costs for postage and printing. Asked why more younger pastors aren’t reading the publication, Boardman said that those who graduated from seminary after the subsidy stopped may not be familiar with the magazine at all — they never got it. And “the folks who are out there in active parish ministry at the moment are busy,” and may choose to spend their money on something they’d like to read more. “There was the reputation, and still is to some extent, that Monday Morning was just a bunch of old guys throwing rocks — and who wants to play with that?” she asked. “That has been changing.”

First published in 1936

Monday Morning began publishing in 1936, and from then until 1951 served as the only national publication of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., said Theodore Gill, who was Monday Morning‘s editor from 1989 to 1993 and researched the publication’s history. When it was created, “the denomination decided they really needed some kind of communications vehicle to get the word out from the national offices,” Gill said — but they couldn’t afford to send a magazine out to all Presbyterians, so they picked pastors, assuming the ministers would pass the word on to everyone else.

From 1936 to 1951, it was a weekly publication, and then biweekly from 1952 until 1958, when the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North America combined to form the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. — then the so-called Northern branch of American Presbyterianism.

And in 1958, Frank H. Heinze became editor of Monday Morning — launching what many view as the magazine’s heyday. “He had a knack for running the magazine so it occasionally seemed to be thumbing its nose at the authorities and the hierarchy,” Jameson said, bringing “a keen sense of how far you could go and what you could do.” In the 1960s and 1970s, Monday Morning was the place for hot, passionate conversation — from the church’s role in the civil rights movement and the morality of the Vietnam War to the drafting of what became the church’s Confession of 1967.

On Feb. 24, 1964, for example, the magazine contained an eight-page, first-person account of Heinze’s involvement in a voter registration drive in Hattiesburg, Miss.

In regular features, the magazine allowed pastors to share practical, hands-on ideas about how their congregations were becoming involved in peacemaking and work to safeguard the environment. “It helped people to see beyond their own local situation,” Gill said.

Elizabeth Lewis, the 84-year-old widow of a Presbyterian minister from Yankton, S.D., has read Monday Morning since 1939 and said she’s “very unhappy” with the decision to shut it down.

“It’s such a good, homey, heart-warming magazine, written by the people who read it,” Lewis said. The opinions are definite, but they’re not violent. We got news of retirements and other changes we didn’t get elsewhere . . .. It was a household appliance at our house.”

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