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New Horizons

New Horizons: The Early Years

Roger W. Schmurr

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church didn't always have a denominational magazine. The OPC was founded in 1936, but New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church didn't appear until January 1980.

That was mainly due to the fact that the Presbyterian Guardian started in 1935. That independent publication aimed to promote biblical Presbyterianism in the United States. As such, the Guardian often carried news about the OPC, but its goals were broader. But by late 1979, subscriptions to the Guardian had decreased so much that the publication folded.

Struggling to Publish

In the intervening years, there was talk about starting a denominational magazine. In the early 1970s, George Knight spoke eloquently at a General Assembly about the need for the OPC to represent itself corporately in a publication. Someone proposed that the OPC try to transform the Guardian to serve that purpose. But the editor of the Guardian made it clear that he prized the editorial freedom of the Guardian and would never serve as editor under the oversight of the church. My heart sank; we were Presbyterians, weren't we? We believed that church oversight was good, helpful—and, well, biblical. I had no idea that a few years later I would have the opportunity to start a denominational magazine for the OPC.

The General Assembly's committees had been publicizing their ministries through separate publications and letters to pastors and sessions. But it was never clear how much of that information was being relayed to other members of their congregations. In fact, George Haney, general secretary for Home Missions, was dismayed at how many publications of his committee he found lying in piles on tables or in offices as he visited churches. Apparently the distribution system wasn't working well, and Mr. Haney became convinced that direct mailings to church members would be much more effective.

In 1979 the General Assembly approved a plan to start a denominational magazine that would incorporate all the promotional material of the major denominational ministries into one publication and also include a prayer calendar, letters to the editor, a feature article, and instructional and informative articles. Clearly the assembly wanted a whole-church publication with wide appeal, rather than a theological journal.

Beginning to Publish

I had been chosen by the Committee on Christian Education in 1979 to be its new general secretary, and now the General Assembly assigned that Committee the task of publishing the denominational magazine. Put another hat on, Schmurr; you're the editor.

Would the churches be willing to give the Committee the addresses of its members so that we could send New Horizons directly to them? The answer was an overwhelming yes. Only a handful of sessions requested that we send the magazine in bulk to their churches. Some were concerned about the expense of individual mailings; others were probably concerned about what the contents of the magazine would be.

Caution was the name of the game; we had to gain the confidence of the church. Yet we couldn't overlook important issues and controversy. The first issue, for instance, included a report on homosexuality adopted by the Presbytery of Southern California and news that First OPC of San Francisco had been sued for firing the church organist for being an unrepentant homosexual.

I soon realized that the General Assembly hadn't included funding for writing, art, or illustrations—and only a small amount for layout. John Tolsma, the art director for Great Commission Publications, made the little go a long way. One time, to demonstrate the need of the OPC in Gettysburg for a new worship facility, he jammed a photo of the congregation into an opened sardine can and took a photo of that. The church got its new auditorium.

Fortunately people in the denomination were quite willing to write for the magazine, even though we offered no honoraria. Both ministers and church members were interested in telling others about their ministries and what God was teaching them. And, of course, news of home and foreign missions, Christian education projects, and diaconal work appeared regularly.

Desktop publishing also cut costs considerably when we purchased a Mac computer in 1986. The good news was that we paid less for outside help; the bad news was that most of the layout now rested on my shoulders. Too often I jammed more copy onto a page than a reader could handle; it took me a long time to realize that less is more when it comes to content and readability. A few times I pulled all-nighters in order to make publishing deadlines. Fortunately, Ali Knudsen served as a very capable proofreader and faithfully caught my mistakes the next morning.

Almost immediately upon beginning to publish New Horizons, I faced a delicate situation. The OPC's Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations had been in conversation with representatives of the Presbyterian Church in America concerning church union. Since this dealt with the very existence of the OPC, the Magazine Subcommittee of the Committee on Christian Education decided that it was important that New Horizons carry information about the talks between the denominations, so that all church members could be kept aware of what might develop.

When the PCA issued an invitation to the OPC in 1980 to join it, the OPC's ecumenicity committee strongly recommended that the OPC accept it, and the 1981 General Assembly voted for union. However, more than a quarter of the PCA's presbyteries voted not to ratify the invitation to the OPC, and the matter was put on hold. However, in 1985 the General Assembly of the PCA voted again to invite the OPC to join it, but in 1986 the OPC's General Assembly fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to accept the invitation.

As you can imagine, opinions about the PCA's invitation were quite varied. New Horizons published information that the OPC's Committee on Ecumenicity provided. Articles pro and con were published, as were interviews with key people. The history of both denominations appeared on the pages of the magazine, and letters to the editor were plentiful. Ironically, some people suggested that the magazine demonstrated a pro-union bias in the early 1980s, but the information that we published basically came from the Committee on Ecumenicity, which recommended church union. It was a classic case of shooting the messenger. Vindication came when the General Assembly entrusted New Horizons in 1986 with the task of devoting an entire issue to the question of the OPC joining and being received by the PCA.

Enjoying Publishing

I was delighted with the news that poured into my office from OP congregations and which ended up on the pages of the magazine. I also traveled to many congregations on behalf of the Committee on Christian Education, so I was able to gather news firsthand. One Sunday evening I was in Pastor Rollin Keller's home in the Los Angeles area while he hosted fifty to sixty young adults from OP churches in the area for a time of singing and fellowship. Impressed with the event, I grabbed my camera and took several candid shots. I could have produced an interesting photo spread in the magazine if only I had remembered to put film in my camera!

Lots of ministry was taking place in our churches. Diaconal ministry took on many forms as churches reported on pro-life activities, refugee settlement, foster parenting, offerings for the poor, and help for the handicapped. One reader sent in several thousand dollars to help poor children attend Christian schools. Congregations were sending members on short-term mission trips, not only to places in the U.S., but also around the world. In each issue leading up to the OPC's semicentennial celebration in 1986, I published five ideas that congregations were using to move forward.

The topics covered were wide ranging. Two readers were burned up over Pastor Al Edwards's article promoting cremation and wrote a compelling rebuttal. Worship, preaching, the Resurrection, creation/evolution, pluralism, Islamic history, and Star Wars were all fair game. People such as Paul Woolley, John Galbraith, Cal Cummings, Jay Adams, and J. I. Packer appeared in interviews.

Imperfect saints, of course, do some curious things, and I enjoyed trying to capture church humor in the magazine. Neil Tolsma slipped me some notes left in the pews where he pastored. One read, "Knock three times if we're having roast beef for lunch." A commissioner to the General Assembly admitted, "Mr. Moderator, I'm having trouble thinking on my feet," only to hear a voice from the crowd respond, "That's the wrong end!" The late Henry Coray described the quirky situations that pastors sometimes get into when calling on people in the hospital. He wrote about one hard-of-hearing parishioner, "You quickly learned that if someone shot off a cannon under the elderly squire's bed, he'd think it was a mosquito's burp."

Coray wrote that with a twinkle in his eye. He loved and enjoyed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and its people, and that showed in the way he spoke and wrote about them. I tried to convey something of the same thing.

The author is an editor for Christian Schools International. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 2005.

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