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New Horizons

Want to Pastor a Large Church?

Thomas E. Tyson

Become the editor of New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? As I reflect upon the privilege I had to labor in that job, that question does come to mind. I was sitting in a restaurant in Harare, Zimbabwe, back in 1988, when a member of the Committee on Christian Education (and my colleague on the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations), G. I. Williamson, voiced this query to me: "Tom, would you be interested in serving the church as editor of New Horizons?" Without skipping a beat, I answered him in the negative.

Well, G. I. merely smiled and allowed the tea to brew. A few weeks later I received a phone call from another Committee on Christian Education member, Don Poundstone. Wouldn't you know, they raised the stakes—now it became "CCE wants you to do it." That definitely got my attention, and the next thing I knew I was installed.

I served in that position for eleven years, and now the current editor wants me to reflect on my experience and commit it to writing, which I'll try to do in these lines.

Editing New Horizons was a humbling task. I don't say that it was a thankless job—many brethren verbally encouraged and supported me, for which I am grateful. It was humbling because of its responsibility. Even while enjoying the oversight and direction provided by the CCE and its Magazine Subcommittee, I felt the weight.

You have to make day-by-day decisions that are not always correctable after a goof! How do you handle a news item with proper sensitivity to both "the need to know" and the protection of privacy? Do you publish or not publish a letter to the editor that makes a powerful and intriguing point, but is couched in unacceptable language? Must "the other side" of every theological question, within the boundaries of our confessional position, be given equal treatment? I had to face these and dozens of similar dilemmas. And, as I discovered, I didn't always do the right thing. One time I needed to confess that to the GA, but the brothers were understanding and didn't fire me on the spot.

There were frustrating moments, too. One thing particularly comes to mind: it was often like pulling teeth to get contributors to get their copy in on time. It's endemic, apparently: writers think that publishing schedules are as elastic as India rubber. Another frustration was that folks regularly asked for their news item to appear in "the next month's issue"—you know, two weeks later. Little did they realize that I was holding it in my hands!

But more importantly, a few OP sessions simply refused to allow the publication to be sent to the homes of the members of their congregation, or to make it available on the book table in their worship facility unless they first had an opportunity to read it. Now, without questioning the admitted right and responsibility of the church session to shepherd its flock, I did question those decisions! Are the sheep so fragile and incapable of deciding for themselves what material is valid, helpful, and yes, Reformed? I guess I had a higher view of their competence than did some of my fellow elders.

But, oh, the rewards! I had the inestimable privilege of addressing Orthodox Presbyterians all over the country via the magazine and of giving voice to issues and concerns that I, together with my colleagues on the Committee on Christian Education, held to be important. And that, my dear reader, is certainly not chopped liver! Also, I had the joy of working with a faithful office staff that labored month after month, often without thanks, to get out the magazine.

And we should not forget Harmony Press, which has made a great contribution to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over the years. Without its cooperation, we would have needed red ink for our financial statements, and aspirin for our headaches. As I recall—unless the passage of time has served to embellish the story—one month, after they had printed a whole run of an issue, we discovered a modestly significant mistake in the way a woodcut print of John Calvin's visage appeared. Then Harmony Press said, "We'll reprint the issue." But I said no—I judged that it would be too expensive for them. Still, on other occasions, when they offered, I did allow them to take a lesser "hit." But that's the way we worked together as Christians, and the memory of it is a good one.

Are there perks for an editor? You bet. I made yearly trips to the Evangelical Press Association (the other EPA) conventions, with their high-powered speakers (John Ashcroft, for one), provocative and informative seminars, and satisfying networking. Another gift I received was simply learning how to edit text. For instance, I found out that we're supposed to use words themselves to make the emphases we're after, and not to rely on gimmicky fonts and all the formatting possibilities that are available. Also, and I suspect that you didn't know this one, we must never put just one comma in the middle of a sentence. We need two—did you notice how I did that in the immediately preceding sentence? I hadn't realized how important those little things are for comprehension.

I must confess that there were touchy times. Book reviews occasionally made the authors of the books go wild! Articles that I refused to publish because I judged that they contained unacceptable personal attacks, were sometimes published in full elsewhere! There were strong disagreements, even within the CCE, over such policies as whether or not to mandate issue themes following the seasonal commemorations of Christmas and Easter. But we got through these, anyway.

There was some fun, too. For example, art director John Tolsma once drew in a cigarette dangling from the mouth of a person in a cover photo (fortunately caught in time, before we had a church split!). Managing editor Jim Scott treated the office staff to imaginative spoofs. We rehashed the arguments over whether the word gospel should be capitalized or not. And we debated whether or not you should include a comma before the "and" in a series of three or more items. Oh, and the most important issue: whether or not to capitalize the word the in "T/the Orthodox Presbyterian Church." As you can see, we spent our time debating earth-shaking matters.

Now that I think back, I wonder: did anybody ever read New Horizons? I know, of course, that somebody did—judging by the letters. Oh, those letters—so earnest, often so angry, and sometimes so picky-picky. But what about the guy in the green pickup truck, whom one pastor's wife once cautioned me to keep in mind? Did he read the rag? I hope so, but I'll never know for sure.

I do know this, however: now that I'm not the editor anymore, and am relegated to the status of reader, I approach reading New Horizons somewhat differently. I'm much more selective, and must confess that I don't read every word. Still, since I'm an Orthodox Presbyterian, it's my magazine and I wish it well. I mean, what other Reformed denomination on the North American continent is willing to send into the homes of all its members (assuming, of course, that the session agrees) a carefully produced, monthly, free magazine by which they can be kept up-to-date on issues and news in their denomination? If I was blessed by being its editor for a few years, you are blessed by getting it all the time!

So I close by saying: May God bless you, editor Danny Olinger, and give you wisdom and strength for the task!

The author is the regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Reprinted from New Horizons, January 2005.

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