A Rare Treasure

This past year, we’ve been celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Friends Journal.

It’s been quite a time, with cakes and speeches galore. For us at the Journal, both staff and Board members, it’s been a remarkable year. I hope that you have enjoyed one aspect or another of our celebration.

Several things have been on my mind during 2005, throughout this celebration. While we’re clear that the articles published in Friends Journal are not the same as vocal ministry offered in meeting for worship, the words in our pages do in fact minister to our readers. It is quite common for Friends to approach me with comments about individual articles or whole issues. Elizabeth Yeats, clerk of our Board and a widely-traveled Friend, has similar experiences as she travels among Friends across the U.S.

I gather from the feedback we receive that many individuals look to the Journal for spiritual inspiration and connection to the wider Quaker community—and find it. One of our faithful volunteer news editors, Robert Marks, pores over hundreds of monthly meeting newsletters each month, culling information to be shared in our news department. He also regularly reports to me that Friends Journal is often mentioned in these newsletters, frequently with suggestions about how to use a particular article or encouragement to take note of something that’s appeared in our pages. The volume of manuscripts volunteered to us for consideration each year is about 400, continuously challenging us editors to keep up with reading and responding to them all.

I believe this vibrant engagement implies several things. Friends care deeply about many topics and find comfort, encouragement, and release in sharing their concerns with other Friends. Additionally, Quakers are accustomed to taking large personal responsibility for the functioning of their religious community, which leads many individuals both to a sense of personal empowerment and to little patience with approaching religious experience as passive "consumers." An empowered community is far more likely to want to share what it has to say. Quaker enthusiasm for seeking also implies sharing what we find as we proceed. The Journal‘s long history, going back 179 years if we include our predecessor publications, bespeaks a deep need felt by Friends over the decades to communicate with each other and to speak Truth as plainly and eloquently as we are able in a format that is readily shared with others.

As we’ve celebrated 50 years under the banner of Friends Journal, I’ve often reflected on how rare it is for a publication to survive for so many years. We are currently living through very hard times for independent publishers. Large progressive publications, such as Utne Reader, have openly struggled to stay afloat. Other independent magazines with long histories, including some award-winning stalwarts among religious periodicals, have closed down in the past couple of years. Some large denominations have closed or reconfigured their publications, a further sign of trouble for those of us that are independent. Even among Friends, reading and writing enthusiasts that we are, publishing operations are being cut back or eliminated in various places across the branches of Quakerism.

These observations cause me to realize just how precious the existence of Friends Journal is. In a world where large corporations control most of the channels of public information; where freedom of speech is threatened along with individual civil rights; where the need to address the issues of injustice, inequity, sustainability, human rights, and freedom is rapidly escalating; the need for outlets for thoughtful, independent voices could not be greater. We Friends are in possession of a very rare treasure, one that I hope we guard carefully, particularly in such an environment.