Ten years ago I became editor of The Lutheran. It was a position I had applied for previously but didn’t receive, so I assumed the door of opportunity had shut. Things changed.
Edgar Trexler served as the first editor of the ELCA’s version of The Lutheran from 1988 to 1999.
Upon his retirement, David Miller, the magazine’s senior editor, became editor. When he left in 2005 for a position with an ELCA seminary, I applied again for the job and pop — the door reopened.
Formed by decades in secular journalism, it took some time to get fully in place as editor. As a cradle Lutheran, I knew the church and had covered the merger of what became the ELCA, but working inside a denomination required a whole new education in institutions, processes, people and policies.
Over the past decade the magazine has been able to not only inform ELCA members with news, features and columns, but also help raise understanding around key issues so members could cope with decisions that impact the church. Just two examples were the cover articles of January 2013 (“The shrinking church”) and November 2014 (“The ELCA’s aging clergy wave”).
What couldn’t be seen 10 years ago was a coming terrible threesome for any publication: a church-dividing controversy, the Great Recession, and a societal shift in reading to ever smaller electronic devices along with increasingly narrow fields of reader interest. These combined to halve The Lutheran’s circulation despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on marketing and promotions.
What’s kept me charged over the years are encouraging conversations with members at synod assemblies (I’ve attended 56) and elsewhere and letters to the editor about the positive impact the ELCA has in the world. Thank you all. While negative correspondence takes a toll, one letter tops all types for cleverness. A pastor, upset over coverage of sexuality issues, disparaged the magazine, adding: “Maybe the most edifying thing is the obituaries. Some of my friends don’t need to read [The Lutheran] any longer.”
Regardless, it’s an honor to be editor of The Lutheran, but all things must pass. I turn 65 in two months and have informed my supervisors of my intention to retire. My last day at the magazine will be Feb. 19. It’s time for change.