December’s edition will be the 300th issue of Crosslight. To mark the occasion we asked three former editors to write about their time producing the publication and to reflect on its role serving Synod and the wider church.
Editor: Bruce Best
“The biggest single issue over those 15-plus years was sexuality, especially homosexuality.”
It was a bold move at the start of the 1990s. Launch a new magazine, a quality church journal, building on the base others had created. People would pay to subscribe, receive it in the snail mail, and be impressed by the colour and style of its 40 pages.
I wrote in the first edition that the basic job was “to reflect the church’s life. This needs to happen in ways that make sense not only to loyal members. It should also interest people who have withdrawn from the institution, or the faith, but who stay hopeful or at least curious”.
In other words, I was determined that Crosslight should not be a “house magazine”. It wouldn’t just assume that readers knew who the moderator was, or were waiting anxiously to hear the latest decisions by Synod. And maybe they had doubts and difficulties with Christian orthodoxy.
The stories? I was editor from editions one (February 1992) to 169, and the biggest single issue over those 15-plus years was sexuality, especially homosexuality. It began in 1992 when a church task group was appointed to “report on the way the church should respond to changing patterns of human relationships and sexuality in our society”.
It was still making news in February 2004, when the page one story was headed “Growing support for gays”. It reported survey findings of “a rising acceptance [by the Uniting Church] of homosexual people as members and as leaders”.
Shock, horror. Some talked of having that Crosslight “pulped”. There were claims it would cut giving to mission, and moves to stop that edition being distributed to church members. But now, in 2019, it’s pretty clear the survey finding was accurate, and the story was fair in holding the church up to itself.
Other stories that resonated then and continue to do so included:
Climate change: This featured in the first edition under the headline “Has the Garden of Eden gone sour?”
Communication: A report in April 1995 noted that new information technology was behind a major shift in our lives. It warned that most churches were still caught in the old forms of thought and communication. It said only four out of 307 Victorian parishes had a modem.
Spirituality: The page one lead story in May 2000 predicted “exciting times” ahead if churches could “build a bridge between religion and the rising public interest in spirituality”. Most spirituality was “happening outside the churches”.
Numbers: The April 2002 edition reported that the Uniting Church was “getting older”. About 56 per cent of all its members were aged over 60, and people over 70 made up more than a third of members. Two editions later, a report said the church was facing “an alarming scarcity” of people offering to become ordained.
Interfaith: Page one in November 2002 had a story headed “Church-Muslim link urgent”. It said the rise of terrorism had led churches to set up new interfaith contacts and new ways of practical witness against violence.
Australia Day: Back in August 1997, Crosslight reported that the national Assembly had asked the Federal Government to identify a new Australia Day date with a “greater power to unite than 26 January”.
The issues we covered dealt with misunderstandings, politics, financial problems, disputes and anger as well as commitment, hope, good sense and growth. They also won us quite a few awards.
Crosslight stands up pretty well. I think it has communicated the faith, action and accountability of the church – to itself and the wider community.
The Australasian Religious Press Association recognised Bruce with its Gutenberg Award for Excellence in 2003. Now retired, he is a presenter with Vision Australia Radio.
Managing and executive editor: Kim Cain
“I never saw Crosslight as a news organ that would ‘toe the party line’.”
As I look across the editions of Crosslight from my time as managing editor, then as executive editor, the things that stand out are the people: the people of the church working consistently at the faith in thought and deed – and how little things have changed over the decade since I left Synod communications.
The first front page story I edited for the September 2007 edition was the Governor of Victoria, David de Kretsa, a Uniting Church member, calling on the church “to lead the climate change debate’.
That issue kept on reappearing, including on the spot reporting from the shores of world’s lowest laying nation, Tuvalu in the Pacific.
I never saw Crosslight as a news organ that would ‘toe the party line’.
Ordinary voices spoke, and those in leadership – who had plenty of exposure in multiple places – were quoted when they had something to say and not just fill columns.
We wanted the paper to be a ‘common ground’ for all the church, allowing all the people of the church and those who observe it, to see and hear itself on our pages.
So we drew on the wisdom of the church in getting many voices to offer spiritual reflections, comment and perspective on the things we faced together.
I’ve always felt that Christian communication is an act that stands clearly under the care of the creative word of God. Christian Communication is a life-giving enterprise and each word, image used relates to truth. Ideals, worth preserving.
There were the bumpy bits along the way: quite a few people were less than happy at an article, ‘Ecumenical Emergency’, which took a hard look at ecumenism and life at the World Council of Churches.
But all this was about allowing church publication to speak into not just the public square but the sometimes ‘unspoken’ issues within the church itself. All the along the Good News of Jesus was present. I hope.
Then there was the catastrophe we cannot forget, the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
The wave of community goodwill that surged in the days following engulfed the Uniting Church, as we tried to make our responses: practical, communal and spiritual.
Our little paper, Crosslight, was determined to cover that response, as we knew many of our people would be there front and centre: some victims, some firefighters, some neighbours, many community responders now.
Our wider church needed to know how our church went about its task of faith in action.
I had heard a little community church had been razed, and so made some enquiries. I found a farming family, with links to the Uniting Church, who had themselves, fought flames to protect their home.
It was at a rural area called Baynton – just a few blistering miles from where the seat of original East Kilmore fire that would eventually grow to sweep through the areas north of Melbourne -taking lives, homes and futures before it.
I visited the family, driving around burnout out trees and thick ash lined roads. As I arrived I saw the burnt paddocks run up right up to the farmhouse door. Fence posts along the side of the house were but cinders; fruit on the trees next to the side walls had stewed in their own juice on blackened branches.
Inside an exhausted Pip and Jenny Easton spoke of the engulfing fear of that day: of father and son taking refuge from the radiant heat behind the house only to run out again and again to battle the flames.
Acres of loss surrounded them yet, they felt lucky in the face of the losses in other places.
At the end of the interview I asked Pip and Jenny if they would let me take their photograph in front of the home. They agreed and stoically stood before the camera. When I suggested they might move closer together, something gave: husband and wife fell into each other’s arms, a kiss, a hug and a wave of love and emotion came over the place out there on the burnt lawn.
It was a tender of moment that still lingers in my mind.
Kim Cain spent 13 years in comms roles at Synod, finishing in 2010. From that time he has been Minister at St. Leonard’s Brighton Beach and until recently acted as Communications Secretary of the Global Christian Forum, a unique international entity that brings together all the major Christian families.
Editor: Deb Bennett
“Crosslight never shirked from the difficult issues and shone a light in places that perhaps some wished remained dark.”
I was employed as editor of Crosslight in August 2008. To say I was thrown in at the deep-end would be an understatement.
Within weeks of starting in the role, the minister at St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne, Rev Dr Francis Macnab, launched a “new faith for the 21st century”.
The “new faith” was publicised via a $120,000 advertising campaign that included newspaper, radio and social media advertising.
Macnab said Moses was a mass murderer, Abraham was concocted, and Jesus was a Jewish peasant and certainly not God. He described the Ten Commandments as “one of the most negative documents ever written” and developed his own version of the commandments.
As letters to the editor and theological opinion pieces came pouring in to Crosslight, I quickly learnt what it meant to work for an organisation that values diversity.
Just a few months later, I witnessed the church at work “on the ground”, helping the most vulnerable in society in their time of need.
On 7 February 2009, 173 people were killed and hundreds were left homeless when bushfires devastated communities throughout Victoria. Church halls became makeshift kitchens and drop-off points for donated goods, congregations began fund-raising and UCA Camping set up temporary villages for those whose homes were destroyed.
Throughout the next decade Crosslight covered many stories that were important, not only to the life of the church, but to contemporary Australian society. While the Federal Government is yet to agree on the relationship between Indigenous Australians and the parliament, it is worth noting that 10 years ago Crosslight reported on the decision of the UCA Assembly to adopt a revised preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution.
Crosslight never shirked from the difficult issues and shone a light in places that perhaps some wished remained dark. The stories of survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, those who were raised in children’s homes and mothers forced to relinquish newborns highlighted the lasting impact of decisions made by the church long ago.
Perhaps the busiest time for the communications unit was following the closure of UCA school Acacia College and the subsequent sale of properties to recover the debt. The comms team became the focal point for the wider church community as we fielded phone calls, emails and letters from those expressing their disappointment, anger, hurt and resentment of the decision makers in the church.
In many ways the UCA represents a microcosm of society at large. Issues such as marriage equality, dying with dignity, asylum seeker policies and safe injecting rooms were all covered in the pages of Crosslight through the lens of a faith community.
Some of my favourite stories were those told by the “people in the pews”: women’s sewing groups making sanitary products for young girls in India; the chance airport meeting that lead to a congregation supporting an orphanage in Uganda; Men’s Sheds tackling mental health issues in suburbia and community dinners bringing different faith groups together highlighted that in many cases, one person (or a committed group) really can make a difference.
And that, for me is the lasting memory I have as editor of Crosslight.
Deb Bennett was managing editor of Crosslight for nearly 10 years. In 2018 a “tree change” beckoned and she moved to a small vineyard in country Victoria where she and her family run a couple of B&Bs.