How mission sustains the church: An appreciation of New World Outlook

July 24, 2018

Submitted by Thomas Kemper
General Secretary, General Board of Global Ministries

For 108 years, one of the communication channels that helped to sustain Methodist commitment to mission has been a series of magazines we know by its current title, New World Outlook. I want to pay tribute to the magazine, its editor, and its readers in these lines because this is the last regular issue of New World Outlook as a traditional print-format publication—the official mission magazine of The United Methodist Church. The final issue—publishing in October—will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the first missionary society in the lineage of the General Board of Global Ministries. What comes next is a matter of serious, prayerful consideration by Global Ministries’ directors and staff. Be sure that the church will not be left without sources of easily available and inspiring mission information in this age of multiple media options.

And along with tribute to New World Outlook, I also want to reflect, at this point of major communication’s transition, on a corollary to this issue’s theme, “sustaining the church in mission.” By this I mean, the way in which mission sustains the church.

Mission Sustains the Church

A magazine that exists over a long period of time develops an ethos, almost a soul, reflective of its sponsorship and goals and a kind of covenant between editorial staff and readers. This ethos involves trust, shared commitments and, often, a common action agenda. New World Outlook, and its two immediate predecessors, World Outlook and The Missionary Voice, have embodied the best of what a magazine—notably a mission magazine—should be: trustworthy, inclusive, persuasive, and energetic. Its articles across the decades have been broadly informative and served as a prayer guide for mission issues and personnel and as a mission action guide.

Authentic Christian mission is a faithful response to God’s grace, but it is also action—faith in action through the proclamation of the gospel and service to others. So has it been from the first account we have of mission communication: the first Christian Pentecost celebration in Acts 2, the story of the enlivening of the embryonic church by the Holy Spirit. The action symbol is fire, the same fire of the spirit that rises in the cross and flame logo of The United Methodist Church.

The Holy Spirit comes in Acts 2, not as some foggy specter, a ghostly apparition, but as flames that touch the hearts and lips of the apostles. The flames in the story reach ears in a throng of religious pilgrims from many lands and languages. Numerous pilgrims hear and respond; they feel the heat and see the light of the Word, the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

I am sure the Pentecost passage inspired Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner’s famous axiom, “The church exists for mission, just as fire exists for burning.” No fire, no burning; no mission, no church.

The church lives by and for mission; the church is mission, the consuming, inextinguishable flames of faith ignited by the Holy Spirit. And much like that first Pentecost, the church must announce itself and answer the question of those amazed and perplexed pilgrims in Acts 2:12, “What does this mean?” The church’s response is the story and stories of God’s mission in many lands and languages, inexhaustible attitudes and acts of love, justice, mercy, and hope.

Heritage


New World Outlook
 and its forerunners have used words and images to portray the church sustained by mission and active in mission, sharing what it means to live as a diverse people bold in faith through Jesus Christ. Its first embodiment as The Missionary Voiceemerged from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1911. This was a time of great mission optimism linked in part to the evangelistic fervor represented by the 1910 first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, an event imbued with a European and American hope of converting the world to Christ in one generation.

World Wars I and II significantly dashed the hopes of Edinburgh but brought a new awareness of the humanitarian aspects of mission. It is not surprising that the magazine’s first decade would emphasize the spiritual and physical needs of children. World War II brought new theological challenges as a supposedly “Christian nation” was 
responsible for the Holocaust. From the start, the magazine showed awareness that mission takes place in the world, not just inside the church walls, and for Methodists to be in mission, they must observe and respond to what happens in the world. World War I and the subsequent Great Depression signaled the need for international peace and ministries of justice and mercy. War and economic depravity required new patterns of missionary service and mission support, as reflected in the magazine’s pages.

The name was changed to The World Outlook in 1934, and five years later, World Outlookbecame the mission publication of The Methodist Church, formed by the union of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. The word “new” became part of the title in 1970 when the magazine merged with “new,” a multimedia service launched by the then United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was a move toward the greater use of pictures and art in the pages.

The magazine became a valuable asset to mission education in general and, specifically, with supplemental material for annual mission studies sponsored by the women’s mission movement, represented today by United Methodist Women. It also provides a sustained permanent record of mission growing and sustaining the church in many cultures and nations, so that The United Methodist Church today has missionaries in 60 countries and projects and partners in more than 125 lands. Over the last 25 years, it has reported on 15 new or restored mission initiatives that since 2009 have resulted in the more than 1,000 new Methodist faith communities. The missionaries it profiles in successive issues serve “from everywhere to everywhere.” Fortunately, the uninterrupted run of three magazines is preserved in searchable digital form by Global Ministries in partnership with the Commission on Archives and History of the denomination. The archive can be accessed on the internet at http://archives.gcah.org/xmlui/handle/10516/1279.

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The Missionary Voice, October 1918 cover, Wesley House Clinic in Macon, Georgia; A woman at a weekly prayer meeting in Taichung, Taiwan, a photo by Japanese photographer Toge Fujihira for the January 1963 World Outlook; The Winter 2017 cover of New World Outlook, featuring a window from Grace UMC in Atlanta, photo by Kathleen Barry/UMNS.
 

Editors

The magazine over the span of years maintained a high level of editorial and, in recent decades, graphic excellence, winning many accolades from denominational and ecumenical/interfaith communications specialists. This would not have been possible without excellent editors of deep commitment to Jesus Christ, the church, and the mission movement, and keen senses of journalistic integrity.

We count 15 persons who have been editors since 1911. From 1911 up until 1965, editors served in teams, one man and one woman. This came about because, at the outset, The Missionary Voice resulted from the merger of a Methodist Episcopal Church, South, general mission publication and two others that served women’s mission work. It seemed logical to recognize gender factors on the masthead. Then from 1940 to 1964, half of the space in each issue of World Outlook was devoted to the Women’s Society of Christian Service, a forerunner of United Methodist Women. In 1964, mission operations were reorganized and the magazine given a single editor, who happened to be a man, Arthur J. Moore, Jr.

Dorothy McConnell, the female half of the editorial team in 1964, went on to become the first head of the new Woman’s Division of what was unfolding as the Board of Global Ministries. Ms. McConnell had joined the magazine as co-editor in 1940 and served the longest in that role. She shared the editorship for 15 years with Elmer T. Clark, pastor, historian, mission executive, and fundraiser. The McConnell-Clark team was remarkably effective, in part because both were, during and after their years at the magazine, influential leaders in the Methodist world, living long, honorable lives in service to God’s mission. During his last 20 years, Clark led the Association of Methodist Historical Societies and the American section of the World Methodist Council. McConnell had a formative impact on the Women’s Division of Global Ministries.

Arthur Moore was the editor for 22.5 years and an associate editor for 11 years with McConnell, so had the longest staff association with the magazine. Moore expanded the “world” scope of the publication, and he provided through New World Outlook editorial leadership for United Methodist engagement in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s into the 1990s. It was during his tenure that “new” became part of the title. Both he and McConnell were children of Methodist bishops.

Two early editors, E.H. Rawlings, who came on board in 1926 and served through 1938, and Estelle Haskins, 1928-1940, died on the job. George Daniels, who succeeded Moore in 1987, was the first and only African-American editor, capping a distinguished career in Methodist communications.

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Publication editors, left to right: Dr. Eugene H Rawlings in 1937; Dorothy McConnell and Henry Sprinkler in 1953; Christie R. House, current editor, New World Outlook, Photo: Anthony Trueheart 

Christie House, the current editor, joined the magazine’s staff in 1996 and became editor in 2002, succeeding Alma who took the helm in 1991. House brought New World Outlookinto the digital age, extending an internet edition, upgrading the visuals, and reaching out through advances in technology to authors in remote parts of United Methodist mission outreach, bringing a new sense of immediacy and global connection. Under House’s leadership, the magazine recognized and respected “mission from the margins” before this concept was codified in Christian missiology by the World Council of Churches in 2013. She expanded New World Outlook’s vision; it became not only for the world but from the world, everywhere to everywhere in content and attitude. Skilled in both verbal expression and theological reflection, House has contributed significantly to shaping the contemporary vocabulary of mission. The recipient of numerous journalism awards, House and New World Outlook in 2017 received the Religious Communications Council’s DeRose-Hinkhouse Award for Best of Class in the periodicals category, the highest honor a religious magazine can achieve.

Readers

I want to extend special thanks to the thousands of faithful leaders of our mission magazine over the years and decades, and special appreciation to members of United Methodist Women, who have comprised a very large percentage of the subscribers. The church members and friends informed and inspired by articles and pictures are at once the initiators and the beneficiaries of the mission ministry of New World Outlook.

Into the Future

Many readers will acutely miss the magazine and, as indicated earlier, we are hard at work to provide alternative means of mission news and educational resources, notably in a social media age. Changing tides in communications no longer justified the expense of a print publication such as New World Outlook. Costs dictated a reduction of the frequency of the magazine from monthly to bi-monthly several years ago, and recently, to a quarterly; subscriptions have continued to move downward, and the staff has decreased to one person.

We solicit the prayers of the magazine’s friends and of the church at large as we consider communication options for the years immediately ahead. We must have relevant and quality channels to serve as reminders that mission sustains the church.

New World Outlook magazine has served as a mission pathway, and whatever comes after it must be as effective and as challenging, filled with the spirit of Pentecost, aware that, as our mission statement declares:

The Spirit is always moving to sweep the Church into a new mission age. With openness and gratitude, we await the leading of the Spirit in ways not yet seen as God continues to work God’s purposes out in our own day in a new way.

*Thomas G. Kemper is the general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries. Assistance with the historical research required for this article was provided by Christie House, editor of New World Outlook, and Elliott Wright, a long-time contributor to the magazine.