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The Power of the Theological Pen: A Brief History of Religious Newspapers in the Diocese of Ohio
For Christians the power of the theological pen dates back to the epistles written by and/or attributed to St. Paul. Along with the Gospels, these letters were written and circulated in the early church as theological teaching and were eventually gathered together into what we know as our canon of Scripture. The invention of the printing press allowed for greater circulation of the Word and has provided more opportunity to get out the Word of God. The Church in Ohio has also depended on the power of the theological pen to teach and to work for the spread of the Good News.

The Gambier Observer was the first periodical published by The Episcopal Church in the Midwest. Its founder and sponsor was the Rt. Rev. Philander Chase, the first bishop of Ohio. The first edition came off of a printing press on May 28, 1830. The press and movable type were donated to Chase by Lady Lydia Elizabeth Hoare Acland, spouse of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland of England. It was “Devoted to the Interests of Religion in the Protestant Episcopal Church.” The first editor was Professor William Sparrow of Kenyon College, later of the Virginia Theological Seminary. With the first issue of Vol. 8 in 1837, the name was expanded to The Gambier Observer and Western Church Journal. In 1840, it was moved from Gambier to Cincinnati, and the name was changed to Western Episcopal Observer. It ceased publication in the fall of 1842. Its tradition was carried on by Western Episcopalian, which began publication in Gambier in August 1843.

Western Episcopalian was a journal published from August 11, 1843 until June 25, 1868. It had various changes in ownership, editorship, name, and frequency of publication. The tagline included “Speaking the Truth in Love” and also the Latin phrase “In neccesariis unitas–in non necessariis libertas–in omnibus charitas,” which translated reads “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Standard of the Cross was a weekly periodical which continued the work of the Western Episcopalian. It began publication on Aug. 22, 1868 in Gambier and was published until June 16, 1887. The editor was the Rev. William C. French. He and his family are admirable examples of extraordinary ministers in the early years of the Diocese of Ohio and The Episcopal Church: rector of St. Luke’s Church, Granville, Ohio (1846- 1849); rector of St. Peter’s, Delaware, Ohio (1850-1858); rector of Christ Church, Oberlin (1858-1873); assistant at St. Paul’s Church, Cleveland (1873-1886); and Secretary of the Diocesan Convention (1846-1887). Standard of the Cross merged with The Church, which was published in Philadelphia. It was from that time edited by French’s son, and continued from July 2, 1887, until May 7, 1892.

The first issue of Church Life was published in Cleveland, Ohio on July 2, 1887. On the front page was an editorial which stated the “distinctive aim” was to reach every parish in the Diocese (and adjoining dioceses) with reports of special interest so that the readers of Church Life would know what is occurring in each parish church. The anonymous editor made a strong statement that Church Life was not meant to be a successor to Standard of the Cross (which had been removed from Cleveland to Philadelphia) but that Church Life was “in full harmony” with Standard of the Cross.

Church Life began as a weekly journal of 14 pages. Subscription for one year cost one dollar. It was published by the Williams Publishing Company in Cleveland, Ohio. The first edition reported on the Seventieth Annual Convention which had assembled at St. Timothy’s Church in Massillon in June. The paper included Bishop Bedell’s address to the 1887 convention which referenced not only his disapproval at the prospect of a “new” prayer book and his opinion against a proposed change in name of the Protestant Episcopal Church (to use the term “Catholic” as all-inclusive), but also his horror at finding a lifesized crucifix and an altar dedicated to St. Mary in St. John’s Church, Toledo. Additionally, there were news-notes from several parishes around Cleveland and a very interesting article entitled “How We Managed Our Surpliced Choir” by the Rev. J. H. Van Buren. The second edition of Church Life included a tagline “The Care of All the Churches” and promoted its weekly publication as “Independent in thought. Independent in utterance. Devoted to the interests of the Church." Its aims were listed as to give news: first, of the parish; second, of the Diocese; third, of the Church at large; fourth, a weekly resume of Church opinion; and fifth, a summary of Christian work among “all who profess and call themselves Christians of whatever name or denomination.” Over the next three months the paper began to include Letters to the Editor, advertisements, hymn texts (poetry), train schedules, obituaries, and the table of contents for Harper’s Magazine. The thematic material for articles included: temperance, liturgical practices, “altar societies” (pre-cursors to parish altar guilds), the importance of Sunday School, the Psalms, the Bible, and the Episcopacy.

After 15 weekly editions, it was announced on October 15, 1887 that Church Life would be published monthly instead of weekly due to low subscriptions. In the November 15, 1887 edition of Church Life, it was announced that the rector of Trinity Church, Cleveland, the Rev. Yelverton Payton Morgan, was assuming “editorial charge.” It also revealed that the anonymous editor for the first four months was none other than the owner of the Williams Publishing Company, W. W. Williams.

Next time: Church Life, a journal for the seasons of the Church in Ohio.
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