By Richard J. Mammana, Jr.
The first issue of The Living Church, dated November 2, 1878, invited its small group of midwestern American readers to be active, informed Christians, influencing their local communities to encourage the highest possible standards in church teaching, preaching, music, art, architecture, and social service.
The first editors, Samuel Harris and John Fulton, found the Episcopal Church in the late nineteenth century tired and divided; their choice of the name Living Church was noteworthy, intentional, and perhaps a little critical. More than 130 years later, the vitality of their initial vision lives on in the work of the Living Church Foundation.
The first century of The Living Church was a period of remarkable growth. Its development from a relatively small weekly of 24 pages (the mailing list was initially taken from the newsletter of the Diocese of Chicago) into a major international magazine could be the subject of a full-length book. The Living Church articulated a vision of Christianity commonly called “High Church” or “Anglo-Catholic,” in reference to nineteenth-century theological disputes.
In modern terms, it would be more accurate to say that TLC urged its readers from the outset to be Christians who were aware of the global and interconnected nature of the Church. The magazine’s voice said to its readers around the world that what happened in churches in Milwaukee and Chicago mattered in London — not to mention New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Paris, Berlin, Philadelphia, Sydney, and Tokyo.
The mutual obligations of Christians on earth were non-negotiable for The Living Church’s early writers; just as important were the obligations of Christians alive today to serve as links in the great chain of tradition, receiving and sharing the teaching and practice of earlier generations, mindful of generations to come.
The editorial tenures of a father and son, Frederic Cook Morehouse (1900-32) and Clifford Phelps Morehouse (1932-52), left their strong and enduring stamp on the magazine, and cemented its national reputation for journalistic integrity. Even as other periodicals focusing exclusively on the Episcopal Church dissolved or severely curtailed their operations, The Living Church flourished during this period as the major venue for the church’s internal discussions about its own identity. It became the publication of record for ordinations, appointments, obituaries, and official pronouncements, while still retaining its institutional and editorial independence.
Throughout the twentieth century The Living Church articulated careful editorial positions on matters of national and international importance. It was among the strongest critics in the American periodical press of German anti-Semitism. TLC opposed the internment of Japanese American civilians during the Second World War, balancing criticism of what it believed to be government wrongdoing with ardent wartime patriotism.
After the war, the magazine offered a voice of Christian reason in civil-rights debates. It continues to provide a forum for intelligent discussion of major social questions and news events from thoughtful perspectives. The Living Church survived the party politics among which it came into being, remaining the best and most accessible source for feature stories, book reviews, opinion, news, commentary, and always popular (and often cantankerous) letters to the editor.
Since its formal non-profit incorporation in 1953, the Living Church Foundation has expanded its publishing activities regularly. Each year since 1983, it has produced The Episcopal Musician’s Handbook, offering guidance about hymn selection in coordination with appointed lectionary texts and seasonal customs of the church. A quarterly publication, Illuminations, serves as an aid in Sunday worship by offering succinct introductions to the readings to encourage congregational comprehension. Since 1997, a website at livingchurch.org has moved much of the content of The Living Church to the internet.
Today, the Living Church Foundation carries on the work of its formative early leaders with a keen awareness of their principled contributions to the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. So strong is the continuity from 1878 to the present that the editorial from the very first issue of The Living Church could be republished today with no sense of incongruity or anachronism for editors or readers:
in spite of all our transitory parties, our changing schools of thought, our old traditions and new tendencies, there is nevertheless “One Body and One Spirit, even as ye are called in One Hope of your calling: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all [Eph. 4:4-5].”
Then, as now, the focus of the Living Church Foundation and its publications is on a living faith, a generous and abiding faith, and a Christian mission to build up and share all that is good in the gifts that a living Church has to share with the world.
Richard J. Mammana, Jr., a student at Yale Divinity School, serves on the Board of the Living Church Foundation.