Richard J. Foster delivered a talk twenty-five years ago at the Barclay Press Partners in Publishing Dinner. In that talk, Richard noted “a lot of shifting going on in the industry” – four Christian publishing houses were sold that year, one was seeking a buy out, one was on the auction block, and two more had gone out of business. Richard commended Barclay Press for surviving and offered “a few modest suggestions . . . in the days ahead.”
- That we would maintain our distinctive Quaker identity while communicating more and more effectively “with the broader Christian family and society at large.”
- That we “will always be publishers of truth.”
- That we might seek after “the crisp, the clear, and the imaginative.”
What nobody seemed to know at the time was that the world of publishing was going to keep shifting. In fact, it’s still shifting. Every year, there are more staff cuts, name changes, buyouts, selloffs, and shutdowns. And here at Barclay Press, we’re still surviving. One of the reasons we’ve made it this far is that advice Richard offered back in 1992 – it was really good advice.
First, “the central insights of Quaker life and faith are – of all the groups – the most transferable into other cultural and faith contexts,” Richard said. “This is due to the expressly spiritual nature of Quaker convictions. . . . Another advantage is simply that Quakers are perceived in a positive light in the general culture. This impression may not be all that well deserved, but we can certainly make use of it.”
Second, Richard claimed that “Quakers called themselves ‘publishers of truth’ precisely because they refused to pander.” Successful publishers know that the best way to sell a book is to make it “fit the fears of the people. In religious circles it is especially helpful to tap into some conspiracy theory.” But Quakers should not be “peddlers of gossip.”
Third, “We need to love words, to love their sound, to love their meaning, to love their history, to love their rhythm. We need to abhor the cheap sentence that prostitutes words for the purpose of propaganda. We need to be willing to hurt, to cry, to sweat, in order to capture the great image.”
I share Richard’s words because I think they hold true, not just for Barclay Press, but for each of our faith communities. To make a difference in the world, we must be able to communicate more effectively with society at large. We must tell the truth. And we must choose our words with care.
P.S. As the end of 2018 approaches, you’ll be receiving reminders from all kinds of non-profits who need your financial support in order to continue doing the work to which they’ve been called. The same is true for us at Barclay Press, so I hope you’ll keep us in mind. If you aren’t able to send a check or give a donation online, send your words of wisdom – I can always use a little bit of solid advice – and please remember to pray for us.