OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–With its ancestral roots stretching all the way back to the Antebellum period, the Baptist Messenger is celebrating its 90th birthday. From the time Baptist missionaries first began working among the Cherokees in what later would become Indian Territory to days when Oklahoma Baptists are carrying the good news of Jesus Christ to lost people groups on nearly every continent, the Messenger has gone about the business of “Sharing great news about our great God at work through great people.”
The Cherokee Messenger — first printed in August 1844, and devoted mainly to religious and temperance topics — was designed to “furnish a religious publication which will meet the wants of the Cherokee brethren of all denominations; and to solicit the kind cooperation of the friends of Christ to aid in the diffusion of religious truth that this portion of the Earth may soon become enlightened with the knowledge of the wonderful works of God, and of the way of life and salvation through the merits of the crucified Savior.”
Likewise, the Baptist Messenger continues that basic aim. Just as the Cherokee Messenger’s owners realized the synergy of “kind cooperation,” the Baptist Messenger has for most of its history relied on the generous gifts of Oklahoma Baptists contributing and working together through the Cooperative Program to share the gospel and tell the story of God at work through Oklahoma Baptists around the world.
In the Baptist Messenger’s inaugural issue of May 15, 1912 — only a month after the fateful sinking of the “unsinkable” luxury liner Titanic — editor C.P. Stealey summed up the aim of his privately owned, 16-page newsjournal: “This paper will earnestly support the organized work of the state and shall ever seek to be a helpful factor in solving the problems that are before us. We sincerely desire to be used for the glory of Christ and His cause in this state of abounding opportunity.”
Stealey continued publishing the Messenger through World War I before selling it to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma for $5,000 in 1919. Circulation of the Messenger when purchased by the BGCO in 1919 was 5,000. One year later, it had soared to 8,500. Today, more than 90,000 homes receive the weekly newsjournal, which is printed 50 times per year. The Messenger is the third-largest newspaper in the state, trailing only the Daily Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.
Stealey continued to serve as the editor of the Messenger through 1927. Since then, seven men have served as editor of the newsjournal: E.C. Routh, 1928-43; Porter Routh, 1943-45; Albert McClellan, 1945-49; Jack Gritz, 1949-79; Richard McCartney, 1979-87; Glenn Brown, 1987-97; and John Yeats, 1997-present.
Reflecting on the purpose of the Baptist Messenger, Yeats said he sees it as a tool that knits together the fabric of Oklahoma Baptist life, weaving together churches, associations, the state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Yeats said he hopes to keep the publication strong by communicating the truth while presenting it in a kind fashion.
Yeats wrote in his initial editorial, “My prayer is the Messenger is a media source that will go beyond information. I hope it is a tool of encouragement and a vehicle for sharing the Good News of what God is doing with Oklahoma Baptists and Southern Baptists. We hope you will find the Messenger a welcome friend that comes to your home each week. Once you read it, share some of its good news with your friends and family.”
In his “Perspective” column on Nov. 20, 1997, BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan said there is only one source that keeps the Baptist family informed about denominational news and events in Oklahoma and Southern Baptist life.
“That source is the Baptist Messenger,” Jordan wrote. “It is our primary source to stay informed about missions and ministry. Inspirational and doctrinal articles help us grow in our walk with the Lord. Feature stories tell us of unique ministries and people in the Baptist family. Helpful articles instruct us in family life, money matters and many other life issues.”
Jordan went on to say when church members do not receive the Messenger, the Baptist family is cut off from the one source that provides news about the very thing that binds Baptists together.
“I believe every Oklahoma Baptist needs to receive the Baptist Messenger,” Jordan concluded. “Few information sources produce such a positive potential for strengthening our commitment to cooperative ministry while keeping us informed of the global dimension of our work.”
In July 1999, the Messenger entered the new age of information with the debut of its webpage, which includes page one news stories, the weekly editorial and Jordan’s “Perspective,” as well as a church search, a search engine allowing readers to search for Messenger stories, online bookstore, e-mail subscription service, quick links to the SBC, BGCO, Falls Creek Baptist Assembly and BGCO ministry affiliates and a gospel presentation called GotLife.com.
During the past 20 years, there has been a decline in circulation among Baptist state papers, but the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger declined the least of all the large state Baptist papers.
“Our staff recognizes the sacred trust of Oklahoma Baptists,” Yeats said. “We remain the most widely distributed weekly news source in Oklahoma. Our mission is to provide our churches with a distinctive Baptist news source that encourages them to be on mission with God. Our goal is to print news, feature articles and information about God working through Oklahoma Baptists in Oklahoma, North America and the world.”
At its Feb. 5, 2002, meeting, the BGCO board of directors approved the purchase of a four-color “Quad-Stack” web press for the Messenger, which is used in conjunction with the print shop’s current Goss web press. The color press was to be in place for the production of the Messenger’s 90th anniversary edition in May.
“The new four-color printing press allows us a much greater opportunity to communicate with younger readers and gives our churches another tool for sharing what God is doing through his churches,” said Yeats, who added that the most significant accomplishment of his term as editor is the increased number of churches and associations using the special-page option, which is now up to 166.
“One of the clearest examples of cooperative Baptist life is churches and the convention working together to accomplish local church ministry goals,” Yeats noted. “Churches save valuable ministry resources by using special pages of the Messenger for their newsletter. And the four-color process will give added options to the churches.”
Throughout its 90 years, the Baptist Messenger has endeavored to inform, educate, encourage, challenge, uplift and inspire Oklahoma Baptists while communicating the good news through its pages. About 90 million words later, that is still the goal of Oklahoma Baptists’ weekly newsjournal.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SPANNING 90 YEARS and MESSENGER STAFFERS.