In August, Insights will celebrate 30 years of publication. In the lead up to this anniversary, we will be taking a look back at some of the key stories, people, and events that have helped pave the way for the magazine and website.
To begin with, we are taking a look back at what came before the current incarnation of Insights. During his years in ministry, Rev. Russell Davies was the part-time editor of The New South Wales Methodist and Congregationalist. After union, this newspaper would eventually be replaced by a magazine—to Rev. Davies’ chagrin. Insights spoke to Rev. Davies about this time.
For Russell Davies (pictured right), his time writing for The Methodist, one of Insights’ forbear publications, began with a complaint.
As a self-described “brash now ordinand” in 1966 he told the Methodist District Synod that their official paper was boring and had little appeal to younger readers.
“In typical style they promptly appointed me to the Epworth Committee, the body responsible for The Methodist,” he recalled.
“The editor, the Rev. Alf Bingley, offered me a full page each week to appeal to youth, and I ran that for eight years with enthusiasm. This was the late sixties and seventies, so there was no shortage of youth activities to cover.”
In 1971, Rev. Davies was appointed to Paddington, where he shared ministry of the joint parish with Rev. Rex Matthews, an accredited journalist and NSW stringer for the Australian Congregationalist.
In 1975, two years before Union, the Congregationalist ceased production, so Rev. Matthews and Rev. Davies approached the NSW Methodist Conference with a request to merge the two papers under the name Forward, and to publish it from their Paddington church office.
“They agreed to the merger, but not to the name, so for 18 months we published a weekly newspaper with the catchy title, The New South Wales Methodist and Congregationalist,” Rev. Davies said.
“Their other proviso was that although Rex was far the more qualified, I was part of the larger denomination, so I must be appointed editor. Rex graciously agreed.”
Rev. Davies looks back fondly on this time as being “wonderful; the best of both worlds.”
The parish, he said, was one of the most stimulating places in NSW in the early seventies, while he also had the newspaper “to play with at the same time.”
However, on 22 June 1977, the paper became part of the Synod’s Board of Communications Services. They would abolish the 50/50 parish minister and editor roles, with Rev. Matthews staying in the parish, while Rev. Davies worked from the Synod office.
“At least, Rex stayed on as chairman of the Editorial Board,” Rev. Davies said.
To all things, an end
The editorial board, had a vision for the paper which reflected what was widely viewed as the new possibilities of the Uniting Church.
“We saw it as a newspaper, not just a marketing exercise for the hierarchy,” Rev. Davies recalled.
“Our target market was the entire membership of the Uniting Church in NSW, with the hope that our members would find it stimulating enough to share it with their workmates and neighbours.”
When the Synod made controversial decisions, however, Rev. Davies found himself questioning his role.
According to Rev. Davies, “It quickly became clear to us that General Secretaries of the various boards saw our role as one of uncritical promotion of them and their policies, and on one famous occasion directed me that I was not permitted to run an article from one of our parishes, condemning an announcement by one of our Synod boards which had outraged the parish and most of the local community.”
“While I continued to enjoy editing and publishing the paper, it became increasingly obvious to me that I was not suited to head office work,” he said.
“When the Board made the decision to go from a newspaper to a magazine, I realised that I was a parish minister at heart.”
From there, things would change and Rev. Davies accepted a call to the Dubbo, which he describes as being, “a lifesaver for me and my family.”
The Synod would adopt a magazine format for their publication in 1981, with the name Uniting. Eventually, this would become Insights in 1991.
While Rev. Davies was against the change, he recalls that he was altogether away from the process and keeping busy in his new role.
“I had a half hour radio program on 2DU in Dubbo, and a weekly column in the Daily Liberal to keep me busy,” he said.
Insights thanks Rev. Russell Davies for his contributions and taking time for the interview. More features looking at Insights’ origins will be in the next edition of our magazine and available online here.