‘Something to irritate everyone’
Visiting on 12th May 2012, the LCF group was the first to be received at the new offices of the Church Times in Golden Lane, London, EC1. For many years the newspaper owned its own building in London’s Portugal Street, but it has been based in rented accommodation since the sale of the original building in 1987.
The paper is coming up to its one hundredth and fiftieth anniversary and for many years was a family business run by members of the Palmer family. When Bernard Palmer retired as editor and proprietor the publication was bought by the Hymns Ancient and Modern group, publishers of the famous Anglican hymn book.
Publications produced by the the Hymns Ancient and Modern group include:
- Canterbury Press – books
- SCM Press – books
- Third Way – magazine Crucible – magazine
- Church House Publishing – for the Church of England
- St. Andrew Press – for the Church of Scotland.
The group is also responsible for the Church House Bookshop in Westminster.
The Church Times began as a mouthpiece for the High Church movement in the Church of England and, in its early years, campaigned against the Protestant voice in the established Church. However, Bernard Palmer realised that there was “no future in unpleasantness”. The newspaper is editorially independent of the Church of England and aims to be critical and supportive at the same time. Paul Handley believes that it is important to hold the centre ground at a time when the Church is becoming more disparate and people are often reluctant to listen to the viewd of others.
This does not prevent some from making unwarranted assumptions about the newspaper’s editorial stance. Some assume that it is a liberal Catholic paper while others believe that it is anti-Evangelical. Some still call it “Jezebel’s trumpet” because of its perceived failure to defend the finer points of Anglo-Catholic doctrine. One former news editor suggested that the publication had “something to irritate everyone”.
The newspaper aims to maintain a breadth of coverage and concerns itself not only with the Church of England but with the wider Christian scene and current issues such as climate change and immigration.
Paul Handley has been editor for sixteen or seventeen years, though he worked for the paper before becoming editor.
There are about a dozen staff, some of them part-time. The circulation is around 23,000, and has been steady for the last year or two, though back in the 1960s and 1970s it could boast some 40,000 subscribers.
This is a difficult time for newspapers and, in the Christian field, the Baptist Times recently ceased publication in its printed form. Questioned about the vision for the next five years, Paul said that ‘survival’ was at the top of the list.
The Church Times and the Hampshire Chronicle were the last newspapers in Britain to use the traditional hot metal printing system. However, the CT has been online since 2000 and subscribers can consult reports and articles from this date on the web site.
Each week the web site conducts a poll on a topic of current interest, and this usually attracts 150-200 voters, although the number can quadruple if the subject has anything to do with sex!
Halfway through the session we broke off to go and buy lunch in the nearby Whitecross Street, which is famous for its wide variety of hot food vendors selling food from many ethnic backgrounds. We left the Golden Lane building after an enjoyable extended lunch period, and we are grateful to Paul Handley for taking the time to tell us about his newspaper and its work.