By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
COVID-19 has caused a lot of planned activities in 2020 to be canceled or postponed.
One of those planned events that we had to push back was a planned celebration of the 185th anniversary of the Baptist and Reflector. The B&R is the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and is one of the longest continuously published newspapers (both secular and religious) in the country.
And, that needs to be celebrated in an era where newspapers are ceasing print publications. The New York Times reported in December 2019 that one in five newspapers have shut down over the past 15 years.
Just this year, three papers in our own Southern Baptist family of state publications have foregone print publications for online publications only — The California Southern Baptist, Arkansas Baptist News and, most recently, the Baptist Record in Mississippi.
In this issue are several stories and related graphics regarding the storied history of your Baptist paper. I emphasize “your” because the paper is not mine. It belongs to the thousands upon thousands of loyal readers over the past 185 years who wanted to read about what God is doing in our state and around the world.
The paper has “survived” all these years because it has met the needs of people who wanted to be informed about God’s mission and work. Former editor Wm. Fletcher Allen wrote a history of the paper in 2005, entitled Telling the Truth in Love: A Brief History of the Baptist and Reflector.
The paper’s first editor was R.B.C. Howell who also was pastor of First Baptist Church, Nashville. Allen noted that Howell published the first issue of THE BAPTIST (which became the Baptist and Reflector) on Jan. 1, 1835.
“With that accomplished, he established a place for those who would follow in his path, a road made easier for them,” Allen wrote.
Allen noted that Howell “was prepared for the hard work ahead. He launched a well written and constructive paper. Those first readers must have been surprised and elated at this conveyor of Baptist news. It was a light in a previously dark arena.”
Since its birth in 1835, the paper and its editors have tried to “trust the Lord and tell the people.” Allen wrote: “Though they struggled with lack of funding, hard times and wars, doctrinal and Scriptural disputes, through the years they have firmly established a good reputation for the paper. They knew that churches and people, in order to make good decisions, needed the news.”
While the paper has been blessed with incredible editors and leaders (Howell later became president of the Southern Baptist Convention and John Freeman would become executive secretary of the Tennessee Baptist Convention), the backbone has been and always will be the readers.
In an era where print publications have lost readers at an alarming rate, the readership of the Baptist and Reflector has remained steady. We have a current print circulation of more than 18,300 which translates (by newspaper industry standards) to more than 45,000 readers. And, I have always maintained the B&R’s actual readership is higher because every Tennessee Baptist church should receive at least one copy and that copy is read by several folks. I know because they have told me.
And, that readership does not include the online readership we have developed over the past five years. In 2015, we intentionally increased efforts to make our articles and columns more readily available for that audience who wants its news electronically.
This year, in the first six-and-a-half months, our website had 167,300 visitors and 343, 900 page views, almost double what we had over the same time frame last year. Of course, COVID-19 and tornado coverage drew a lot of folks to our site.
But the fact remains, readers, both online and print, still depend on the Baptist and Reflector for their Baptist news. It’s a responsibility that the B&R staff and the entire Communications Team of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, does not take lightly. Our readers deserve the best news publication possible.
Our desire is to continue to provide a quality print publication for as long as possible in addition to our stories on the website. In order to do so, we still need churches and individuals willing to subscribe.
This issue is distributed as part of our Baptist and Reflector Day emphasis. Many churches ordered extra copies at no cost to promote the paper.
We welcome new readers and encourage you to subscribe. A form can be found on page 20.
Over the years I have received many notes of appreciation from readers who have told me how much the paper has meant to them. I treasure those notes and letters. We have had faithful readers who not only subscribe for themselves but send gift subscriptions or contributions which enable us to send subscriptions to those individuals and churches that have had to slash budgets due to economic reasons. Those gifts are always welcomed and will be put to good use.
Thank you to all who read the Baptist and Reflector. Readers are the reason we can celebrate because they have demonstrated for 185 years a desire to read about what God is doing in Tennessee and around the world. The B&R is both His and yours. May He receive the glory and honor.