They say, don’t they, that when you’re having fun, time flies. It’s twenty-five years since we published the first edition of Bible Alive and only the good Lord himself knows where the time has gone for it has flown by!
But what an adventure it’s been: from the thrill and excitement of publishing the first edition to the ups, some downs, byways, crossroads and occasional cul-de-sacs along the way. Challenges, there have been a few, difficulties certainly, but the sheer exhilaration of publishing a Catholic Scripture magazine month-in month-out for twenty-five years has been a ‘heaven’ of a journey.
Mike Conway, the Managing Editor, looks back with thanks and gratitude.
Launching anything in this day and age (or at any time, to be fair) isn’t for the faint-hearted and launching a magazine from scratch was an especially challenging proposition – especially a magazine to encourage Catholics to read the Bible.
I say from scratch: it certainly felt like it, although thankfully, when presented with a choice between our own UK home-grown Catholic magazine and the US-produced The Word Among Us (a very fine Catholic Scripture magazine) we had spent many years promoting and distributing, the vast majority of our subscribers opted for the home-grown version. It can’t go without saying that I will be eternally grateful for this show of confidence and support because, as they say, the rest is history.
I am especially grateful for the vision and energy of the founding trustees and for everybody who helped with the launch of Bible Alive back in 1996. Special mention must be made of Monsignor Paul Watson, who remained a trustee until his death in 2018. Fr Paul’s love of scripture was completely and utterly infectious, and his ability to unpack any scripture in a way which made you eager and even keener to read and study the Bible has left a deep and lasting impression and legacy. Fr Paul was a founding trustee but he is also in many ways the founding father of Bible Alive. I owe him a personal unrepayable debt which I can only express through thanks and gratitude for his life, teaching and witness.
I am also especially grateful to the late Archbishop Peter Smith, then Bishop of East Anglia, for his unstinting and lifelong support (he died of cancer in 6 March 2020). We sought his help and advice because we wanted each edition of Bible Alive to carry an Imprimatur reflecting our commitment to a truly Catholic understanding of our faith and the scriptures. Today, Archbishop Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, very kindly grants Bible Alive the Imprimatur and makes available the services of Fr Paul Dean, our very capable and gifted Censor Deputatus. Having a Censor is rather like having a wicket keeper: he prevents unwitting or careless balls from whizzing past and going too far from the crease. With the best will and understanding of the Catholic faith in the world, we all need all the help we can get and, as we all know, to err is all too human, to forgive (or in his case, to correct) is truly divine.
On the subject of all the help we can get, one of the great joys of publishing is working within a team, and we have a fantastic team of customer service administrators, accountants, graphic designers, proofreaders, writers, etc., but in pride of place goes to our indefatigable and virtually irreplaceable copy-editor, Sandy Waldron, who has been with us for over twenty years. They say, don’t they, that behind every great man is an even more astonished mother-in-law, but I can tell you that behind every successful publishing house is a highly competent and learned copy-editor. We found one in Sandy, and I can’t thank her enough for her expertise and unstinting support over the years.
Another wonderful providential blessing has been working alongside the award winning journalist Joanna Moorhead – Joanna writes for the national newspapers and is an especially gifted feature writer – we are very blessed to have her write for us and her features, articles and interviews are always inspiring, encouraging but also deeply challenging.
The joy of publishing Bible Alive is rooted in the experience that the Bible isn’t a dry tome sitting isolated and alone on a top shelf, never taken down, gathering dust – but rather the living Word of God, from which we draw life, hope, inspiration and wisdom in living the Christian life. The writers of the daily reflections, the majority of whom are lay people, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and bring their own experience, insight and expertise. They all have one thing in common however: they share a profound love for the Bible, a deep love of the liturgical cycle and a desire to open up (as best they can) the treasure and riches of the scriptures (based on their own experience).
When we launched Bible Alive in 1996, it was a steep learning curve. The first lesson I had to get under my belt was that in addition to the many people who are warm, supportive and encouraging, there are an equal number of people who are more critical, negative and sometimes disparaging. Not only did I learn to take the rough with the smooth, the good with the bad, but I also learnt to listen attentively to all kinds of criticism and feedback. One very distinguished member of the clergy said that he thought some of the reflections were ‘pedestrian’ – thankfully they were the ones that I had written and so I didn’t need to flag it up with one of our other poor writers! I took a fresh look at the reflections and he was absolutely right: some of the reflections were open to this criticism and I was able to refine and improve them.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to study for a theology degree at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham which I enjoyed immensely followed by further post-graduate studies at Manchester University. My Mum and Dad, who had a huge influence on my life, both had a great sense of humour and my Dad (who loved poetry and funny ditties) used to sing: ‘A theological student called Fiddle, refused to take his degree, it’s bad enough being Fiddle, he said, without being Fiddle DD.’ Having completed my studies my Dad would have enjoyed singing that ditty to me – both of us grateful that our surname wasn’t Fiddle!
Another equally distinguished member of the clergy said, ‘People will never renew their subscription.’ I have to say this one hurt a little as a subscription magazine stands or falls on whether people renew their subscription or not. But again he was right to focus our attention on this vital issue, and from the very beginning we have always put a lot of energy and creativity into encouraging our readers to return for another year – we never take any reader who renews their subscription for granted. So, can I just say publicly and for the record that for any who took the trouble to offer their critique and feedback, back in the day, I am forever and eternally grateful. It didn’t kill me but made me stronger and deepened my resolve to strive to do my very best, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. Furthermore, I would like to add that our policy as a publishing house is to welcome all feedback, good or bad, because with every edition of Bible Alive, every book we publish, every product we manufacture or project we get involved in, we interrogate it until it confesses, and invariably it does confess, and I have found that it is always possible to refine, improve and do better.
At the heart of Bible Alive is a very simple idea – that in growing, maturing and living a joyful Christian life, it is necessary, nay vital, to immerse ourselves in God’s Word, the Holy Bible. The key is in the title, ‘Bible Alive’. From time to time we are critiqued for choosing this title – indeed, even some of the trustees were concerned that the title didn’t capture a truly Catholic understanding of the scriptures. They feared it was too Protestant, too ecumenical and too focused on the word ‘Bible’. I am glad and grateful that the majority of the founding trustees agreed to go with the title Bible Alive, because to be Catholic is to love the Bible, read the Bible, cherish and revere the Bible. We are, in fact, Bible Christians and are nourished from the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, but also the scriptures, the Bible, within which we find life. One of my great joys as an editor is hearing from our readers and, to be absolutely honest, this is the best part of my job. Hearing from our readers scattered all over the world about their experience of reading the Bible inspires me and gives me hope that it has all been worthwhile.
I began by reflecting how time has flown – and it is perhaps a self-evident truth that time does indeed fly even more so when we’re having fun. However, I can honestly say that publishing Bible Alive and helping to run a Catholic publishing house has meant that I have never felt that I am going to work because I enjoy it so much. Yes, it’s been very challenging at times, and difficult on occasions, but it’s also been really thrilling and exciting. I don’t feel twenty-five years brings a chapter to a close but rather opens up a new horizon for the next twenty-five to come.