History

IRISH METHODIST PERIODICALS

During the momentous religious events of 1859 two Irish Methodists fell into conversation about the possibility of starting a regular periodical which would fill a long-felt need. The two men were Theodore Cronhelm, a Dublin solicitor and a young preacher, the Rev William Crook. It was the year of the great Ulster revival, which would influence the makeup and culture of Protestant churches for generations. During the two years 1859 and 1860 membership among the Wesleyan Methodists grew from 19,406 to 22,860 and among the Primitive Wesleyans from 9,153 to 15,341. It was also a time when news of the religious awakening in the Province filled column inches in papers and journals in Ireland and far beyond. At the time Irish Wesleyan Methodism had no journal of its own to record the extraordinary happenings. As a result of the two men’s discussions a new paper, The Irish Evangelist, was launched in October 1859, with Theodore Cronhelm undertaking the management of the journal and the Rev William Crook becoming editor.

From the start it was intended to be a paper of record as well as a vehicle for the promotion of evangelical witness. Indeed, one of the Irish Connexion’s senior ministers, the Rev Robert Wallace, in welcoming the first issue lamented the fact that so much of value of Irish Methodism’s past was lost to posterity because of the lack of such a journal.

For over 24 years, The Evangelist was issued each month. William Crook, who had already become known as a popular preacher and theologian, gathered round him a group of ministers with literary skills, such as the Rev George Vance, and their efforts were well rewarded. For a long time Dr Crook continued as sole editor, but then the Rev Oliver McCutcheon[1] shared the duties before the Rev James Thompson took over for a period before moving to South Africa.

The Evangelist was never a financial success, and suffered because it had no capital resources. Consideration was given to making it a weekly paper — such a course was advocated for example in its correspondence columns — and soundings were taken but, as it happened, a new weekly paper was launched which pre-empted any such development.

The Evangelist continued to be published for a year after the launch of the newcomer, partly, the publishers of The Evangelist admitted, because they were uncertain whether Irish Methodism could sustain a weekly paper. When it was clear that the weekly was securely established The Evangelist was amalgamated with the new journal to be called The Christian Advocate.

THE IRISH CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE

The new weekly was launched in November 1883. The initial impetus came from a Belfast layman, Mr I S Allen, a printer by trade, and the first editor was the Rev Dr John Donald. As already noted, the weekly and monthly papers co-existed for a year and, when the Evangelist and the Advocate were merged, Mr Allen was relieved of sole responsibility for the paper and a representative committee was formed of well-known ministers and laity.

In 1885, the Rev Dr Henry Evans was given permission by Conference to be relieved of circuit duties and he became editor. He brought to his task considerable skill and the result was a paper of some literary merit but unfortunately it was not matched by financial success. By the end of three years during which he was editor it was found that circulation was lower than it ought to have been, and the paper was all but insolvent. Dr Evans returned to circuit work under less than happy circumstances and the Rev Richard Cole took over the task of editor while continuing his heavy circuit work.

Richard Cole brought to his task as editor a wide experience of journalism. For a number of years he was one of the Leader writers of the Belfast Telegraph, and he was the Methodist correspondent of the Northern Whig and The Irish Times. His ability as a journalist was recognised in many quarters. There was, for example, the tribute paid by the London weekly The Christian Age which, in its issue of April 10 1895, wrote of him as ‘a brother journalist rendering important and solid service to evangelical truth’ and commended The Christian Advocate itself for its ‘able treatment of current topics and its masterly leaders on subjects of vital importance to the moral and social welfare of Ireland.’

Richard Cole managed to keep the paper afloat during the difficult years of the 1914-18 war when the price of paper and the cost of labour rocketed and afterwards when, in the aftermath of the war, other well established papers with a larger constituency such as the Presbyterian weekly, The Witness folded.

In 1923 the management of The Christian Advocate sold its interest in the paper to a new board of management, consisting chiefly of younger ministers supported by a number of laymen. The new board decided to give its services in a totally voluntary capacity to the editing of the paper and to devote any profits which might arise to the Supernumerary Fund of the Church. The paper was relaunched, at the same time reverting to the name of The Irish Christian Advocate (ICA) which had been the name of the weekly during its first year of existence. The leading name as editor during most of the period of The ICA’s existence was Dr W L Northridge. For over 30 years he led the affairs of the Irish Methodist Publishing Company, the paper’s holding body. Through the company he not only ensured the survival of the weekly paper but he developed Epworth House as one of the leading bookshops in Belfast. He had fought many battles for the survival of its predecessors — the Bookrooms of May Street and Arthur Street — and the profits of the bookshop were ploughed back into the Company.

Trevor Roycroft, the bookshop manager and sometime editor of the ICA, in a tribute to William Northridge in 1957, wrote of his service to the company as chairman and editor-in-chief. His leadership, he wrote, ensured that ‘a Journal which is privately owned and operated and which is not subject to any Connexional official, as such, has come to be generally regarded as a Connexional paper.’

THE END OF ‘THE ADVOCATE’

On the night of Wednesday 20 October 1971, a bomb packed with up to 50 lbs of explosive went off on the first floor of 28 Wellington Street, Belfast. Underneath were the premises which had been the home of the Irish Methodist Publishing Company for over 40 years. It was a shattering blow to the Company and yet, as that week’s issue acknowledged, the loss of Epworth House was an infinitesimally tiny part of the daily destruction and horror which had become an almost daily background to life in the Province.

The initial reaction was that the production of the Advocate would not be affected and that a new home would be found for Epworth House, the retail bookselling arm of the Company. However, as the full impact of the loss became clear it was announced in what was to be the last issue of the Advocate that its publication was to be temporarily suspended. The lists of agents, names of subscribers and financial records were all buried under tons of rubble and the directors realised that it could be weeks or even months before these could be recovered. It was, they admitted, after over a hundred years of continuous publication, a defeat. It was a full year before Irish Methodism re-established a regular journal for the Connexion.

THE METHODIST NEWSLETTER (1972-1995)

In the absence of The Advocate, the 1972 Dublin Conference was creditably covered by printing two issues of a paper called Conference News. These were well received and later that year steps were taken by their editor, the Rev Harold Sloan, to launch a new monthly paper, to be known as The Methodist Newsletter, under the auspices of the General Committee.

The first issue was that of January 1973 and its printing was supervised by the Rev Wilbert Forker, at the time himself very much involved in his own publishing activity in Belfast. The early issues of the Newsletter were edited by Rev Harold Sloan, working with a committee appointed by the General Committee.

The Rev Harold Sloan was succeeded as editor by Dr James Smylie and then by the Rev Ted Lindsay. At the end of 1979, the Rev Dr Eric Gallagher was appointed editor. For over 16 years until his retirement from the task at the end of 1995, the paper not only survived but held a circulation of over 4,500.  Apart from the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Epworth House, Irish Methodism can look back over 138 years of almost continuous publication and The Methodist Newsletter, a relative newcomer, is now in its 26th year of publication.

Robin Roddie    Methodist Newsletter (January 1998)

THE METHODIST NEWSLETTER 1995-2015

Following the retirement of the Rev Dr Eric Gallagher, the Methodist Newsletter was edited by a team of editors – Mr George Orr, the Rev Dudley Levistone Cooney, the Rev Robin Roddie and Mrs Lynda Neilands - with Mr George Orr as editor-in-chief. In 1998 it changed format, becoming a 28-page magazine. Following his retirement, the Rev Dudley Cooney stepped down as editor and bulk of the editing was carried out by George Orr and Robin Roddie until 2009 when they retired from the role. By this stage The Methodist Newsletter had become a 44-page magazine and 2010 saw its incorporation as a publication of the Methodist Publishing Company Ltd, with Mr Harold Baird as the Business Manager.  From 2010 the magazine has been edited by Mrs Lynda Neilands (who had edited occasional issues from 1995, as had the Rev Dudley Levistone Cooney and the Rev Brian Griffin) and by the Rev Dr Peter Mercer.

Irish Methodist Periodicals

The Irish Evangelist

First issue: October 1859 (monthly)

Last issue: December 1883

 

Christian Advocate

First issue: January 5 1883

Last issue: October 26 1923
 

Irish Christian Advocate

First issue: November 2 1923 (weekly)

Last issue: November 4 1971


Conference News

(two issues 1972)
 

Methodist Newsletter

First issue: January 1973—(monthly)

• • •

Methodist Magazine (Irish Edition) 1801-1822 (monthly)

 

Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Magazine

1823-1878 (bi-monthly)

 

Irish Christian Monitor (MNC)

May 1843 - April 1845 (monthly)

 

The Irish Methodist Church Record (Dublin printed)

1893 - 1929 (monthly)

 

The Methodist Review

1904 (only a few issues)
 

The Wesleyan

October - December 1960 (three issues)

 

SUCCESSION OF EDITORS

The Irish Evangelist

Rev Dr William Crook (1859-1887)

Rev James Thompson AB (1887-82)

Rev John L Woods (1882-1883)

 

Christian Advocate

Rev Dr Donald (1882-1885)

Rev Dr Henry Evans (1885-1888)

Rev C. H. Crookshank MA (1888-93)

Revd Richard Cole (1894-1923)
 

Irish Christian Advocate

Rev R. M. Ker (1923-1926)

Rev Dr Northridge (1927-1944)

Rev Douglas Dunlop (1944-1952)

Mr Trevor Roycroft (1952-1962)

Rev James B. Turner (1962-63)

Rev Richard Greenwood (1963-1971)
 

Methodist Newsletter

Rev Harold Sloan

Dr James Smiley

Rev Ted Lindsay

Rev Dr Eric Gallagher (1979-1995)

Mr George Orr (1995-2009) &  Rev Robin Roddie (1995-2009)

Mrs Lynda Neilands

& Rev Dr Peter Mercer




[1] Oliver McCutcheon’s brother, James, was editor of the Tyrone Constitution and in November 1844, Oliver at the age of 18½ had been the first business manager and reporter for the Constitution and actually set portion of the type for the first issue.