Last Sunday, February 14, marked the end of FaithLink. Having been a part of its team of writers for 13 years, I’m sad to see this remarkable United Methodist digital curriculum on faith and current issues shut down, partly because of COVID, which made its continuation unsustainable. My friend and colleague, Alex Joyner, has written his retrospective about FaithLink on Heartlands and has given a glimpse into a FaithLink writer’s life in the 4-5 days between the editorial conference and submission of manuscript and documentation.
Before joining the FaithLink team, I had published a few essays in newspapers and reviews for Sojourners and the United Methodist Reporter as well as a longer piece, co-written with Richard Faris, for the Journal of Presbyterian History, but it was FaithLink that made me feel like a “real” writer. I’ll be forever grateful the editors who encouraged and guided me—Andrew Schleicher, Mickey Frith, Ben Howard, and Pam Dilmore, who also offered me the opportunity to write three curriculum books for Abingdon Press.
In his essay Alex tells about the early days when each issue involved two writers, one to do research and the other to draft and revise the manuscript, and he recalls the time, just a day or two after the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shooting, when he from the Eastern Shore of Virginia and I from the stunned and grieving town of Blacksburg wrote an issue called “The Virginia Tech Tragedy.” Although that edition was hard to write, I loved doing this kind of collaborative writing with Alex, Dave Barnhart, Mike Poteet, Ciona Rouse, Duane Coates, Wayne Reece, Erik Alsgaard, Melissa Lauber, Jim Hawkins, Judy Bennett, and Paul Stroble. (Hope I haven’t omitted some of my writing partners from that time.) I’ve no doubt that these collaborations provided me skills I would later use in the book I’m co-writing with Noel Paul Stookey about the intersection of his musical vocation as the “Paul” of Peter, Paul, and Mary and as a solo singer/songwriter; his work for justice; and his spiritual journey. Without my background with FaithLink, I would never have had the chutzpah to propose the book.
Far beyond what FaithLink has given me personally, it has also given the United Methodist Church the great gift of “connecting faith with life” in the twenty-first century. It frequently related Christian social ethics with the events and social issues of our time. I dare say that many United Methodists first learned of the Social Principles and the Social Creed of the UMC because FaithLink quoted and reflected on the guidance contained in them. Our editors and writers did not shy away from controversial issues and tough dilemmas. My own list includes such diverse topics as Central American migration, climate change, urban farms, religious satire, and the overuse of antibiotics.
My fervent hope is that someday the United Methodist Publishing House will find a way to revive FaithLink or a similar curriculum that will have the immediacy, the theological depth, and the usability of FaithLink. I close with deep gratitude to all the writers and editors who created and kept improving on this curriculum that weekly succeeded in connecting the Wesleyan tradition of faith with the realities of contemporary life.