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An old column’s next chapter

The range of acceptable questions are still as limitless as readers' curiosity

By David Wilson

It shouldn’t be a surprise to feel the tug of history when you work for a magazine that’s 183 years old. We’ve felt it acutely recently as we’ve plotted the future of one of our longest-running and best-loved columns.

With this issue, Rev. David McKane of London, Ont., steps down as author of our monthly Question Box section. After 10 years, he felt it was time for someone else to take on the job of learning just about everything there is to learn about the United Church and writing about it every month. McKane brought wit, grace and edge to an assignment that could become as dry as dust in the hands of the wrong person. He was always reliable and fun to work with. We’ll miss him. But I understand how he might want a change of pace: during those 10 years, he researched and answered something on the order of 300 different questions. That’s a lot of phone calls to church officials, a lot of scouring through the United Church Manual.

Question Box has been a fixture in The Observer for a long time. But when someone asked me exactly how long, I couldn’t say. So I began rummaging through crinkly back issues of the magazine to see if I could find out. It took a while, but I finally found the inaugural column. It appeared in the Sept. 1, 1955, issue of the magazine — the same issue that marked the beginning of Rev. Al Forrest’s 24-year run as editor. For its first three decades, Question Box was published anonymously. You could expect as many as a dozen questions and answers in each instalment. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the author came out from under cover with a byline. There have been four Question Box columnists since then: Rev. Jock Davidson, Rev. Ken Gallinger, Yvonne Stewart and McKane.

Next month, Rev. Christopher White becomes the fifth. Already a seasoned Observer contributor, White is the senior minister of Fairlawn Avenue United in Toronto. He has also written for CBC Radio and major Canadian newspapers, and has authored or co-authored four books on Christianity and contemporary living. He’s ideally positioned to help shape the next chapter in the long history of Question Box.

We’ve decided to change the column a bit — to relax its borders. White will gladly chase down answers to your questions about the United Church and how it lives and works. But he’s hoping Question Box also becomes a place for inquiring about bigger issues like the future of churches in a secular society, the meaning of belief today, the place of Christianity in a multifaith culture — the range of acceptable questions is as limitless as your curiosity. We’ll be delighted if questions come from beyond our established readership, through our website.

Question Box has always been about equipping readers to live faithfully. What that means has changed a lot since 1955, but what hasn’t changed is our belief that there’s no such thing as a bad question. So ask away — by e-mail to questionbox@ucobserver.org, through Twitter at #fairlawnrev or by sending a letter to 478 Huron St., Toronto, Ont., M5R 2R3.

* Fast-forward: I’m delighted to announce that one of our newest features has been recognized for excellence. A short video documentary examining residential schools won a gold medal at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards this autumn, joining other gold-medal winners such as Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail, the Walrus and the CBC. Congratulations to staff producer Kevin Spurgaitis. You can find the winning documentary, as well as several other short videos Spurgaitis has produced to complement articles in our print edition, by visiting www.ucobserver.org/video.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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