Forward Movement Begins Foray into Publishing

The popularity of Forward Day By Day prompted the creation of additional publications such as "Disciple's Way", an expansion on Gilbert Symon's original essay he had read to the Forward Movement Commission in December of 1934 and it remains in print today), and “Prayers New and Old”, a collection of prayers for private devotional use which is now in its 31st printing and retains much material from the original edition.

Members of the Forward Movement Commission wrote other pieces, interpreting the mission of the church, deepening personal devotion, and supporting the educational, evangelistic, and pastoral work of parishes. By the 1937 General Convention, Forward Movement had produced twenty-five tracts and booklets in addition to Forward Day by Day. All this was achieved with mostly volunteer labor, with the Diocese of Southern Ohio providing office space and support staff.

In those early years, Forward Movement was far more than a publishing company. Arthur M. Sherman, a priest from Cincinnati, led conferences of clergy and lay people to consider devotional life, parish programs, preaching, evangelism, stewardship, Christian unity, and the place of the laity in the church. The Parish Group Plan, directed by David R. Covell, another Cincinnati priest, created small, intimate groups within congregations to help people grow in Christian character.

Not everyone was pleased. Was the Forward Movement Commission overstepping its bounds? The Chronicle, a nationally distributed church publication out of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., editorialized:

When General Convention authorized and created a Forward Movement Commission no one realized that it might become a continuing self-perpetuating body. We seem to recall that it was to be a temporary institution with the objective of rousing the church to higher spiritual enthusiasms. Its principal agency was the publication for a limited period of devotional literature, taking the acceptable form of daily Bible readings with appropriate meditations….Soon, however, the Commission began to branch out and assume authority to issue pamphlets on various and sundry subjects: social, theological and historical. By what authority does this Commission seek to direct the thought of the church and thereby establish a quasi-orthodox status for this church? We do not believe that the General Convention for one moment imagined that this Commission would establish itself as a theological tract society….In the wrong hands this Commission can easily become a menace to the peace and intellectual liberties of the Protestant Episcopal Church, since people may easily be misled to feel that it is speaking with authority on a wide variety of subjects and is therefore the voice of this church….The trouble with these ecclesiastical agencies is that they become arrogant, self-sufficient, and self-perpetuating. If the Forward Movement Commission at the end of this year would fold up its now over ambitious tent and steal away into oblivion the church will escape some near future incidents of unpleasant proportion.

Members of the Forward Movement Commission knew that in setting out to “reinvigorate the life of the church” and “rehabilitate its work” they risked overlapping, even competing with other agencies. No one wanted two program and planning groups. The Commission therefore asked to be discharged at the 1937 General Convention. But the atmosphere was far more cheerful, positive, and trustful than three years earlier. Not only did the 1937 Convention decline to disband Forward Movement, but it sought to integrate it into the larger church by naming the new presiding bishop, Henry St. George Tucker, as chair of the Forward Movement Commission, with Bishop Hobson continuing to oversee operations in Cincinnati.

Bishop Tucker encouraged Forward Movement to carry on. He named the first Forward Movement executive committee. That committee (now called the board of directors) has been named by and accountable to the presiding bishop ever since.

Gilbert Symons became the first editor of Forward Movement, a post he held until 1950. He wrote many of the early issues of Forward Day by Day, in addition to dozens of other titles. The Diocese of Southern Ohio paid Symons’s salary, though he devoted nearly all his time to Forward Movement. The diocese also provided rent-free office space (though expenses were shared) in downtown Cincinnati until 2004, when the scope of Forward Movement’s ministries called for more spacious quarters.

Although it received a small subsidy from the National Council during its first three years, Forward Movement soon became a self-supporting ministry, largely through sales of literature. Forward Movement has always been a non-profit organization, pricing its literature close to cost, but a small return over cost enabled the Forward Movement Commission to make grants in the late 1930s, with the approval of the National Council, for ministry in the armed forces, ethnic ministries, college work, refugee programs, and emergency relief.

By 1940, Bishops Tucker and Hobson felt the renewed trust level in the church had reached a point where the National Council could assume many of Forward Movement’s ministries. At the General Convention of that year, therefore, the Forward Movement Commission was discharged. But Forward Movement’s success as a publisher led Tucker to ask that the executive committee continue publishing devotional and other literature for the church. To indicate more clearly the nature of its ministry, the name of the organization was changed in 1951 to Forward Movement Publications. Bishop Hobson retired as bishop of Southern Ohio in 1959 but continued to chair the Forward Movement executive committee until 1976.

PART 5: Forward Movement Legacies

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