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Praise for the parish mag as it celebrates 150 years

By This is Somerset  |  Posted: March 04, 2009

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The Church of England is celebrating 150 years of the parish magazine – and one published in Frome in 1854 is believed one of the first of its kind in the country.

However, it is uncertain exactly when the modern parish magazine was born.

Retired lecturer Gordon Neal has been interested for many years in the history of the church and parish magazine.

He said: "In spite of claims for Frome's The Old Church Porch, first published in 1854, there seems to be general agreement that Erskine Clarke's Parish Magazine of January 1, 1859, marks the real start of the genre.

"This rival claimant to the title of very first local parish magazine certainly appears to fit some of the criteria, but probably doesn't quite get there."

The Rev J Erskine Clarke was vicar of St Michael's in Derby when he spotted the opportunity for a publication with a very clear objective: his magazine was "aimed not at the committed in the parish but at the other half".

Most of the church's 13,000 parishes produces some sort of magazine and even if each issue could muster only 100 readers, that would give a total combined circulation larger than The Times, The Guardian and The Independent together.

Today in Frome and its villages, there are more than seven parish magazines, including publications for St John's, St Katharine's, Christ Church and Postlebury Churches.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: "A good parish magazine is a wonderful resource that places the local church at the heart of the community it serves.

"We owe our gratitude to all those who labour lovingly to produce this regular shop window for their church or parish.

As a team or solo, with a generous budget or an alarmingly fraying shoestring, this is a ministry we need to recognise and to support."

Vicar of St John's Church, the Rev Colin Alsbury, said: "Although it appears we are not in fact the earliest parish magazine to be published, there is no doubt we were at the cutting edge of an innovation which kept people in touch with the church."

The church has bound copies of The Old Church Porch in its archives.

Mr Alsbury said: "The magazines give a fascinating insight into Frome at that time."

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