Advocate: 180 years of being an instrument of the church

By Allison Trussell

For the past 180 years, the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate has informed, comforted and challenged its readers as it served as “an instrument of the church on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Rev. McKay Brabham, editor, 1961-1971).

This month, the Advocate celebrates that milestone. The oldest continuously published Methodist paper, the Advocate’s history begins with the 1836 General Conference.

Tired of sending news and opinions to a “Northern” paper—The Christian Advocate, published in New York—Southern Methodists asked for a Southern publication. William Wightman wrote in “The Life of William Capers” that “many of these (Northern newspapers) were preaching up a Crusade against the domestic institutions of the South; and self-defense as well as self-respect demanded that there should be an adequate supply of Southern journals.”

As a result, the 1836 General Conference, held in Cincinnati, Ohio, took action, approving a resolution “which brought into being the Southern Christian Advocate, to be established in Charleston, with two sister journals, one in Richmond and one in Nashville,” Mason Crum wrote in “The Southern Christian Advocate: An Historical Sketch.”

William Capers, a delegate from South Carolina and stationed near Charleston, was appointed editor. Publication for the Charleston paper began in 1837 once the prescribed number of subscriptions was reached.

The weekly paper at that time carried notices and advertisements for businesses both secular and religious and often reprinted items of interest from other newspapers.

The occupation of Charleston by federal troops forced the paper to move in April 1862, first to Augusta and then, in 1865, to Macon, Georgia. It returned to South Carolina in 1878, first returning to Charleston before taking residence in Columbia, then Greenville, then back to Columbia, then Orangeburg, Spartanburg, Greenville and Anderson. It returned yet again to Columbia in 1918, where it has remained.

Until 1979, every editor was a pastor within the Annual Conference, and the position was appointed. But that year the first woman and layperson, Maryneal Jones, was hired. Since her hiring, the editor has remained a lay position with the exception of the Rev. Willie Teague, who was editor from 1988 to 1995.

In May 1995, the Advocate board voted to move to a monthly print schedule. After more than 150 years of weekly publication, the last weekly edition was June 8, 1995. The paper stated, “The decision to change that course of history comes after more than a decade of financial strain in which the Advocate has been faced with declining revenue from its investments and dropping circulation.

In 2012, a history of the Advocate, “In the World, Not of the World: 175 Years of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate,” written by Dr. Michael C. Wolfe, was published.

In recent years, the paper has garnered multiple awards and adopted new designs. However, it remains, as it always has been, a leading voice in issues ranging from race relations to AIDS, natural and human-made disasters, wars and sexuality.

In his epilogue, Wolfe wrote, “When the Spirit moved and people listened to the Eternal rather than merely to the times—well, the Advocate could really shine. In the midst of a monolithic slavery culture, the paper would be a lone voice in the state calling for humane treatment and legal rights for slaves. In the midst of civil war, the paper understood that Christian hope was in God and not in the outcome of the war. In a variety of progressive movements, the Advocate led the way. The paper offered comfort to families in the midst of two world wars. And while many editors were merely men and women like the rest of us, who did the best they could in troubled times, a few names stand out as people who showed courage and fortitude in speaking the truth.”

The current staff—Editor Jessica Brodie and Assistant Editor Allison Trussell—trust that they continue to do God’s work in this great ministry of South Carolina.

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