Today Florida Baptist Witness celebrates 130 years of telling the Good News
Jan 17, 2014
By JONI B. HANNIGAN

From January 17, 1884—January 17, 2014, the Witness has continuously been a witness of and a witness to the members and leaders of Florida Baptist churches and beyond

JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Florida Baptist Witness celebrates its 130th birthday on Jan. 17, 2014, with the announcement of a new leader for the 21st Century newspaper that has seen turn of two centuries.

Happy birthday Florida Baptist Witness!

It was 1884 and after Florida Baptists had made several valiant but failed attempts at publishing a state Baptist newspaper, a man known by some as “The Father of the Florida Baptist Convention” led in a move to establish the Florida Baptist Witness

William Newell “W.N.” Chaudoin, the first chief executive and a founding leader of the State Convention’s State Board of Missions, empowered a burning vision of leaders in the state for a newspaper that would bring good news and inform Baptists. 

F. B. Moodie and A. P. Ashurst came alongside as editors and began a ministry that is one of the oldest, continuing state Baptist newspapers in the country. Last week on Jan. 9, 2014, the board of directors named Kevin Bumgarner as the newest editor of the Witness.

Through its earliest years when the paper changed size, and its headquarters were in Ocala, Orlando, Lake City, and then in Jacksonville—about 23 different editors served from 1884 to 1918. It has survived the Great Depression and more recently the Great Recession.

The Witness ebbed and flowed in circulation through private ownership to ownership by the Convention to becoming an agency of the Convention with a board of directors elected by the state convention, with some financial support coming directly from Cooperative Program funds. It has solicited individual subscribers, added entire churches through its cost-effective budget plan. It has provided cut-rate charges for churches that produce its newsletter as part of the newspaper.

No longer is the Witness limited to the printed page—but for more than a decade it has magnified its effectiveness by sharing stories worldwide on the internet. Witness stories and images are blasted on Twitter and Facebook and available on mobile devices for everyone.

Only once in history, at the turn of the 20th Century, did the Witness compete with a rival state paper, The Southern Baptist, founded in 1903 by Stetson University over controversial coverage of a scandal.  A year later both papers were being printed by the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville and an “amusing incident” occurred when someone switched the papers’ editorials. After the error, with the unlikely prospect that Florida Baptists would support two state papers, they merged to become The Florida Baptist Witness.

Full of stories about the people in the pews, the churches they attend, their pastors and leaders, the missionaries they support and the organizations they populate—the Witness is a living and breathing tool used to inspire, encourage, and inform.

No longer is the Witness limited to the printed page—but for more than a decade it has magnified its effectiveness by sharing stories worldwide on the internet. Witness stories and images are blasted on Twitter and Facebook and available on mobile devices for everyone.

Randy Huckabee, chairman of the Witness board of directors, and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dade City, says he has been an avid reader since 1980, and thanks Florida Baptists for their support.

“As we reflect on 130 years of faithfully declaring the Good News though the Florida Baptist Witness, I hope you see the value of this great instrument and will join me in a gift of $130.00 to insure the future of this media outlet as we continue to live in an ever-changing arena of publication and information sharing.”  

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, said he has just finished reading Favored Florida: A History of Florida Baptists, 1784-1939, and is reminded of the important place of the Witness in chronicling the story of Florida Baptists. He noted also the many challenges faced by the newspaper itself.

“It is the 130th birthday of the Florida Baptist Witness. You cannot read the history of our wonderful Convention without noting the considerable problems the paper has had. The many hardships, editors, owners, finances and publishing places seemed to enhance and strengthen the work rather than diminish it.  

“I rejoice in the survival and contributions the Witness has made these 130 years,” Sullivan said.

To look at a timeline including historical facts and information about the Witness through the years and many of its front-page designs, go to on.gofbw.com/1dqR0wJ. To subscribe, go to on.gofbw.com/13IV6un

 

130 years A timeline of the Florida Baptist Witness’s 130 years. FBW graphic

You must be login before you can leave a comment. Click here to Register if you are a new user.