Throughout many changes, this magazine has remained a benefit of membership in a UU congregation.
UU World has taken several forms in its fifty years as a membership periodical. It began in March 1970 as a monthly newspaper, Unitarian Universalist World; in January 1987 it relaunched with Volume 1, Number 1 of World magazine, which became UU World magazine in September 2000. (UUA Archives)
Say “Happy Anniversary” to the magazine you’re reading. With this issue it is 50 years old, old enough to have seen, and undergone, many changes.
It was breathed into life in 1970 by the Rev. Robert N. West, the second president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which had been formed only nine years earlier by the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. West’s thinking? Members of the congregations that had been thrown together, he told me after I became UU World’s editor in 1997, needed a way to learn about their new denomination and how its religious perspectives were shifting. So he launched a monthly newspaper with a subscription for every member of every congregation that would share its membership list with the UUA. Receiving the periodical became a benefit of church membership and a thank-you for the congregation’s contribution to the Annual Program Fund. West was not a publisher by training or experience, but he had a great publishing idea that endures a half century later.
West named the UUA’s new newspaper Unitarian Universalist World. Seventeen years later, the Rev. William F. Schulz, the UUA’s fifth president, changed the format to a magazine and renamed it The World. His thinking, he told me when I was new to the editorship, was to broaden the subject matter so it would appeal not just to UUs, and to present it in a format that would inspire UUs to keep it on their coffee tables for others to see. This, he thought, would acquaint more people with our faith and, perhaps, draw more members to our congregations.
In 2000, when I was the editor, with the support of President John Buehrens and the UUA Board, we changed the name again—to UU World. Why? Because there were six other U.S. magazines named World—and one of them was published by conservative Christians whose values were antithetical to ours; we clearly needed to stand apart. At the same time, we redesigned the magazine, added more overtly UU content, and launched a UU World website.
Christopher L. Walton, before I retired and he succeeded me as the editor of UU World in 2007, put his digital skills to work and launched a weekly web version of UU World, which he and his colleagues have refined several times since. They have also redesigned the print edition so that it keeps up with the times, and in 2014 launched a digital edition for tablets.
One of Chris’s innovations was to publish a “seeker issue,” whose content was chosen to appeal to seekers considering a UU congregation. The UUA Bookstore has sold 29,955 copies since its publication in 2016.
There were plenty of Unitarian and Universalist periodicals in the years leading up to 1970, but all had required individuals to pay for subscriptions—and had very small circulations. Bob West’s great idea, from its black-and-white-newsprint origins fifty years ago to the full-color magazine and website you receive today, gives Unitarian Universalists a tangible reminder of their connections to each other through the UUA.
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Tom Stites was the editor of UU World from 1997 to 2006 and retired as its publisher in 2007. He is a member of the First Religious Society of Newburyport, Massachusetts.
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