In less than two weeks, I will mark 20 years writing “On Faith” for The Courier.
During that time I have changed full-time jobs a few times and had a child who is now a teenager. There have been many other small and large transitions, and writing this column each week has been a joyful constant in my life.
At this time of year in particular, I consider all of the ways this column has put me in contact with the various ways people celebrate important occasions and milestones.
Advent and Christmas themes have been particularly fun. Ones I regularly reflect on include reader responses about with whom they identified in the biblical Christmas story and covering the convergence of Christmas, Hannukah and Eid al-Fitr from Bethlehem.
Other favorites were Christmastime columns focused on Kathryn Koob’s recollections. The 2004 series spanned her childhood in rural Northeast Iowa to her experience as one of 53 people held hostage in Iran for 444 days, November 1979 to January 1981.
In December 1980, a U.S. television crew was allowed to tape messages from hostages to their families, which wouldn’t be shared publicly.
As a special message to her nieces and nephews, Kate sang the third verse of “Away in a Manger.” Unbeknownst to her, producers decided to broadcast her recording to an international audience.
The opportunity to hear such stories still amazes me. When I started writing this column, I couldn’t imagine the world it would open up.
Inevitably, I think about my early advisers and am reminded it’s a blessing to do this work.
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By December 1998, I had been at The Courier a few months. Former Editor Saul Shapiro told me to develop a weekly religion column.
First, I was to write a few samples. After I turned those in, Saul had me watch as he edited my submissions. As he poked at his keyboard, he explained and advised. It was like a master class, as intense as it was instructive.
Current Editor Nancy Raffensperger Newhoff and the late H. James Potter also gave me one-on-one feedback. Others weighed in, too: Pat Kinney, Meta Hemenway-Forbes, CJ Hines, Melody Parker and Catherine Kittrell.
In all, the preparation for what would become the first few installments of “On Faith” was grueling and exhilarating. While I felt vulnerable, the real reason the process nearly overwhelmed me is because I understood such an outpouring of support to be extraordinary. I wanted to deserve such an investment.
Within a few months, readers joined the informal advisory group through phone calls, letters, emails or impromptu chats at Hy-Vee.
After the one year mark, Saul told me he was proud of me for sticking with it. I asked what he meant; he was the editor. He told me to write the column, so I wrote the column.
His reply was he assumed I’d taper to biweekly and then monthly submissions before fizzling out altogether.
That conversation is one of many reasons I continue. I also feel a sense of responsibility to those who helped start and sustain the work.
However, the main thing is your stories. Thank you for 20 years, and I look forward to many more.