Mary Stamp, Editor considers Fig Tree a direct service ministry
For editor Mary Stamp, it has been more than a job using professional journalism skills to make a living. It has influenced her life and faith journey. Over the years, a web of relationships and direct services has emerged from this publication, making it more than an educational, communications ministry.
“My life is touched by each person I interview and encounter,” Mary said. “My questions are to learn, challenge, explore and share in the others’ perspectives. Often replies have been gifts, insights and inspiration for me, both keeping me committed and inspiring others into action.”
Mary’s path to The Fig Tree originated in work on her high school newspaper and grew through studies at the University of Oregon School of Journalism, from which she graduated in 1967. The emphasis in both was on ethics in journalism.
In 1969, she audited the graduate studies program of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland. Living in that community of 60 people from 40 countries and from the various expressions of Christian faith, she recognized the need to listen to people, setting aside pride and agendas, to discover who they are, beyond barriers of language, culture, nationality, economic status or religious tradition. “Sometimes I’d ask a question in several ways, to be sure that I heard correctly what they meant, speaking in a second or third language,”
Mary said. “I transferred that skill to interviewing and writing human-interest feature articles about the history, issues and people of Astoria, Ore., for the Daily Astorian. “My excitement and curiosity were tempered in Fresno, where my freelance articles for the daily were revised to give them a more trendy, faddist approach, she said. “Wishing to communicate realities and truths beyond the popular, secular mode, I began a bi-monthly publication, InterChurch, with Fresno Metropolitan Ministry.”
From 1976 to 1984, Mary lived in Tekoa, 45 miles south of Spokane, writing freelance articles for The Standard Register, a local weekly. “I covered a wealth of stories about people’s lives, local issues, farming concerns and Palouse history—the roots of my commitment to cover rural and urban communities of the region,” said Mary, who is active in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and also edits the Pacific Northwest UCC Conference’s edition of United Church News.
In the fall of 1983, a friend on the then Spokane Christian Coalition board told them about InterChurch, and the board asked her to start a similar publication—with no guarantees of income. The board and the coalition’s director, the Rev. John Olson, gave her names of people who might be interested. One was Sister Bernadine Casey, SNJM, who as Mary, worked as a semi-volunteer, “forgiving” salary owed when income fell short of budgeted amounts. Until John, a Lutheran, retired in 1999, he wrote editorials that challenged the faith community to care about the region, to stretch beyond their congregations’ walls and to address poverty, injustice, prejudice, isolation, alienation and loneliness.
Editorial writer Jo Hendricks, a Presbyterian, wrote editorials through 1996. Mary describes her as a modern prophet challenging people of faith from life as it is in society or in faith groups to a vision rooted in biblical understanding.
Over the years, various writers—students, pastors, lay people, Jewish and Christian—have contributed articles, expanding their insights and those of readers. Lynn Swedberg, a physical therapist wrote about health care and accessibility issues. Betsy Rosenberg wrote about expressions of her Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, but also helped The Fig Tree continue to publish during three of five months Mary worked as communications director for the national Church Women United office in New York City from July to December 2000.
“I decided my roots were in Spokane and this unique communications ministry,” Mary said. During those months, Methodist Helen Cathcart, a former board member, and Episcopalian Roger Ross, previously The Fig Tree representative on the Council board, were key figures in making The Fig Tree an independent, nonprofit organization.
Among the other writers in recent years have been:
• Deidre Jacobson, a Lutheran involved with the Women’s Hearth
• the Rev. Hugh Magee, communications officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane
• Nancy Minard of the Veradale United Church of Christ
• Steve Blewett, former head of the journalism department at Eastern Washington University
• Virginia de Leon, free lance writer, former religion reporter for the Spokesman-Review
• Carol Spurling, a free lance writer in Pullman • Bronwyn Worthington, a free lance writer
• Yvonne Lopez-Morton was Associate Editor 2009-2011.
• Janet Hunter and Joan Healey Harthill are among other recent writers
• Kaye Hult, Administrative and Volunteer Coordinator, writes a North Idaho article regularly.
The goal of the board, as an editorial and organizational team, is to empower the region’s people and organizations simply by connecting them.