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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Many people collaborate to publish The Fig Tree

The Fig Tree teaches people they can make a difference through their actions

By Kaye Hult

Mary Stamp, editor, The Fig Tree
Mary Stamp said the Fig Tree archive has space for more.

Thirty years ago, Mary Stamp and Sr. Bernadine Casey of the Holy Names Sisters collaborated with the Spokane Christian Coalition to start The Fig Tree, publishing the first issue in May 1984.

The Fig Tree teaches people to believe they can make a difference by being involved in improving lives, communities, society, the nation and the world through their own actions, large and small.

Over the years, the publication has modeled “just peace” journalism—not named that until some journalism schools taught “peace journalism.”  Mary also calls it “solutions-oriented” journalism.

Most media exacerbate conflict by focusing on two extreme points of view, rather than exploring multiple viewpoints and nuances. 

The Fig Tree’s approach also comes from the vision in Micah 4:4 that everyone should live under their own vines and fig trees in peace and unafraid, Mary said.

Mary became interested in journalism in high school at Eugene, Ore., where she went on to study journalism at the University of Oregon, graduating in 1967. 

She met Bob Haworth at the UO. They married and  moved to Boston, where he entered seminary and she worked for two trade journals for two years.  In 1969, they attended the graduate studies program of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland.

Living for six months in that community of 60 people from 40 countries and various expressions of Christian faith, I recognized the need to listen to people to discover who they were beyond communication barriers of language, culture, nationality, economic status or religious tradition,” Mary said.

“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,” said Mary of discovering what is possible when people really listen to each other.

Moving to Astoria, Ore., in 1970, she wrote freelance stories about that seaport city’s history and people for the Daily Astorian.  Eventually she went on staff as features editor. 

In Fresno, Calif., from 1973 to 1976, she was frustrated when freelance features she wrote for the daily were edited to point to fads or trends.  So she started the bi-monthly newspaper, InterChurch, with Fresno Metropolitan Ministry.

In 1976, Mary and Bob moved to Tekoa, Wash., about 45 miles south of Spokane, where she wrote freelance articles on the people, agricultural life and history of the Palouse for the weekly Standard Register.

“It was the roots of my interest in covering rural and urban communities of the region,” she said.

Mary also learned the entrepreneurial skills needed to start The Fig Tree.  To be paid for the articles, she had to sell ads, too.  She was also involved with the regional United Church of Christ (UCC).  In 1988, she began editing the Pacific Northwest  Conference United Church News.

In 1983, a friend told the Spokane Christian Coalition about InterChurch.  Its board invited her to start a similar publication, with no guarantees of income.

One of the first people she asked to assist in starting the publication was Sr. Bernadine.  The two semi-volunteered their way into this venture of faith. 

“Sr. Bernadine helped edit, write articles, sell ads and promote The Fig Tree.  She served on the steering committee and after 2001, on the board,” Mary continued, “We had a great working relationship and friendship through the struggles of securing financial and reader support.  Her skills as an English teacher complemented mine as we edited.”

Mary also worked part time with the coalition, which became the Spokane Council of Ecumenical Ministries.  She helped with the directory, the legislative conference and fund raising.

Sr. Bernadine worked 23 years until near her death at 91 in 2007.  Selected articles she wrote from 1984 to 2006 are published in a book, Stories Give Life.

Mary told of other founders. 

The Rev. John Olson, director of the coalition/council and a Lutheran pastor, 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.  He retired in 1999 and died in 2006 at LaConner.

One of the founders, Jo Hendricks, a Presbyterian, wrote editorials from 1984 to 2006. 

“She was a modern prophet, challenging people of faith about incongruities of life in society and in faith groups, uplifting a vision rooted in biblical understanding,” Mary said.  “We compiled her editorials in a book, One Woman’s Words of Wisdom: Commentaries on the Timbre of the Times.

Carl Milton from Manito United Methodist Church was on the founding steering committee. For many years he assisted with mailings and coordinated bulk deliveries in his role as vice moderator.  He served on the board until 2008.

Mary values the relationship with the Holy Names Sisters.  For many years, Rose Theresa Costello, SNJM, helped with archives and editing.  She continues to help with mailings and the benefits.  Ann Pizelo, SNJM, served on the board.  Mary Ann Farley, SNJM is the current board moderator.  Yvonne Lopez-Morton, who was associate editor from 2009 to 2012, has since become a Holy Names associate.

Throughout The Fig Tree’s life, hundreds of people in the Inland Northwest have served on the staff or as freelance writers, editors, web designers, board members, interns and volunteers.  More than 1,000 individuals, congregations, nonprofits and businesses have provided support as advertisers.  Some 2,000 have been sponsors.

In 1999, after John retired from the council, its board suggested that The Fig Tree be the council’s public relations voice.  The steering committee knew that would undermine the its independent voice in covering religion.

In late 2000, Mary tried a job with Church Women United in New York City, continuing to be sure The Fig Tree was published.  She worked long distance with Betsy Rosenberg, who had been an intern from Eastern Washington University, helping edit.

“The job in New York was not what I wanted to do.  I loved doing The Fig Tree, so I came back at the end of 2000.  In 2001, we applied for and established our nonprofit status as an independent publication,” Mary said.

As an entrepreneurial effort, The Fig Tree has kept up with the times,” said Mary, who bought a computer in 1987, eliminating typesetting, and an 11 x 17 laser printer in 1996 to print camera-ready pages.

By 2004, she began developing the website, at first consulting with Lorna Kropp, who was librarian at Discovery School, and then bringing Lorna on as webmaster.

With the assistance of directory editor Malcolm Haworth and student interns, The Fig Tree has a presence on social media.

“I’ve learned to do all the aspects of the business, stepping in when someone steps out and stepping out when someone is available to do the work,” she said. 

To refresh her commitment and gain ideas for The Fig Tree, Mary has attended World Council of Churches Assemblies as accredited media.  She went to Vancouver, B.C., in 1983; Canberra, Australia in 1991; Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998; Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2006, and Busan, South Korea, in 2013. 

She is inspired by encounters with people who share stories of their lives and faith.

In Busan, she realized how unique The Fig Tree is.  Local to national journalists and ecumenical leaders respect the credibility of The Fig Tree. 

Mary often quotes BBC journalist Pauline Webb who said in 1983: “Every encounter with another human being is an encounter with the Source of all being.”

“We all have something to learn from each other,” Mary said.

Mary affirmed that The Fig Tree is always ready to move to the next level.  She is focusing in this issue and June on introducing some of the many other people committed to The Fig Tree ministry.

She hopes the campaign to raise three-year and five-year pledges of significant amounts—$300 to $3,000, based on the 30th anniversary—beyond regular giving will generate funds to support additional staff to help broaden the base of support.

 Her commitment continues, she said it’s time to recognize the many other people who edit, write, deliver papers and directories, and serve on the board.  They are also committed to remain involved to build The Fig Tree.

For information, call 535-1813 or email

Copyright © May 2014 - The Fig Tree