Monday, October 12, 2015

Meeting Augsburg Fortress Publishing House Again As If for the First Time

This week Wednesday through Saturday I will be in Minneapolis for the board meeting of Augsburg Fortress, the Publishing House of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The board is made up of folks from all over the ELCA, including bishops, pastors, seminary faculty, lay leaders in publishing and industry, and more. It’s a fantastic group of folks to gather with for a few days to vision ways forward in Christian publishing. I’m always taken with how wonderfully our board meetings keep a balance between excellence in business practice and faithfulness to the gospel. I love our denominational publishing house, and believe it has been rocking Christian publishing the past few years, pushing the innovation envelope on many levels. It’s an honor to serve on the board.

AF’s mission is simple: "Creative. Christian. Together, we create resources that renew Christian life and community.” Augsburg Fortress is dedicated to serving the faith community and the ELCA with top quality Christian materials that communicate the Gospel, enhance faith, and enrich the life of the Church and the communities it serves.

Like many publishing houses, Augsburg Fortress has had to make some significant transitions over the past decade to remain vital and lucrative. As some kinds of publishing have dried up or transitioned to other retail styles (Amazon happened!), our denominational publishing house has had to adapt. One of the biggest shifts AF has made in recent years is away from being a full-service shop for church supplies, and towards creating innovative resources that renew Christian life and faith. 

Here are just a few of my favorite examples. The first is our Sunday school curriculum. We use the Spark Lectionary curriculum from Sparkhouse (one of the subsidiary publishing houses under the umbrella of AF) for our Sunday schoolers. The new Sparkhouse Online allows all our teachers to access resources digitally, and the quality of the curriculum itself is illustrated in the fact that AF now supplies many churches outside of the ELCA with curricular materials as well. There are actually less children in Sunday school than during the era of the baby boomers, yet AF has grown in this area.

AF also publishes a majority of the materials we use for Sunday morning worship. Sundays & Seasons, an on-line tool, offers guidance for our worship team as they select hymns, includes prayers and ideas for corporate worship, and of course is tied to the hymnal we use in the pews, Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
Already you’re probably getting a sense of how influential AF actually is for our daily ministry as a congregation. Worship. Sunday school. These are central.

Augsburg Fortress has another subsidiary publisher, Fortress Press, that publishes more of the academic imprints our colleges and seminaries use for classroom instruction, and pastors and other leaders read in order to engage “scholarship that matters.”

For over 50 years, Fortress Press has been a pioneer in religious scholarship. They are committed to publishing timely, relevant, and transformative books in biblical studies, theology, and Christian history, and have a global reputation for doing so. Fortress Press publishes in three main areas; education, academic, and reference. A popular theology publishing program is also in the works.

The breadth of resources published by Fortress is impressive. Lots of contemporary scholarship in biblical studies and theology. Then fantastic reference resources, like the new Annotated Luther series.

My own book, Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-media Era, was published by Fortress. I’ve been writing for various AF publications over the years, especially for their curricular and worship resources, and the process of working with editors and staff at the publishing house has continually increased my respect for AF as a whole. Visit the AF offices, and you meet people dedicated to the church, to the renewal of the faith, to scholarship, to publishing. It’s really an incredible team.

Other AF products our congregation has used over the years include the series of videos produced by Sparkhouse. Animate: Faith, Bible, and Practices are a trilogy of videos, interviews with leading emerging Christian voices with compelling religious perspectives. We’ve used these video series with adults and with high school youth. Our confirmation youth are currently engaging another video series, Colaborate, which honestly is a class that has been growing all year because the confirmation youth are inviting their friends.

The newest venture from AF is Sparkhouse: Family. The goal is the creation of a series of resources that fit faith into everyday life. You can already view videos from Sparkhouse: Family on a devoted Roku channel.    

If all of this weren’t enough, AF also produces some free resources that benefit the church even if they don’t benefit the bottom line of the publishing house directly. My current favorite is the Road to Reformation, a web site and set of resources preparing us for the observation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Follow along with Martin Luther's life and steps 500 years ago to the day as they lead up to one of the most pivotal events in history. Streams are available on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and there is also a devoted web site.  

Publishing these days is adventure. It’s really an act of faith, as the landscape of what people watch and read and buy continues to evolve. I’m thankful for the integral role AF plays in publishing, and so also in the life of the church, creating resources that renew Christian life and faith.

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