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Hymns Ancient & Modern publishing director to retire in September  

31 May 2024

Paul Handley marks the move by Christine Smith of SCM and Canterbury Press

David Hartley/Church Times

The Revd Christine Smith

The Revd Christine Smith

THE publishing director of the SCM and Canterbury Presses, the books imprints of Hymns Ancient & Modern, the Revd Christine Smith, has announced that she will retire at the end of September.

Ms Smith, who is also responsible for Church House Publishing, joined Hymns Ancient & Modern, which publishes the Church Times, at Easter 1996. She had moved from HarperCollins, where she was editorial director.

Shortly after her arrival, the introduction of Common Worship provided the opportunity to produce accompanying liturgy. Working with Brother Tristram SSF, she published a series of works that included Exciting Holiness, Celebrating the Seasons, and a processional Gospel book. These led to liturgical works for other denominations.

Under her supervision, the Canterbury Press imprint was revitalised, attracting authors such as Barbara Brown Taylor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Sara Miles, and introducing them to a UK readership. She exercised her editorial freedom, bringing the gay US bishop the Rt Revd Gene Robinson on a UK book tour, when he was not permitted to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference and was forbidden to preach.

The SCM Press was brought under her supervision, and, later, the Saint Andrew Press, the imprint of the Church of Scotland. Then, in 2009, she was entrusted with the management of Church House Publishing, the Church of England’s official imprint. She will continue to oversee this after her retirement from the Canterbury Press.

She admits to spending 20 years saying that religious poetry would not sell. “Malcolm Guite’s Sounding the Seasons and Mark Oakley’s Splash of Words — which won the Michael Ramsey Prize — changed all that,” she says. “Now it’s one of our prime categories.”

Besides taking on — and helping to turn round — the loss-making Church House Publishing, she accepted the task of hymn-book publishing, which employed her negotiating skills to the full, given the strongly held views that contributors had over the smallest detail. In her time, important new hymn books have appeared for the Methodist Church, the Church of Ireland, and the Church of Scotland. Most recently, The Revised English Hymnal has appeared, after seven years in preparation.

In addition to this, she found time to train for ordination. During this period, she discovered that there was no single department or full-time tutor of homiletics in any theological institution in the UK. In 2014, she attended the US Festival of Homiletics, and was inspired to launch the sell-out Church Times Festival of Preaching three years later. Thousands have since participated in online and in-person events, and one of her last acts will be to attend the next festival that she has organised, in Cambridge (15-17 September).

She says that she remains enthusiastic about the Church today: “The ingenuity, intellect, and imagination of certain voices are an antidote to the anxiety about church decline and the rather flat and uninspiring approaches that are being proposed to reverse it. Encountering truth and beauty in the written and spoken word is transformative.”

It has been a privilege, she says, to work closely with people such as Esther de Waal, Dr Paula Gooder, Canon Sam Wells, and others at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the impressive array of contributors to Reflections for Daily Prayer. “It gives you enormous hope for the future of the Church.”

She will be succeeded by her colleague David Shervington, who has managed the SCM Press since 2016, first as senior commissioning editor and latterly as associate publisher.

Two of his titles, Ghost Ship, by A. D. A. France Williams, and The Dark Womb, by Karen O’Donnell, were longlisted for the Michael Ramsey Prize. He was the founder of Theology Slam for young theologians. He is a licensed lay minister in Guildford diocese.

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