Praise be! Church Times celebrates 150th anniversary in profit and with steady sales

Pre-dating the Daily Mail, Financial Times and The Sun, the 150-year-old Church Times claims to be one of the UK’s oldest papers.

The paper was founded on this day (7 February) in 1863 by printer George Josiah Palmer and at one stage boasted Edward Heath, later a Conservative prime minister, as its news editor.

This week’s special edition, on sale for its usual £1.80 price, features a contribution from former proprietor and editor, between 1969 and 1989, Dr Bernard Palmer, the fourth generation of Palmers to oversee the title.

It remained a family business until 1989 and is now owned by charity Hymns Ancient and Modern, which, according to current editor of 18 years Paul Handley, originally “thought of us as a way to publish hymn books”.

Under his editorship, the weekly for Anglican church-goers has endured a challenging period. According to the latest figures from the 2011 census, only 59 per cent of people in England and Wales now describe themselves as Christian versus 72 per cent ten years earlier.

But Handley told Press Gazette that the title has managed to avoid job losses, retaining ten editorial staff over the past 18 years – despite the general trend of job losses across journalism.

“The paper is in profit, which means we do not have to scrimp on editorial staff,” he said.

Handley said this was “largely down to advertising”, which has not slumped considerably, but also claimed that circulation declines had slowed recently after consistent year-on-year drops of around 1,000. The paper claims a paid-for circulation of around 23,000.

He said that subscriptions had always remained strong but admitted general newsagent sales had declined. He attributed the recent recovery to big stories on gay marriage, women bishops and the changing of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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