The United Methodist Publishing House dates to 1789 and has come through many dangers, toils and snares, as the old hymn goes.
Then came COVID-19.
While the pandemic was closing church buildings, it also was sabotaging the Publishing House’s sales revenue, prompting leaders to lay off about a third of the staff and put the Nashville, Tennessee, headquarters up for sale.
Even with severe cost-cutting, the self-supporting agency recently forecast an operating loss for fiscal year 2021.
“We’re continuing to evaluate and reset the business, and right size, if you want to call it that, for what we can afford,” said the Rev. Brian Milford, the Publishing House’s president and publisher.
Among those watching is retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon, who has written many books for the Publishing House and its imprint Abingdon Press.
“I’ve talked to a couple of editors and they were in deep pain for having to lay off some talented and consecrated people,” he said.
But Willimon is a longtime advocate for shaking up The United Methodist Church, and he feels there are lessons in the bold moves the Publishing House was making even before the pandemic.
“They have been the first to recognize that we’re in a very different time and there’s got to be some painful adjustment,” he said.
Founded as the Methodist Book Concern, the Publishing House is the denomination’s oldest continuous agency, rooted in the emphasis Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, placed on Christian formation through literacy.