Celebrating Christian bookshops!
BRF Ministries head of marketing, communications and strategic relationships, Karen Laister, writes about the huge part Christian bookshops have played in her own life, work and faith.
I remember visiting the Christian bookshop in Hull when I first became a Christian. I loved browsing the shelves and the untidiness of the shop. It was an Aladdin’s cave that you could spend hours in. One of my many purchases included Edward England’s, An Unfading Vision. Published in 1982, it was a book that led me initially to work in Christian bookselling and then for over 30 years for BRF Ministries.
‘… an Aladdin’s cave.’
Edward England was a publishing giant of his time and worked for Hodder and Stoughton. He has published Martin Luther King, Richard Wurmbrand, David Watson, Charles Colson and many other famous Christian writers. From the late sixties into the eighties could be said to be the golden era of Christian publishing, although Edward did lament when he entered publishing in 1966 that ‘the market for [religion and theology] had dwindled. What manse could boast of 17,000 volumes. Clergy, it was said, now read reviews instead of books.’
‘… profound and prophetic call to Christian publishing.’
Edward’s profound and prophetic call to Christian publishing came when he arrived 45-minutes early to start his new job at Hodder and Stoughton. The offices were at that time near to St Paul’s Cathedral and Edward decided to go in and pray before he started work. As he prayed, God spoke to him and he recalls God saying, ‘Do not limit your Christian publishing by your own experience. Publish for the whole church of Jesus Christ. For all men who truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God.’ To check out this commission, Edward asked ‘for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Salvation Army, charismatics, Billy Graham and CS Lewis?’ God gave him the reply, ‘for all who know Jesus Christ as Lord.’ Given Edward hadn’t even started his new job, this was an impressive list of authors to be pursuing! Edward was an exceptional and gifted publisher who commissioned writers whose stories and teaching enabled people to explore faith and deepen their discipleship.
‘Many people who work in Christian retailing… feel called to it by God.’
Many people who work in Christian retailing and publishing share Edward’s sense that their work is vocational: they feel called to it by God. Edward’s book led me to work for St Aldate’s Church bookshop in Oxford in the mid-1980s for four years before moving on to Lion Publishing and then to BRF Ministries. The Bible and Christian books have formed my Christian faith and practice.
I have always been arrested by that phrase in Philippians 2, ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ Paul is urging the Philippians to go on growing in their faith when he is no longer with them. I interpret Paul’s words to mean that faith is an adventure that is both exciting and terrifying (in a good way!). I believe that Christian books play a key role in helping to shape our faith and grow it, helping us, as Paul puts it ‘to work out [our] salvation.’
I have been privileged to read many, many letters and emails from people who have written to share how a Living Faith publication has made a difference to their faith and their relationship with God. I know the impact that Christian books have on people’s lives.
At the heart of An Unfading Vision is a conviction that ‘the best books are God’s books, and they are books that changed lives.’ Edward England was only with Hodder and Stoughton for fifteen years but his legacy continues today as some of the books he commissioned are still in print. It means a lot to me that I had the opportunity to sell some of Edward’s books at St Aldate’s Church bookshop and also that I had the pleasure of meeting him in the mid-1990s.
I would like to give a shout-out to all Christian retailers today, for their commitment and faithfulness in serving their local community with Christian books and resources. Without them and their dedication, the ministry of Christian books would be sadly diminished and many wonderful opportunities to reach people would be lost.
Karen receiving the inaugural ‘Supplier Impact of the Year Award’ from Kate Gunning of the Booksellers Association in September.
Karen Laister is Head of Strategy, Marketing and Communications at BRF Ministries