Following the 1984 launch of the Reconciling Congregation Program in The United Methodist Church, co-coordinators Mark Bowman and Beth Richardson recognized the need for resources and support by congregations that were engaging in public ministries with LGBT persons. They began a magazine in responses to these needs. With no capital resources or publishing experience but with the help of several volunteer writers and editors, the first issue of Manna for the Journey was published in the summer of 1985. Colleagues in Affirmation: United Methodists for LGBT Concerns raised funds to mail out 1,000 copies of this first issue and invite subscriptions.
Some characteristics of the inaugural issue remained throughout the magazine's history: a diverse group of writers addressed a particular theme in each issue, which also included resources for spiritual development and further education along with news of the movement. In the first year, another United Methodist group with a federally trademarked MANNA newsletter challenged the use of the Manna for the Journey title. When the RCP’s application for trademark on that title was denied, the publishers decided to change the title to Open Hands beginning in Summer 1986. This had been the title of Affirmation’s daily newsletter during United Methodist General Conferences, drawing upon John Wesley’s sermon “The Catholic Spirit” based upon II Kings 10:15: “Is your heart true to my heart as mine is to yours?...If it is, give me your hand.”
From the beginning Open Hands tried to shed light on concerns not adequately addressed in other forums, often breaking new ground in issues with themes such as these:
In 1988, the publishers of Open Hands applied for and were accepted into membership in the Associated Church Press, the mainstream Christian publishing association in the U.S. and Canada. The following year Open Hands won the Award of Merit for best “in-depth coverage of a current issue” for its Summer 1988 issue, “Living and Loving with AIDS.” It also received Honorable Mention in the premier General Excellence category. In 1992, the ACP again honored Open Hands, this time with the Award of Merit for General Excellence among magazines with fewer than 10,000 subscribers.
In January 1993, Open Hands became an ecumenical venture, published by the Reconciling Congregation Program in cooperation with More Light Churches Network (Presbyterian), Open and Affirming (United Church of Christ) and Reconciled in Christ (Lutheran) Programs. The size of the magazine was increased from 24 to 32 pages and an ecumenical editorial advisory team was established to assist the editor and publisher in planning themes and recruiting writers. In the following years Open and Affirming Ministries (Disciples of Christ), Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, and the Affirming Congregation Programme (United Church of Canada) joined the cooperative ecumenical venture.
Even with this broader base of support, Open Hands’ paid subscription list never topped 3,000 subscribers and the publication costs had to be subsidized through financial contributions. After a transition in staff leadership and shift in priorities, publication was abruptly halted in 2002.
For more information on the early history of Open Hands, see the 10th anniversary issue, volume 11, number 1, published in summer 1995.
Mark Bowman, coordinator
LGBT Religious Archives Network