Mr. EPA: Terry White Reflects on His 55 Years in EPA
A call went out at a recent EPA annual gathering: “Who has attended the most conventions?” To no one’s surprise, Terry White won the prize. Attending his first in 1968, he has only missed five since. What was his faithfulness worth? Peanuts—literally: a bag of peanuts!
His longevity—49 conventions to date—has earned him the moniker, Mr. EPA. Already registered for the 2023 convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, what will be his 50th convention comes in the 75th year of the organization founded in 1948. But what keeps him coming back again and again?
Finding kindred souls
“Journalists like to be with journalists,” Terry said, “and I liked to be with people who were writing and editing and laying out and fighting the battles of circulation and advertising and all the things we dealt with. These were my kinds of people. I understood them and they understood me. Most of the rest of the world didn’t understand us.”
He likens EPA to a family. “Year after year you get to know these brothers and sisters,” he said. “You may have occasional contact during the year but [you] always have these intense conversations at the convention: ‘Tell me about your year…what’s happened…what’s new in your life…how’s your wife…how’re the kids…what are you working on…what changes are you thinking about?’”
He said, “It’s a pickup conversation as though you never had a year in between. It’s really good fellowship and connections.”
Introverts may find more challenges, but right from the start, Terry felt accepted and appreciated. “Even when I was a young buck and didn’t know anything or anybody, people were kind to me—nice and helpful.” He never sensed any competition or politics.
Professional development also draws him back—gaining new ideas and learning about cutting-edge resources. Almost every year he has come away with something that helped him do his job better.
He cites one stand-out example. At the 2003 Atlanta convention Steve Knight, then with Decision magazine, introduced the “new” technology of weblogs (blogs) to improve an organization’s communication. Terry immediately understood this tool could replace the denomination’s existing system.
His predecessor had been recording weekly news for the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, his employer, making updates accessible to leaders by phone. Terry realized that besides increasing efficiency, blogs could contain photos, one of Terry’s strengths. He began using the Blogspot platform in April 2004, and the blog communication continues to this day. A technology he had never heard of before not only revolutionized the denomination’s connection with the churches, Terry said, “it revolutionized my ministry.”
He appreciates EPA’s commitment to sharing cutting-edge technologies, websites, vendors, and other helpful resources. “There’s always something new out there that you go home and investigate,” he said. Sometimes it’s an immediate help. Sometimes it’s useful in the future.
Remembering his first EPA
In 1968, as a newly hired section editor of the Brethren Missionary Herald (BMH, Winona Lake, Ind.), Terry attended his first EPA convention with his boss, Charles Turner, executive director and editor of the BMH organization’s magazine. He was well-connected in EPA, and Terry quickly followed suit. At that convention, Terry, along with freelance photographer Phil Landrum (who serviced, among others, the Christian Service Brigade publications) somehow wound up being unofficial photographers. By day they shot photos. By night they worked the dark room. Next morning they displayed contact sheets and took orders for 8x10s available next day.
Meeting early heroes
One of Terry’s greatest joys was getting to know, in person, early Christian publishing heroes and EPA leaders, such as Joseph Bayly, Mel Larson, William Petersen and Norman Rohrer.
Terry followed Joe Bayly’s work as editor of His magazine. Terry also enjoyed reading Joe’s column, “Out of My Mind” for Eternity magazine and groundbreaking books, such as The Gospel Blimp and The View from a Hearse.
Terry also admired Mel Larson, who edited The Evangelical Beacon. In addition, Mel worked with Youth for Christ and published books about that organization as well as several biographies.
William Petersen inspired him as well. Bill (also a musician like Terry) edited Campus Life and Eternity magazines for many years, while authoring dozens of books.
Terry knew Norm Rohrer, who served as EPA Executive Secretary from 1965-1978, through Grace Brethren connections. “He was my hero,” Terry said, “because he worked his way through seminary, selling articles to Vera Bethel at Light & Life.” Norm also created the original Christian Writers Guild correspondence course, using clever magazine ads, saying, “I Fire Writers.” Norm was the only person Terry knew who made a living in the writing world “without being a magazine editor or attached to an organization.”
With EPA’s relationship-building opportunities, Terry learned everything he could from these “titans of Christian publishing,” how they worked and how they managed their lives.
Read more history of EPA from former Executive Director Doug Trouten
As his inaugural-year-photography role suggests, Terry has always delighted in serving EPA. “Any time I was given opportunity to serve in some way, I was always happy to do it,” he said. Early on, he played piano and led singing. He also enjoyed strategizing where the organization could go, what it could become, and where there was room for advancement.
Terry frequently did critiques of member publication magazines and articles. He said it was always fun to help colleagues. Some had much to learn. “Sometimes they reacted well. Sometimes they said, ‘Forget it. I’m leaving.’” But with some experienced members he had “interesting and rich conversations.”
Between conventions, Terry worked with his own journalism students at Grace College (Ind.) and participated in the Evangelical Press In Colleges (EPIC) program in the 1970s. Run by Wheaton College (Ill.) professor and author James L. Johnson, EPIC brought EPA editors to the Wheaton campus as guest speakers. Unfortunately, Terry was there the day Wheaton discontinued that program, leaving him stranded without an opportunity to interact with the faculty.
Terry’s heart for journalism students came from his role as a journalism instructor which took him from Grace College to St. Paul Bible College (Crown College) and later back to Grace College. Along the way were stints at University of Northwestern-St. Paul, Bethel University and Indiana Wesleyan University. Whenever possible, he would bring students to the convention.
In later years, Terry became involved with Advisers of Christian Collegiate Media (ACCM), which began meeting in conjunction with EPA. Christian college journalism departments brought students to learn from the pros. The profs prepared students to get assignments from editors. Terry, teaching at Grace College, joined other professors, including Michael Chute (Cal Baptist), Michael Longinow (Biola), David Dixon (Messiah), and Jeff Gilbert (Cedarville).
For part of the convention, teachers met to discuss germane topics while a CBU staffer directed student activities and contests. The fledgling journalists went out and wrote stories and did photography—culminating with their own award ceremony. “The kids were aggressive, inquiring,” Terry said. “They wanted to be around us.” Because this program greatly benefited the students, Terry laments the program’s demise after only a few years.
Remembering stand-out conventions
Students. The 1973 convention took place in Fort Wayne, Ind., only 45 miles from Grace College in Winona Lake, and Terry’s students performed many of the behind-the-scenes tasks. Additionally, they constructed large chicken-wire stands to display their photography. Some students connected with editors and sold their photos—a high point for Terry as well as his students.
Newspaper dreams. At 1975’s Oak Brook (Ill.) convention, Terry attended a meeting to discuss the founding of a national Christian newspaper financed by a New Jersey jeweler. The National Courier lasted only a couple years, but that didn’t deter Terry’s growing vision for a Christian newspaper. “I just had a burden for Christian newspapering,” he said. So, through conversation with EPA contact John Lawing, the last editor of the National Courier, Terry devised three strategies to avoid a similar demise:
- use mostly volunteer and student labor
- maintain a tight budget, working out of his basement
- limit circulation to a defined area, not a national audience
In 1978, after moving to Minnesota to teach at St. Paul Bible College, his dream was fulfilled when he launched the Twin Cities Christian (TCC) newspaper.
John Lawing’s warning that the TCC wouldn’t last six months became a joke between them: “Year after year…when I saw him,” Terry said, “I would point to him, and he would say, ‘I know, six months…’”
The TCC, later renamed the Minnesota Christian Chronicle, lasted 36 years and, with former EPA Executive Director Doug Trouten as editor for nearly two decades, earned respect as the leading regional Christian newspaper in the U.S. The vision for it came at that Oak Brook convention in the basement of the Stouffer Inn, where the National Courier was founded—a precursor to many other newspaper dreams.
Speakers. EPA has had a “Who’s Who List” of prominent speakers over the many years: Joni Eareckson Tada, Luis Palau, Cal Thomas, Chuck Colson, David Jeremiah, Philip Yancey, Crawford Loritts, Leith Anderson, Elisa Morgan, T.D. Jakes, George Barna, Ed Stetzer, Anne Graham Lotz, Kay James, Kay Warren, John Stonestreet, to name a few.
Among memorable convention speakers, Terry cites Wes Pippert (longtime UPI journalist and director of the Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington Program) and Lauren Green (chief religion correspondent for Fox News).
EPA-program interviews with people who had gone through great trauma—such as Andrew and Norine Brunson, missionaries to Turkey—also touched him.
In 2016, with zero evidence, the Brunsons were arrested and imprisoned on false terrorism charges. In contrast with Norine’s soon release, Andrew’s horrific imprisonment lasted two years before U.S. government intervention finally secured his release.
During the 2019 convention, Dean Nelson, director of Point Loma Nazarene University’s journalism program, interviewed the couple. Pastor Brunson revealed a great deal about his mental state during his incarceration. Terry found it very moving when the missionary talked about dancing before the Lord in his cell and singing songs he composed. He also spoke honestly about times of despair. Though confident of God’s sovereignty, Pastor Brunson’s uncertainty about his situation prompted understandable human reactions.
Two other conventions stand out for coinciding news events.
Terry vividly recalls the 1982 Grand Rapids convention. Walking down the hallway at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, he suddenly faced a wedge of “guys in blue blazers” accompanied by police dogs. Israel’s President Shimon Peres was giving a lecture in town and staying at that hotel. Israeli security forces “had the hotel buttoned down tight,” Terry said, “and we were right there in the middle of it.”
In 2000 Joel Belz (World magazine), arranged for African-American Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes to speak for the convention. But severe weather greatly delayed Keyes’s arrival. Conventiongoers waited together for many hours, but, Terry said, “My memory is that he never arrived. We eventually gave up and went to our rooms!”
Enjoying convention ‘extras’
Some of Terry’s favorite EPA extra-curricular activities have included major-league baseball games in host cities; a live Sight & Sound Theatre stage production of Samson; and after-hours previews of faith-based films, such as War Room and Fireproof.
Favorite “touristy” activities included taking a boat across Puget Sound (’86, Seattle) to a Native American restaurant for a smoked salmon dinner in a “gorgeous setting.” Terry visited with editor George Keck (Evangelical Beacon) during the whole boat ride—two former newsmen comparing backgrounds. Terry especially appreciated Luis Palau, the dinner speaker, and the gorgeous setting.
In Oklahoma City (2019), spending much time at the memorial site of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing deeply moved Terry.
On occasion, the convention’s host committee provided tours of publishing houses, such as Abingdon (Nashville, ’79) and Harvest House (Portland, ’08).
The Minneapolis (’68) convention’s bonus tour of Bethany Fellowship (Bethany House) also interested him. He had never heard of a communal Christian ministry like that before. Attendees saw where Bethany made the lefse grills and pop-up tent trailers they sold to support the fellowship’s missionary endeavors, and Terry was fascinated with the commissary to check out cars, the common childcare provisions, and other shared features.
In Colorado Springs (2012), Focus on the Family hosted the convention at their facility instead of a hotel.
The worst convention, many EPA-ers joke, was at Pheasant Run in St. Charles, Ill., outside of Chicago (’91). It yielded the “all-time highest profit,” Terry said, “but we ‘paid for it’ because everything was bare bones….It wasn’t a very enjoyable convention because everything was cheap—really cheap.”
Trending on EPA: Identifying changes over the years
Looking back, Terry has observed a number of trends:
Music. Early on, conventions included significant music components. “In the very early days, we did a lot of our own music,” he recalls. “We even had our own choir.” Terry, a music major, accomplished pianist, and church choir director, led editors and their wives in early-morning rehearsals and evening performances.
Some years, conveners brought in local choirs. Terry said Minneapolis’s African-American “Sounds of Blackness” choir, was particularly memorable.
Some of the more famous artists that have appeared at EPA include Michael Card, Point of Grace, Chonda Pierce, Jars of Clay, Selah, Matthew West, and Casting Crowns. In 2000, the Nashville convention featured a closing night concert by Michael W. Smith.
In the 1990s, Turning Point Media president Brian Smith, Nashville, brought young talent “on their way to stardom,” and, Terry said, “we got ’em first.” One of those artists was Steven Curtis Chapman.
Interviews with the musicians benefited the ministries of both the magazines and the singers.
Christian newspapers. Another trend was the waxing and waning of the Christian newspaper movement. Doug Trouten, who was Terry’s student at St. Paul Bible College and his protégé, became editor of the Minnesota Christian Chronicle (the Twin Cities Christian newspaper that Terry founded in Minneapolis). Doug and Lamar Keener (Christian Times/Christian Examiner in Southern California) were instrumental in creating the Christian Newspaper Association (CNA) in the ‘90s. Many others participated, and CNA burgeoned to about 40 local papers in cities around the country.
They participated in an ad co-op and, on several occasions, partnered in hiring an investigative reporter to co-publish major stories. A 2008 exposé on Oprah Winfrey, written by Steve Rabey, was published in more than 30 newspapers with a combined circulation of more than 500,000. It garnered national attention with USA Today and Fox News.
For several years, CNA met at the same time as EPA, joining together for some sessions and adding meetings of their own. Eventually, however, the decline of newspapers in general also affected CNA.
Freelancing connections. Terry, Doug Trouten, and current Executive Director Lamar Keener all encouraged EPA freelance writer involvement (as associate members), eventually adding a separate award category for articles submitted by them. For years freelancers connected during conventions. Then COVID prompted monthly Zoom calls, sharing mutual support and information. Terry said he was particularly pleased with the way that group has developed. He said that seeing Canadian freelancer Ann-Margret Hovsepian on the board now as an advisor is wonderful. At times Terry has participated in their monthly Zoom calls. “Those are precious people I’ve grown to know and love,” he said, “freelancers who wouldn’t miss a convention if they were on their death bed.”
Digital and global. Terry sees two new emphases in recent years: digital technology and global cooperation. The shift of many magazines to digital only or print+digital has brought new workshop topics, sponsors, and vendors. The COVID pandemic forced the annual convention itself to go virtual in 2021. EPA also launched DigitalMediaCon, a virtual conference focused exclusively on digital communications, in 2020.
Reaching beyond U.S. borders, EPA has been partnering with Sharon Mumper, president of Magazine Training International (MTI), first sending EPA editors (including Terry) to teach in other countries, and later presenting webinars accessible anywhere in the world. Terry believes there’s “good synergy” between the two organizations: encouraging international publications and bringing to EPA conventions a number of Christian editors from around the world—Mexico, Turkey, Nigeria, India, and more.
Networking with colleagues
One constant at conventions is networking. In addition to finding writers for the various publications he edited, Terry frequently picked up writing assignments from other magazines and organizations and even found employment leads.
At the 1992 Charlotte convention, Megs Singer, with Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM), first approached Terry about editing their Inside Journal newspaper. Terry knew he would soon be unemployed but didn’t know what to do next. Megs invited him to apply, but he wasn’t interested in trading his Minneapolis location for Washington, D.C.’s high cost of living. He put Megs off for a year but began running out of job options. After a journalism-department-head interview at Liberty University (Va.) that didn’t feel right, he headed up Route 29, stopped to see Megs, and was impressed with PFM. By then he had a few other options, but he chose Inside Journal, where he served for almost nine years in many ministry areas, including Breakpoint radio broadcasts.
Navigating challenging times
One of Terry’s most challenging positions within EPA was that of awards committee chair. In those days he didn’t have much help, and contest entries arrived by snail mail. Terry had to find judges, mail entries to them, get everything back, and create a 35mm slide presentation (before PowerPoint) for the convention. One year, with delays in the process, he had to lay out winning entries in the convention hotel lawn, photograph them, then get the slides processed and arranged in time for the awards presentation.
Some highly delicate situations have also challenged the board. For example, while Terry chaired the ethics committee, an ethics-violation charge required him to hear and weigh evidence, then mediate protracted, tense negotiations between two parties. It took several years to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. “That was really hard committee work,” he said, but it also spawned a careful rewriting of EPA’s Code of Ethics.
Resolving that conflict, Terry said, “was one of the more delicate and difficult tasks I ever faced as a board member and committee chair.”
Highlighting spiritual emphases
In addition to the spiritual encouragement and challenges from plenary speakers and workshop leaders, convention programming often allowed members to attend Sunday morning services in host-city churches.
Terry’s fondest memory stems from the 1992 Charlotte convention. Attending Calvary Church, where Ross Rhoads was longtime pastor, Terry enjoyed hearing guest speaker Billy Graham, who reported on his recent ministry to North Korea. Most of the evangelist’s family were in the audience. “Seeing and hearing Billy Graham preach on a Sunday morning was a rare privilege,” Terry said.
He is also convinced that “people who can deal with words need to leave a clear declaration of who they were for the generations that come after them.” Though he can’t point to a specific EPA incident that solidified that conviction, he knows his desire to put his values into writing in his autobiography, Keyboards of My Life, stemmed from being around people who “value putting ink on paper and preserving it.” Colleagues Les Stobbe, Tim Stafford, Wes Pippert, and Philip Yancey did, Terry said. He wishes he knew more about other people’s stories, but they never wrote it down. “It’s so important to leave a philosophical and theological footprint for future generations in print,” he said.
Overall, Terry said he’s always liked the people, task, business, industry, and mission of Christian publications and felt it was a “spiritual opportunity to help advance the cause of Christian communications.”
All his memories are pleasant, he said, and he loves the lifelong friendships he’s made.
One lingering convention recollection he cites is being the last person out of the lounge area at night. When there was nobody left to talk to, he decided he might as well go to bed.
Harking back to his prize of peanuts for his EPA longevity, Terry—who has worked both sides of the editorial desk—recalls a Peanuts comic from Charles M. Schulz. Snoopy rejects Charlie Brown’s proffered bowl of kibble, sending a note saying that material didn’t suit his present needs.
Sidebar: Roles and Awards
Terry White calls himself a “lifelong EPA junkie.” Others jokingly call him “the old-timer.” Remaining active in the organization over the years, he has served in many capacities: member of the board of directors (1997-2001, 2018-2022), president (1999-2001), convention chair, scholarship committee chair, ethics committee chair, awards committee chair, contest judge, workshop presenter, convention photographer, and music leader.
In 2002, Terry received EPA’s Joseph Bayly Award for Outstanding Service. The award recognizes members for “extraordinary lifetime achievement in the field of Christian journalism and leadership within EPA.”
In 2015, Terry was granted lifetime honorary membership in EPA and he was named to the EPA Legacy Council, an honor for past presidents who go on to serve in an advisory/mentoring capacity.
Sidebar: Impacting the World with MTI
In 2003, Magazine Training International invited Terry and Doug Wicks (Alliance Life) to teach a one-week writing and editing course in Russia at a rugged, very primitive, abandoned Communist youth camp. Some of the 20 participants came from “closed” countries, and many worked secular jobs in addition to Christian publishing. Terry particularly remembers a young man who worked at the airport in his country’s capital but also edited and published a Christian youth magazine.
Several courageous attendees, when asked their circulation, said, “999” because 1,000 or more triggered government control. “Upon reaching 999,” Terry recalls, they “simply founded another publication by another name and continued to publish the gospel that way.”
Working through translators presented teaching challenges, such as avoiding idioms and American sports references. And waiting for translation left only half as much time to teach. Terry felt particularly challenged in interpreting American thought patterns into other cultures.
In 2009, MTI invited Terry and Mark Galli (Christianity Today) to teach in the Philippines. Though Manila was much more developed than the Russian location, a typhoon had recently ravaged the area.
Terry and Mark spent one day with local missionaries, touring the devastated area and distributing Ziploc bags of laundry detergent so people could wash their mud-saturated clothes. When MTI classes began, some participants said they had to ford neck-deep water to get there.
Terry is profoundly grateful for these experiences. “They introduced me to strongly motivated Christian journalists and publishers who had a thirst to learn, who wanted to be more effective. These people labored with few resources and little encouragement.”
— by Joyce K. Ellis
Joyce K. Ellis is an award-winning writer and has published hundreds of articles in EPA publications over the past fifty years. She has served on staff with The Evangelical Beacon, Pursuit, and PrayerConnect. Her 18 published books include the humorous grammar book Write with Excellence 201. A longtime EPA associate member, she is part of EPA’s freelance writers network. Joyce and Terry White have been friends and colleagues since the ’70s (that’s the 1970s, she’s quick to add).
Posted Feb. 27, 2023