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Washington Voices

Fig Tree religion newspaper turns 30

Thu., April 24, 2014

When Mary Stamp began publishing the Fig Tree in 1984 she had a strong background in journalism, but pretty much no money. The Spokane Christian Coalition invited Stamp to join a communications committee with Holy Names Sister Bernadine Casey and it was that committee that turned into the Fig Tree.

“Sister Bernadine Casey was one of the key players in starting the Fig Tree,” Stamp said. “She was formidable. She got into it with a lot of gusto.” Stamp said Casey worked at the paper into her 90s – she died in 2007 – but the Holy Names Sisters have continued their support of the paper.

Did Stamp ever think the Fig Tree would last for 30 years?

She laughs.

“I don’t know. You just put your all into it – it’s like any other small business,” Stamp said. “We are working on staying around as long as The Spokesman-Review.”

But right now it’s time to celebrate. On Wednesday, the Fig Tree is hosting a dinner featuring a presentation by the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, an internationally recognized leader in the ecumenical movement. His lecture is “Telling Stories of Belonging Together: Ecumenism as a Movement of Communication.”

Kinnamon is a visiting professor in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. And he’s used the Fig Tree in one of his classes.

“It became clear to me that the human drama was not coming through in the texts we read,” Kinnamon said. “Someone’s suffering or rejoicing, whatever it is, was not clear.”

The stories in the Fig Tree filled that gap as they often feature people who’ve put their faith into action and done something for their community.

“The media tend to focus on religion when it’s controversial,” Kinnamon said. “For instance when Terry Jones threatened to burn Korans – he got all kinds of attention for that.”

Kinnamon said he will speak about that and how the ecumenical movement is about communication between different religious groups.

“The Fig Tree does that so well,” Kinnamon said. “It’s a promoter of unity between different religious groups and churches.”

There’s no doubt that Stamp is the main engine behind the paper, but she’s quick to give everyone around her credit.

Preparing for the 30th anniversary gave her a chance to look through old newspapers and mastheads, remembering the people who’ve worked for the paper.

“It’s been a time of reflection, it’s been hard sometimes,” Stamp said. “Many of the people are no longer with us.”

She said more than 100 people have been involved with running the paper over the past 30 years, and more than 1,000 businesses, organizations and nonprofit groups have advertised with the Fig Tree.

The paper’s circulation is around 7,700.

“I think that’s a pretty strong showing,” Stamp said.

Another focus of the 30th anniversary is a new fundraising campaign aiming at creating a solid financial foundation for the paper’s future.

Stamp’s son Malcolm Haworth works with her publishing The Resource Directory, a guide to congregations and community resources while he is finishing a master’s degree.

Is he going to continue the paper after Stamp?

“God only knows,” Stamp said, adding that she has no plans to retire. “I may slow down a little bit but I look at world leaders who continue into their 80s and 90s – I can keep going, too.”

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