McCullum dies at 76

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(L to R): Archbishop Ted Scott, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Hugh McCullum, former editor of the Canadian Churchman, at the book launch of Radical Compassion.

Hugh McCullum, who edited the Canadian Churchman (predecessor to the Anglican Journal) from 1968 to 1975, and was known as an activist-journalist who championed social justice causes, died Oct. 16. He was 76.

Mr. McCullum was the first layperson to be appointed editor of the Canadian Churchman, and relished the newspaper’s editorial independence. “I used to worry a lot about journalistic standards and ethics in those days and fought some fairly bitter battles with the leaders of a couple of Canadian churches to make sure that editorial independence meant just that – that we were journalists first and institutional hacks second,” Mr. McCullum told a gathering of North American church media in 2004. “We thought that when church publications didn’t wash their institutions dirty linen in public it somehow didn’t come clean.”

Those who worked with Mr. McCullum remember him as a sharp writer and editor.

“Hugh influenced the Anglican church’s national newspaper in three ways and that legacy still exists, 40 years on,” said Carolyn Purden, who was hired by Mr. McCullum and later, became editor of the Anglican Journal (1991 to 1995). He “broke with tradition by hiring people who were writers, rather than clergy – he said it was easier to teach writers about the Anglican church than to teach clergy to be reporters,” she said. “Then he sent his writers across Canada and around the world to report on the church and its people.”

She recalled that under his leadership, the newspaper produced stories that reflected Mr. McCullum’s passion for “righting social ills,” such as poverty, aboriginal land claims, pollution, reform of Canada’s abortion laws, and apartheid. “That concern for social justice is still reflected in the paper’s pages today.”

Ms. Purden said Mr. McCullum’s “greatest gift” to the newspaper was “his unflagging concern that it be editorially independent; he believed that a church that could be open and transparent would be a stronger church.”

Rev. Bill Portman, who covered the west and the north for the Canadian Churchman, told Canwest News Service that Mr. McCullum was “a newsman’s newsman” and a “tough editor.”

From 1975 to 1979, Mr. McCullum and his wife, Karmel Taylor, worked at Project North, a group organized to speak for Canadian churches on northern development issues that affected natives.

Mr. McCullum later served as editor of the United Church Observer magazine for nearly 10 years, where he was both admired and reviled for the magazine’s left-leaning stance.

In 1989, he left to take charge of the information unit of a research and documentation organization in Zimbabwe and, except for a brief return to Canada (as senior editor-writer of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples), stayed in Africa for 13 years. While in Africa he trained journalists in 14 southern African countries and covered countless wars, elections, emergencies, and the outbreak of HIV/AIDS.

Mr. McCullum became the harshest critic of church and secular media, for their silence on the killing in April 1994 of 800,000 Christian Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda. “We in the church press didn’t care enough to write about it and when we finally did, it was defensive and apologetic and never named the genocidaires amongst our denominations who preached hate Sunday by Sunday and unleashed a horror the world has not seen since World War II,” he had said.

Mr. McCullum, who returned to Canada in 2002, said his time in Africa changed him considerably. Speaking to Anglicans in a sermon in Vancouver-based Christ Church Cathedral in 2002, he said, “It’s impossible to return to Canada unscathed intellectually, emotionally and spiritually by the monumental devastation of the calamity” of HIV/AIDS. “…I make no apology for being angry about injustice of any kind. I’ve raged about it, along with many brothers and sisters, for most of my life. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know how to get a grip on it.”

Mr. McCullum’s countless books and publications were a reflection of his belief that the church needs to be a voice of the marginalized: Africa’s Broken Heart (2007) was meant to break the silence about the sufferings of the people from war-torn Congo; The Angels Have Left Us (2005) was an indictment of the churches’ failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

In 2004, he wrote Radical Compassion, a biography of a man he considered to be a kindred spirit – Archbishop Ted Scott, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who gave meaning to the words “social conscience.”

The son of an Anglican priest, Mr. McCullum was born and raised in the Yukon. A graduate of McGill University, he began his career in journalism as a police reporter for the now-defunct Montreal Herald. He later worked for the Whig-Standard in Kingston, Ont., the Regina Leader-Post, and the now-defunct The Telegram in Toronto. He also hosted the CBC national program, Meeting Place, from 1984 to 1989.

While in Africa, Mr. McCullum worked as director of information and communications for the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference, as executive secretary for communications and media of Action by Churches Together (ACT), as senior communications and organization consultant for the World Council of Churches, and as publisher and regional training editor of the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre.

There will be a memorial service for Mr. McCullum at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto on Oct. 29, 6 p.m.

(This story, first published Oct. 16, has been updated. The time for the memorial service has also been changed from 7:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.)

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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