Beacon Lights: Highlights of the Late 1950s and Early 1960s

Although I became editor of Beacon Lights only in 1959, I managed to stir up controversy over the magazine as early as 1958.  I had the help of others, who with me were members at that time of the Federation Board of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies.  The Federation Board had the oversight of the magazine.

In view of the upcoming Young People’s Convention in Loveland, Colorado in the summer of 1958, the cover of the June-July 1958 Beacon Lights featured several of us in an old car, on the side of which was the sign, “18th P.R.Y.P. Convention or Bust!”  The sign was a take-off, of course, on the mantra of the pioneers, “Pike’s Peak or Bust!”  Since the convention would be in Colorado, the state in which is located Pike’s Peak, we thought the sign fitting.

We intended to promote the convention.

It never entered our minds that anyone might be offended by the sign.  But we learned that some took umbrage at the cover of Beacon Lights.  These included redoubtable ministers.  They read the sign as impinging on the sovereignty of God with regard to getting to Colorado and the convention.

Despite this lapse of judgment, I was appointed editor of the magazine in 1959.  I served as editor until 1963, when I graduated from seminary and entered upon the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches.  Whereupon the Standard Bearer beckoned.

Looking over the issues of the magazine published during my editorship, I found many pictures of the gifted, dedicated young men and young women who worked together on behalf of the magazine in those days, now more than fifty years ago.  How those, my colleagues on the staff, have aged!  How gladsome that many of them have proved to be faithful, active members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, including ministers and teachers in the Protestant Reformed Christian schools!  How sobering that a number of the friends and co-laborers of those days, many years ago now, have died!  How sad that some of them have left the churches and the cause of the pure, sound Reformed faith that in those days they enthusiastically promoted and defended—on the pages of Beacon Lights!

One strong memory of those days on the staff of Beacon Lights is our zeal on behalf of the magazine and the activities of the Protestant Reformed young people that the magazine promoted, including singspirations, lectures, and conventions.

Stimulating the shared zeal were strong friendships.

Adding an edge to the enthusiastic meetings that planned the issues of the magazine, as occasionally to the contents themselves, was a willingness to “push the envelope.”  If we did not purposely break through established Protestant Reformed boundaries, we were not averse to extending them a little.  The staff meetings to plan future issues of Beacon Lights were lively.

An expression of this spirit was the creation of an occasional rubric written by a young man under the pseudonym, “Sole Mirans.”  This Latin phrase, which was, I fear, a deliberate attempt to flaunt our cultural development, meant, or was intended to mean, “Only Wondering.”  The rubric was supposed to subject accepted Protestant Reformed behaviors to critical examination.  The first such article appeared in the January 1960 issue of the magazine under the title, of all things, “Popcorn.”

To the best of my knowledge, the youth who was “Sole Mirans” took his identity to the grave with himself, at least with regard to the general readership of the magazine.  I will not betray Mr. Mirans here.

That the spirit of questioning certain aspects of the accepted Protestant Reformed way of life was never carried too far, indeed, never carried very far at all, became evident in a sharp letter to the editor by a young lady whom all of us attending Calvin College knew well.  In the March 1961 issue of Beacon Lights, she criticized the youthful staff of the magazine for displaying a “holier-than-thou attitude toward other churches.”  We published her critical letter in full.  The editor responded, graciously (if I may say so).

Two projects of the magazine during those years stand out.  First, Beacon Lights arranged the first ever “literary contest” of Protestant Reformed writers.  The contest was announced in the June-July 1961 issue of the magazine.  Results of the contest were revealed in the January 1962 issue.  A number of winning entries were published in this and subsequent issues.  Limited to members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the contest featured three categories:  fiction; non-fiction; and poetry.

A second contest followed a year later.  But then, evidently, the project fizzled out.  I think it ought to be resurrected.

The second project was the establishment of a Protestant Reformed Scholarship Fund for prospective ministers and teachers.  The project was proposed in the March 1960 issue of Beacon Lights.  The June-July 1962 issue announced that this project had become a reality.  It exists to this day, having helped many ministers and teachers with college and seminary expenses.

Throughout the early 1960s, when as yet there was no Protestant Reformed high school, Beacon Lights was an ardent supporter of such an institution of higher learning.  The entire October 1961 issue of the magazine was devoted to Christian education.

One talented contributor to the magazine in the early 1960s was also a good friend of many of us on the staff of Beacon Lights:  James Jonker.  James died very young, in 1961, in a car accident.  After his death, Beacon Lights published a large collection of his poetry in the June-July 1961 issue of the magazine.