Not every minister may be a Mike Wallace, nor every church a network, but churches in Shawnee, Oklahoma, are proving neither is necessary to produce a quality television newsmagazine. Their creative approach takes the camera out of the Sunday morning sanctuary and onto the everyday streets.

“Christian Magazine” is financed by three Church of Christ congregations in Shawnee. On a monthly budget of $750, ministers have interviewed authors and atheists, talked to survivors of a Las Vegas hotel fire, and covered events like the Little Olympics.

The television magazine began when the former pastor of the Central Church of Christ, Dale Wade, formulated plans with layman Don McClintock. Both men were experienced in television and convinced it could be used effectively by the church. But before their dreams materialized, Wade left for another pastorate.

The minister of East Main Church of Christ, Don Preston, was inspired by the idea and stepped into Wade’s place to make it work. Today, three Church of Christ congregations finance the venture. “We don’t solicit funds for the program on the air as we don’t feel that biblically this is a correct procedure,” Preston said. The people who produce the program work voluntarily, without pay.

The most costly piece of equipment is a minicam (a camera setup that does not require film development). Preston estimates the start-up cost of a locally produced program at $65,000 to $75,000. “It’s very difficult to make a categorical statement on the cost,” Preston said. Factors involved include the charges for air time, and the varied costs of equipment.

A recent Federal Communications Commission decision may make church television even more feasible. The FCC, which regulates use of the airwaves, proposed last September to grant licenses for “low-power” stations capable of reaching audiences within a radius of 3 to 20 miles. That proposal unleashed a flood of applications, since licenses go to those who file earliest.

William Kitchen, president of Quality Media Corporation, claims a church can go on the air with its own station at a cost of $40,000—less if it buys used equipment. That amount, however, would not include the cost of locally produced programming.

Shawnee’s “Christian Magazine” is locally produced. And the churches have not begun a station, licensed or otherwise. Their only program, “Christian Magazine,” is broadcast by a Shawnee cable station. By law, cable stations formerly were required to provide free time for local programs, Preston said. Though the law is now void, many stations still offer free time. The Shawnee cable station is cooperative.

“Christian Magazine” airs weekly on Tuesday evening. Each episode begins with an outline, usually written by Preston or another minister. After that has been done, the interview is conducted (or event covered, as the case may be), and finally the program is edited. The production staff consists of four persons: three as filming crew and one “in front” of the camera.

The typical program takes from two to three days to prepare. Preston considers the program an extension of his ministerial duties and claims it has not made him any less efficient serving his congregation.

“Preachiness” is avoided, and the program attempts to appeal to unbelievers by demonstrating spiritual interpretations that are not obvious. The program on the Little Olympics, for example, drew on the apostle Paul’s metaphors of “fighting the good fight” and “finishing the course.” A segment on Shawnee Mills included a reference to the “Bread of Life.”

So far, “Christian Magazine” has kept clear of politics. But Preston intends to tackle homosexuality, teen-age alcoholism, and abortion. “We feel the moral and spiritual side is being ignored altogether,” he said. “I realize it isn’t too popular to speak out on some issues today, but we’re going to try.”

Because it is aired on the cable station, “Christian Magazine” possesses the potential of being seen by some 15,000 people—half of Shawnee’s population. A news station in nearby Oklahoma City has contracted to purchase newsworthy items from the churches. Four out-of-town congregations are interested in Shawnee’s innovation. In all of that, the program’s message has remained basic. “We want to challenge traditional and current thinking, as Christ did with the Pharisees, and cause people to think and examine the Bible for themselves,” said Preston.

VESTA-NADINE ROBERTSONMs. Robertson is a free-lance writer and photographer from Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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