Judson Press celebrates its 200th anniversary

VALLEY FORGE, PA (03/04/2024)—Judson Press has been making an impact on Christian publishing since 1824. In February of that year, its predecessor, the Baptist General Tract Society, was founded in Washington, D.C., as the first tract society in the United States.

Tracts were small volumes that spread God’s word in an accessible way, which made them invaluable for Christian education. The General Tract Society led to the emergence of the American Baptist Historical Society in 1853, and the Board of Education and Publication in 1888. It was first renamed as the American Baptist Publishing Society, and eventually registered as Judson Press in 1922. It was named after Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) who was one of the first Protestant missionaries to Burma. He spent 37 years setting up missions in the country, successfully translating the Bible into Burmese for the first time. By the time of his death, Burma had 100 churches and over 8,000 believers.

2024 Judson Press Staff

Current staff members of Judson Press are (left to right) Rev. Dr. Rachael Lawrence, Katie Morgan, Gale Tull, Rev. Dr. Cheryl Price, and Lisa Blair.

In 2003, Judson Press was acquired by American Baptist Home Mission Societies. Its mission is centered on developing Christ-centered leadership and discipleship resources for the healing and transformation of persons, congregations and communities. Today, there are over 300 book titles in Judson Press’ catalog, as well as a daily devotional, the Secret Place, and an adult Sunday school curriculum, Journeys.

Judson Press has significant resources for the African American community. Among the more recent titles are “The Polished King” by Joseph Evans, “Let the Oppressed Go Free” by Marvin McMickle, “A History of the Black Baptist Church” by Wayne E. Croft Senior and “With Liberty and Justice for Some” by Susan K. Williams Smith. Recognizing Latino Baptists as a rapidly growing population, Judson Press also includes in its catalog books about Baptist identities and practices from Latino perspectives.

The Reverend Dr. Cheryl Price, Judson Press publisher, is the first African American woman to ascend to this position. “I had to accept and realize that I was the first Black woman who was the publisher at Judson Press, and I discovered that during an interview for a project. To me, that was a shock of surprise and a joy,” she said in a video celebrating the 200th anniversary of the ministry.

In her role as publisher, Price describes an orientation to broadly conceived justice and the future as her priority. “At Judson Press, we look at justice issues beyond a small, narrow scope. I want to look at justice in terms of culture, history, spirituality, and faith. How does God call us to be just people? Our main concern is, what will the future look like and are we laying a strong enough foundation for those who will come after us?”

American Baptists have a firm understanding of Judson Press’ mission and impact. The Reverend Dr. Rachael Lawrence, Judson Press’ senior editor, said in the video, “I grew up reading Judson Press materials, and when I became a pastor, I was a real consumer of Judson Press publications. I love being able to work with authors and their ideas to help further the Kingdom of God.”

Gale Tull, who collaborates with authors to promote their Judson Press titles, and Lisa Blair, the editorial and production coordinator, commented on their continuing enjoyment of serving at Judson Press as it has evolved through the years. “I have experienced how we communicated with the authors, from the typewriter to sending out letters via snail mail, to email,” said Blair.

The orientation to the future is vital, as is rootedness in Judson Press’ legacy. Both are necessary for the organization’s identity and brand. Katelyn Morgan, the publishing administrative coordinator, commented that “they’re doing an excellent job of honoring the past, making sure that we’re staying connected with our roots.”

Judson Press is working hard to anticipate the challenges that the future may bring. Addressing the rise in self-publishing, Judson will be launching Emerge Press, a new publishing imprint. It will cater to emerging authors, including authors writing for audiences or in genres such as Christian fiction, poetry and children’s books not typically associated with Judson Press. Emerge Press will be a new opportunity for those who are still establishing their brand, as well as those who want to retain more creative control over the publishing process.

Judson Press’ vision is to create a vibrant community of authors and readers. To this end, Judson staff are active at Christian conferences and gatherings where they can build and strengthen relationships with existing and future authors. At the 2024 Samuel DeWitt Proctor Clergy and Lay Leadership Conference in Chicago, Judson Press organized a publishing workshop for conference attendees who expressed interest in submitting book pitches. Reflecting on why he decided to publish his book with Judson Press, the Reverend  Dr. Curtiss DeYoung said during the workshop: “I’m passionate about social justice, so my book is all about social justice and reconciliation. That’s what’s inspired me in Judson, I’ve been attracted to Judson from my first book because I feel that Judson has a market that’s looking for the kind of books on racial justice that I write.”

The editorial team hopes to see book proposals that address the school-to-prison pipeline; spirituality and sexuality for teenagers; worship services for non-traditional occasions, such as blessing of animals or renaming ceremonies; as well as edited collection and academic book proposals.

Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, chief executive officer of Judson Press, wished the organization a happy 200th birthday. He was joined by several Judson Press authors, including Frederick D. Haynes III, Wayne E. Croft Sr., Cynthia Hale, and Leslie Copeland-Tune.

The 200th birthday of Judson Press will be celebrated at the signature ABHMS event, Space for Grace and Spiritual Caregivers Conference. Judson staff will be leading several writing workshops and providing advice for future authors on book publishing.

To explore Judson Press’ backlist, visit the publisher’s website, judsonpress.com.