An unexpected departure

John Sandeman says farewell – and thanks for all the fish!

For me, Eternity is not forever. No, not the Eternity that Christians look forward to, but the website and newspaper I founded 13 years ago. I am leaving as Eternity takes what some will see as a new direction.

I am writing this piece on the dining table where it all began. Where a dream of a national news service for Christians was born. And where that dream began to be realised. Later that frail twig of a news service was greatly strengthened when we joined Bible Society Australia. Bible Society has been incredibly generous to Eternity. Kudos and gratitude to them.

Thirteen years is a good run – especially in media.

In one of those “coincidences” that happen in a Christian’s life, as I waited to be farewelled at a Bible Society gathering last week, Geoffry Miller, who leads Bible Society South Pacific, preached on King Hezekiah.

Interesting choice – no one had asked him to preach on the story of the Old Testament King who was told by Isaiah the Prophet that he was to die. But after prayer, Hezekiah was given 15 more years to rule.

Just after I launched the first edition of Eternity all those years ago, I received a diagnosis of damage to my right eye. Many of the options were dire. It could have been cancer or some other damage to the optic nerve.

Was God telling me that Eternity was not his will? Would it stop just as it started?

It turned out that I had a rare condition that, though treatable, needed to be carefully watched.

Eternity, it turned out, was a relatively rare thing too – a journalistic and independent media that must be carefully watched.

And 13 years, while not 15, have given me a great run.

In a second “coincidence,” comfort at a sudden change in my life came from Facebook. David Bennett, an Aussie who is at the end of his Doctorate in Oxford, posted wise words from a Greek Orthodox elder, Amilianios, on his feed. I shared them along with my Hezekiah story with Bible Society staffers who were saying goodbye to me.

“When, my beloved, your Christian life begins to become difficult, and it seems like your cross is unbearable, remain steadfast … Say to yourself, ‘Let us stand aright,’ remain steadfast. Say, like the Prophet, ‘Behold, Lord, I stand here to execute Your will,’ or like the Panagia, ‘Behold, the servant of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.’

“If you will endure, then after the storm will come the calm, and your life will again become festive. Now you will also have additional insight into the spiritual struggle, you will have experience.

“After this trial, after you have lifted up your cross, there will light up within you the flame of divine eros. You will acquire the most beautiful, the most strong, the most pure and the most angelic love, the love of God.”

Those were good words for me. May they bring comfort to others.

I dropped some words – you might have noticed the ellipsis (dot dot dot).

“Become a martyr,” were the words I left out.

Because I do not regard myself as a martyr, and I wish to depart with maximum grace.

Keep reading Eternity

Eternity writers Anne Lim and Rebecca Abbott stay with Eternity as it takes a new course. Naomi Reed’s Faith Stories will power on, too.

These three produce great and uplifting stories. The Eternity website will remain a source of great Christian writing.

Good different – to borrow the Aldi slogan – Eternity will have less of a news focus. It will tell uplifting, positive stories. Some readers will think the change is an improvement, and others not. Given the change, the roles I have carried out were regarded as no longer necessary.

But I think you should keep reading Eternity. Those bylines should be enough to keep you there. I’ll leave it to the continuing crew to tell you exactly what they plan – it’s their story.

So long, and thanks for all the fish

I am grateful to all who wrote, read, distributed, advertised in, and supported Eternity. You are a patient lot. Over the years, you have had many kind words for me.

There are heaps of people who have worked extremely hard for Eternity.

• David Maegraith, who founded it with me, selling heaps of ads, is such an entrepreneur.

• Josh Maule, my first offsider while he was serving as a trainee at Village Church Annandale, and Dominic Steele, the Senior Minister who invited Eternity to shelter in their building.

• Joe Pesce of Intellimail, who wrestled the Australian courier companies into sending us across the country.

• Paul Hutchinson, Samantha Peters and Wildhive, who built Eternity advertising.

• Too many writers to name, including staffers Kaley Payne, Ben McEachen, Tess Delbridge, Sophie Timothy, Suzanne Schokman, Teagan Russell, Kylie Beach, and Karen Mudge.

• Designers Wes Selwood, Ching-I wan and later the Hillsong team.

• Columnists Tim Costello, Michael Jensen, CPX and a vast number of contributors.

• Greg Clarke, then Bible Society CEO, brought Eternity on board at Bible Society. Bible Society staff, including Vicky Kaw, the keeper of the mail lists, and CFOs Malcolm North and Barry Morris.

Seek and Find me if you want

There won’t be a second Eternity from me. Once is enough, honestly, and I am not the sort of guy to set up in competition. Those who want to read my stuff will be able to find me at The Other Cheek.  It won’t be Eternity2. But it will be newsy. But the URL gives notice of my intention for us to show grace inside and out of the Christian community.

Another voice leaving Eternity is Kylie Beach, and she plans to launch a website too.