ARPA's voting membership is not made up of writers of Christian material in a variety of print publications, rather ARPA is made up of Christian Publications' who have a single representative entitled to voting rights. Christian writers are welcome as Associate Members who are invited to the annual conference but unable constitutionally to vote.
Originally ARPA was initiated 39 years ago by Denominational and Mission publication people whose objective, (apart from fellowship and mutual encouragement), was as a lobbying organisation of the then remarkably active Christian print world to negotiate with The Royal Australian Post Office (now Australia Post) limiting postal fees for their publications.
Their lobbying objectives were successful but as the years went on those elected to governance roles in ARPA saw less and less need for issues that required a joint capacity to lobby, and its developed into more like an annual professional development scenario.
Each year the ARPA conference is held in a different capital city and each State ARPA is referred to as a Chapter. Each State Chapter in turn is largely responsible for the program and running of the annual conference.
Last year it was held in Wellington New Zealand (once every 5 years), the year before in Adelaide, 2010 Hobart, 2009 Sydney, 2008 Brisbane ….. This year it's Melbourne and next year to celebrate ARPA's 40th anniversary it is being held in Canberra the nation's capital.
The flavour of the annual ARPA conference is largely dependent on the theological disposition of the State's Chapter ARPA committee. Last year in Wellington there was a clear focus of an evangelical thrust with seminars and workshops highlighting how Christian media can more effectively reach the lost.
Heading the Wellington committee was Errol Pike the retired New Zealand Bible Society's publication chief editor and the current President of ARPA.
Melbourne this year
This year in Melbourne there is a very different emphasis. The key note speakers are more akin to a strong community social human rights association. Each year the emphasis changes which over a period of time illustrates the breadth, depth and wealth of the ARPA movement across Australia and New Zealand.
This year Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Stephen Freier and Mrs Joy Freier have opened Bishopcourt this Friday evening for Australia's and New Zealand's Christian Media for an evening of conviviality.
In addition delegates will be introduced to the World Cafe movement and Saturday evening is the annual banquet and the ARPA awards. These awards and the big one, The Gutenberg selected by the ARPA President for remarkable and distinguished service in Christian media.
Last year The Gutenberg was won by Auckland's Julie Belding the New Zealand ARPA representative for her untiring service and communication within New Zealand toward the betterment and encouragement of Christian writers.
The ARPA awards have consistently courted controversy. Sometimes the judging panel doesn't award any prize for a specific category believing none of the entries were up to scratch.
Some claim the recipients are weighted in favour articles on social agendas and human rights (left leaning) and its been pointed out that as a result, Australia's largest Christian scene church attendees the Australian Christian Church (The Pentecostals) are conspicuous by their absence at ARPA conferences.
Another issue as evidenced so clearly last year was that as the winning articles came up on the big screen they were set within beautiful art work, whereas on-line Christian news and comment are necessarily set within a straight column display. Certainly such a display when announcing awards presumes a bias, creates uncertainty, mistrust, and a sentiment of a closed shop!
The bravest of the brave become ARPA judges!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html