Elizabeth Young is a trailblazer. As a longtime editor and communications director, she shattered the glass ceiling in Baptist life decades ago. Thirty-five years later, she’s still going strong.
Besides being named the first female editor of a weekly or biweekly state Baptist newspaper in 1988, she led one of the first transitions of a Baptist paper to a feature magazine format a decade later and served as the first female president of the national Association of State Baptist Publications.
“I feel very blessed to have been put in the position where I had the opportunity to be the first female editor,” Young shared. “It wasn’t something that I was looking to be the first, but I am very thankful to God for the opportunity.”
Young joined the staff of the Arizona Baptist Beacon straight out of college at age 21. Initially, it was an 18-month interim role as a news writer and journalistic consultant since the paper was in between editors.
One year into her new role, she was offered a permanent position as assistant editor. Over the next few years, she received the titles of associate editor, managing editor and eventually editor and director of communications for the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists.
Following her father’s footsteps
Young is quick to credit other editors, including her dad, for paving the path for her journey. Her father, J. Terry Young, was editor of the California Southern Baptist during her elementary school years. He later served 27 years as a professor of theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“So there’s a little bit of printers’ ink in the blood,” Young reflected. “I’m very proud to be my dad’s daughter and following a little bit in his footsteps.”
Taking those first steps, she said, “was kind of a natural thing to me because I had seen what that life was like up close. … I saw that as a specific way to serve God using my talents and gifts.”
Early in her ministry career, “I was always comfortable in meetings with lots of men around sharing similar roles,” Young recalled.
“At the time, I was young enough to think I was their peer,” she acknowledged. “Looking back, I realize that there were some people who were very gracious to me. … They welcomed me into the fold of state paper editors and actually mentored and helped me grow as an editor.
“I really didn’t feel like I was the lone woman,” she added. “Today there’s several of us so it’s a different world now.”
David Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Mission Network, affirmed Young’s faithful service to Arizona Baptists. “In that time, she has seen our communication platform change from a newspaper to a feature magazine to an online newsletter and social media,” he noted.
Young “has adapted to each change with the same passion for telling the story of what God is doing in our churches no matter what the format,” Johnson said. “We have been blessed by her expertise and dedication over these years.”
Investing in Arizona Baptists
Reflecting on her lengthy service among Arizona Baptists, Young said, “If you had told me early on that I would still be serving with the same state convention all this time later, I wouldn’t have believed it.
“I just love being in Arizona,” she added. “There are advantages to having been in the same place so long. … There’s a lot of history that is helpful to know.”
Working from her home office in Phoenix, Young coordinates the work of Portraits magazine and the state convention’s communications office.
“We’re pretty proud of the fact that we were one of the first state papers that really went to a magazine format that was more feature-oriented,” she said. “Getting to tell those stories and working with the freelance writers is really rewarding.”
From a big picture perspective, Young said, “My real goal with Portraits is that we will inspire and encourage people to be on mission. Every story, we give them practical ways that they can take what they’ve read and take a step; apply it in their lives.”
Of course, as a career journalist, she often sees challenges along the way as well.
“With my background in journalism. I am dismayed at times when I hear where people get their information these days,” she said. “With the internet, anybody can claim to be sharing the truth and sharing the news.
“It can be frustrating that there seems to be a lack of wisdom among some people in vetting their sources,” she cautioned. “I’m proud that Portraits and the communication coming from the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention is a reliable source. I hope that people see it that way.”
Adapting to current trends
Continuing to adapt to current trends, Young said, “As director of communications, one of the big things I do now is a biweekly e-newsletter that we started two years ago.”
While the online publication’s two-week deadlines “keep me on my toes,” she said, “It also gives us an opportunity to share news in a more timely manner than a quarterly magazine.”
So what keeps Young motivated after all these years?
“Looking back, I can see how Arizona Southern Baptists have grown and changed through the years as our state has grown dramatically,” she explained. “One of the things that keeps it interesting telling the stories about Arizona Southern Baptists is the challenges of reaching a very unchurched state.”
Citing Young’s long-term impact on Arizona Baptist life, Johnson emphasized, “She has played an integral part in helping Arizona Southern Baptists accomplish the mission God has given us of making disciples of all peoples in Arizona and around the world.”
In other words, Elizabeth Young is still blazing trails – in Arizona and beyond.