"Spirituality is like sex. If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Ralph Milton

Ralph Milton is co-founder of Wood Lake Books, a company that grew from a kitchen table business to an enterprise with over 30 fulltime employees. With partners in both the USA and Australia, and sales worldwide, Wood Lake Books is Canada's largest and most active Protestant religious publisher, having evolved into an employee-owned imprint called Northstone. Known as a "step-down transformer,"; because of his ability to communicate social theory and religious thought in plain language, Milton is a liberal theologian whose style is down-to-earth. He edits an e-zine called Rumors which uses humour and story to communicate Christian faith.

Born in Altona, Manitoba in 1934, Milton grew up hearing stories from his Russian Mennonite forebears in southern Manitoba, absorbing their satirical humour. Too liberal, his parents were 'kicked out' of the Mennonite church. Milton rarely saw the inside of a church until his older sister's wedding. His father, Henry, was a progressive school teacher. After high school, Ralph Milton himself taught school for one year. He entered a contest and won a temporary job as a radio announcer due to the quality of his voice. "The problem was," he has recalled, "I couldn't read two words in sequence without falling all over myself." As a young man, he worked as a DJ, open-line radio host, and news commentator at various radio stations in Saskatoon, Calgary, Lethbridge and Trail, B.C. In Trail he met his wife-to-be Beverly Ingledew. Milton's involvement with the church began after his wife was unable to teach her Sunday school class due to morning sickness, and he was forced to serve as her replacement. "It meant heading to the furnace room of the church with a group of nine-year-old boys to teach matters of faith when I wasn't sure I had any myself."

Milton's media interests and his involvements in the church took him to the Philippines where he spent five years training broadcasters from various countries in Asia. He wrote the text a textbook, Radio Programming for Developing Nations', which he has described as a 'dreadfully dull thing'. Nonetheless that book on radio, published in London, became an internationally used textbook on developmental broadcasting and went into 27 printings. That work led to an appointment in New York where Ralph worked as a media consultant to development groups in the Third World, mostly Africa, under the aegis of the World Association of Christian Communications.

Returning to Canada, Ralph began television work in Calgary, developing the Celebration series of religious programming along with the nationally syndicated radio series, Live-Love. He and his wife moved to Winfield, B.C. when his wife, a United Church minister, accepted a church in nearby Winfield. When a United Church bookstore wanted 3,000 copies of his The Gift of Story, based on his notion that the stories we tell review more of what we believe than formal theology, he decided to publish the book himself. Soon thereafter, Jim Taylor, who wrote for the United Church Observer, was seeking to publish a collection of his newspaper columns. A partnership arose and Wood Lake Books came into being. Thereafter Lois Wilson, the first female moderator of the United Church, brought her book to Wood Lake in 1981. The imprint took off with the remarkable success of a 130-song hymnal called Songs for a Gospel People, first printed in 1987, which sold more than 200,000 copies. Wood Lake Books also successfully launched a three-year curriculum called The Whole People of God. "We became the only company in the world with,"; says Milton, "with its head office in Winfield and its branch office in Toronto.";I've always thought of myself as a snotty-nosed Mennonite boy from a little town called Horndean, Manitoba that only had one [grain] elevator," he said in 1988. During 1995-96 Ralph Milton served as President of the British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada. He has been awarded a Doctorate in Sacred Letters from St. Stephen's College. He lives with his wife, Beverley, now retired from her ministry, in Kelowna.

Ralph Milton is also the author of a popular children's book, The Family Story Bible, a book on biblical storytelling, Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God? and God for Beginners. Written in a decidedly humorous vein, Angels in Red Suspenders has received critical acclaim and found its way onto some bestseller lists. Julian's Cell was his first work of fiction [See below]. He has subsequently translated Mother Julian's book into an accessible, condensed and paraphrased version called The Essence of Julian. Based on his Family Story Bible and illustrated by Margaret Kyle, his Lectionary Story Bible (year A) (Wood Lake, 2007) contains new and engaging stories from both the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures. It was followed by Lectionary Story Bible (year B) (Wood Lake, 2008, with art by Margaret Kyle.

[Also see Michael Schwartzentruber entry]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2008] "Religion" "Publishing"