The Rev. Peter Wallace sits in the darkened control booth at Day1 studios in the lower level of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church on Peachtree Road.
In one hand is copy of the sermon by guest preacher, the Rev. Susan Sparks, of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York; in the other a stopwatch that lets him keep track of the sermon’s time.
Wallace is also keeping track of his remaining time at Day1. He will retire in August after more than two decades of bringing Scripture and inspirational lessons on faith to mainline Protestant listeners.
The 68-year-old Wallace serves as executive producer and host of the ecumenical Day1 podcast and radio ministry, which is heard on more than 200 stations in the United States and overseas.
In his two decades at Day1, Wallace, an Episcopal priest, has witnessed changes in Christian radio as well as challenges facing Protestant denominations to keep people in the pews.
A 2021 Pew Research Center study found a decline in people who described themselves as Christians to 63% from 75% a decade ago.
“I feel my time is up and this ministry needs strong, fresh leadership to pick up the reins,” said Wallace.
“I deeply believe that this voice is needed more than ever in this divided and hurting world,” he said. “People need hope. They need to be challenged to serve and work for God’s justice and equality, they need to hear that God loves and welcomes them into His embrace.”
Day1 grew out of the “Protestant Hour,” a program launched on WSB Radio in 1945 and airing every Sunday morning. The show, which was hugely popular in the Bible Belt, has never missed a Sunday in its history.
The Protestant Hour featured pastors and thought leaders from various denominations and that included women and African Americans.
Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister and host of the popular children’s program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” played and sang several songs on the radio program.
The program was renamed Day1 in 2002, in reference to Sunday being the first day of the week and signaling a new beginning.
Today, the program still includes well-known guests such as the Right Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church as well as professor and author; and Barbara Brown Taylor, a well-known Episcopal priest and author.
In 2010 former President Jimmy Carter preached on Day1 as part of a series on “Faith and Global Hunger.”
The Rev. Dock Hollingsworth, senior pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, praised the program for its longevity, reach and the “many years of witness that represents.”
Hollingsworth said Day1′s “commitment to the mainline preaching voice is a counter to the strife we see in other places. The most strident voices on the right or left end up too often in the media.”
That stand, though, has not come without criticism.
At one time, for instance, the Day1 broadcast was heard on 600 stations and the Armed Forces Radio Network.
It now numbers a third of that.
Part of the decline was due to deregulation of the broadcast industry, according to the Day1 website.
Another reason, Wallace thinks, is because some stations dropped the program, because it leans more moderate or progressive.
Wallace has invited women lead pastors on his show, something that doesn’t sit well with some conservative evangelical audiences.
Issues on such controversial topics as racism, white nationalism and equality for the LGBTQ community are also not off the table.
“Christian stations or networks often reject our program. For instance, we were carried by a network of Christian stations for a while some years ago, but the network owner decided to cancel us because we often had women preachers.
“Occasionally we hear from listeners who disagree with something one of our preachers said — which is certainly their right — and our response is that our program is a platform for the broad array of voices from all the mainline denominations. That is our niche and our mission.”
Marla Frederick, the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion and Culture at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, said Christian media over the last few decades has “truly framed what we understand about Christianity.
“At same time that media has leaned heavily conservative,” she said, led largely by evangelical Pentecostal, charismatic Christian leaders.
“A more liberal Protestant tradition that is concerned about issues of justice and equality and the poor are less represented.”
A native of West Virginia, Wallace’s father and maternal grandfather were United Methodist pastors.
“We were in church any time the doors were open,” he said.
He majored in journalism Marshall University and Wallace discovered he loved writing and communications. After graduation he began work at the West Virginia Hillbilly newspaper, where he covered “everything and anything: like state politics, history and society.
Wallace began wrestling with what he wanted to do with his life. He had a strong background in faith but he didn’t sense a call to the pastorate. Several of his friends attended Dallas Theological Seminary, so he followed suit. It was a nondenominational, but theologically conservative, institution.
“My parents were mortified because it was a non-Methodist seminary, but we made peace,” recalls Wallace.
After seminary, Wallace moved to Atlanta in 1984 and landed a job at Walk Through the Bible Ministries, founded by Bruce Wilkinson, author of the bestselling “The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.”
While he enjoyed the work, Wallace experienced what he calls a faith crisis. He had been raised in a more progressive home and “I was kind of missing that type of Christianity.”
He worked in advertising for several years then heard about an opening for a executive producer for the Protestant Hour. He was already familiar with the show, having grown up in the United Methodist Church.
It felt like the culmination of everything he worked for in his life — a perfect marriage of faith and communications. His own way of witnessing.
Today, a committee has been formed to search for a successor.
Wallace said he plans to travel a bit, pitch in if needed necessary and perhaps launch a podcast.
He’s also working on another book, a devotional based on the Book of Ecclesiastes.
“One of the huge blessings of this job has been work with so many amazing, wonderful preachers and church leaders,” he said. “I’m very encouraged about the future of the church as well.”
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