Parish newsletter editors are an under-appreciated subset of the journalistic inky cohort, those people who try to write informative copy and fit it to available space. It ain’t easy, is it?
Over the course of years, along with parish ministry, I have been a newspaper reporter, newspaper editor, and newsletter editor. What I have here are simple suggestions, including a new idea that occurred to me just last week. It has led me to re-think the parish newsletter, a little bit — the same material but differently focused. I’ll explain as I go along.
While some of this may translate to web publications at the parish website, mostly I have print newsletters in mind. So here’s the first thing. With a print newsletter folks are apt to take a copy home and, if it is interesting enough, look through it more than once.
But for the especially energetic, someone might take several copies and leave them in strategic places that may attract other readers. The physician’s waiting room is a good place, or posted at the grocery store bulletin board.
The parish newsletter is never just a newsletter for the parish. Properly, it presents your parish to that corner of the world you occupy. It must embrace not only the parish, but the community in which the parish exists. It is a public facet of the parish. Find as many ways as possible to make it available.
The question is what will the non-parishioners see? Churches do not exist in a self-sealed vacuum because everything of the Church is for everyone else. It’s that “Go ye therefore” thing Jesus talked about, telling his disciples to make more disciples. We do not know what effect a good newsletter has on people who are not members, but I do know a bad newsletter makes a bad impression, and a dull one is worse.
This is something that goes beyond the usual sets of questions about layout design, content, and attractiveness. It is attitudinal. A newsletter for others depicts an outward-looking parish, open and eager to seek and receive new companions in faith. The newsletter is inevitably reflective of parish priorities, if it is to be evangelistic.
I have come to think―the re-think I mentioned―the parish newsletter’s first priority should be to show how the sacraments are the main thing for the parish. This means, for starters, baptisms belong on the front page, with photos and brief biographical sketches of parents and child. First communions should go there, too, as well as confirmations, weddings, and even funerals as evidence of Christian consolation. God does these things among us through Christ, showing his presence in the lives of ordinary people who are called to his extraordinary love. The message―this could be you― is what a non-member should read and see.
That’s the front page. Page two can show us how the parish lives the sacraments. This is where the servant work of the Church and the parish is highlighted. Food pantry and needs, school supplies being given to kids, any kids, whose families can’t afford them and where contributions may be made, areas of Catholic Charities that touch the parish and where the parish may help, a pro-life reflection, quilt donations and quilters (if you have them). Think a bit; you’ll probably find more to add.
Page three is the pastor’s, an entire page. If he cannot fill all of it, leave the white space or find an illustration. As for what the priest should be saying, please, do not let him repeat the parish schedule; people can find that elsewhere. Instead, he should talk about what he talks about with other priests: theology. Talk about the very things highlighted on page one: baptism, Eucharist, marriage, death. Talk about the things from page two, corporal acts of mercy of benefit to the world and one’s soul. Explain the latest papal encyclical. Do a series on the Creed. Review a book. Teach, reflect, joke, have some fun. And if he is not any sort of writer, then let him reprint someone else who is (with attribution). But the priest is the parish theologian; give us some theology.
The other pages―parish schedules, organizations, all of it―should follow and every meeting announcement ought to have an invitation and a phone number. But the first three pages should emphasize the basic work of a basic parish: sacraments, works of mercy, theology binding it all together.
In all of it, the newsletter should say the parish exists for the people of Christ, those gathered and those who will be gathered in his name at the call of his Spirit for this patch of the cosmos which is the parish.
Russell E. Saltzman, a former Lutheran pastor, is a web columnist featured at First Things. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.