Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A suggested bulletin improvement

Thanks to New Advent and Father Z., my post below about church bulletins as parish newspapers has gotten far more hits than I would have expected (and I do appreciate it). I find it interesting that there seem to be three different "takes" on the subject:

1. It was (and still is) a very bad idea to use church bulletins to publish the amounts of money people donated every week, as used to be somewhat common.

2. It would be a good idea to use the parish bulletin to publish a list of grievances about parish life.

3. It would be a good idea for pastors to use the bulletin as a catechetical tool to reinforce efforts to educate adult Catholics in the faith.

I agree with number one, am somewhat ambivalent about number two, and agree with number three with one caveat.

First, I do think it was a bad idea to publish the amounts of money people donated--and if it still happens anywhere, it continues to be a bad idea. Jesus Himself told us that when we gave charitably, our left hands ought not to know what our right hands were doing. It is in the secular world that donors like to have their names emblazoned across buildings, or at the very least, etched into a nice plaque somewhere. If the idea was to create a little gentle pressure, then how many families gave money only so they would be noticed as having done so--thus removing anything meritorious about the gift?

While I think that the problem of Catholics not giving generously enough at the parish level is a real one, it's not the sort of problem that can be fixed by heaping public adulation on givers and scorn on those who don't give. That this custom has (mostly) died out is a good thing.

Second, I can understand, and even sympathize with, those who think that the parish bulletin is the place for scores of "gentle reminders" to people to participate more in the life of the Church, to avoid chatting in the church proper as opposed to the vestibule or outside, to avoid coming to Mass when ill, to stay away from shady apparitions or chancy groups or movements, to quit clapping during Mass and so forth. Unfortunately, I can easily see this getting out of hand, or even losing its efficacy if every week there's a new "don't" under a cute headline in the parish bulletin. And then, if there is a real problem that needs to be widely addressed, the ability to address it within the bulletin (as well as elsewhere) is going to be diminished.

Third, I do think this is the right track, and that it's not used nearly enough. Some bulletins have a "From the Pastor's Desk" sort of column which would be ideal for the purpose of some catechesis, but many do not. I think some priests are reluctant to start such a column within their parish bulletin because of the time it would take to write something each week--but even if Father could only quote from the Catechism with a brief discussion of the passage in question, that would be more exposure to the Catechism than many adult Catholics currently have (sad though that is).

My one caveat comes because of a dear priest whose parish I've had the privilege of attending; this priest is a model for the priesthood, giving so much time and effort to his parishioners each week that he makes even ordinary hardworking priests look like slackers. One of this priest's customs is to create a bulletin which is nearly a dozen pages in length each week; he lists his daily (ahem) confession times along with the daily Mass and various religious instruction times, and as these things can vary each week he needs a somewhat lengthy bulletin. The drawback, however, is that the sheer amount of paper (printed both sides, if I recall correctly) made a careful reading of Father's instructions, commentary, educational materials etc. somewhat difficult, and usually I would set the bulletin aside meaning to give it careful attention later--only to find myself bringing home a near-book-length set of papers the next week, as well, until I had a month's worth of unread bulletins and no time at all to do more than glance at them.

Still, a "From the Pastor's Desk" column or something similar would seem to me to be the best way to improve many parish bulletins.


Barbara C. said...

Our parish prints the financial stuff each week but not with any specific names. It's broken down by envelopes and the amounts of loose money. And then it compares how much money was donated with how much is needed to meet the parish budget.

c matt said...

Ours does the same. I have never seen the naming unless it was a for a special fund raising campaign - maybe that is what No. 1 is referring to?

Ours also has a letter from the pastor and from some others (Deacon, and I think a nun who is DRE) that touch on the subject of the readings for the day.