09Aug A good newsletter keeps parishioners well read and well informed

From time to time discussions are held at parish level about the funding of the parish newsletter. In some parishes, parishioners must pay for their copy, while in others, people leave a small donation or they contribute extra to the collection specifically to fund the newsletter. Discussions about funding in parishes are always as revealing as they are redundant.

For me, communication is at the heart of what the parish (and the Church) is about. We have good news to share: we have a faith worth imbibing — and we are being offered God’s encouraging Word to take to heart and understand. Communication must involve written as well as oral media, so the newsletter is as fundamental to what the Church is about as the bread and wine used at the altar — and we do not expect these to attract an individual payment or to justify their existence financially.

It sometimes saddens me to see the value of the parish newsletter downplayed or its role minimised. Pastors worry about the effects of the media on believers, but often they neglect the media they have at their immediate disposal, particularly the parish newsletter. The newsletter has the power to convey in writing what the Liturgy teaches in spoken word and sign and song.

It is underused at everyone’s loss. For not only can the newsletter reinforce the words and teachings from the Sunday liturgy, it can build community in the parish and draw people together in a way that only a local production can.

What should be contained in the parish newsletter? In the first place, the newsletter contains a message relevant to the Sunday, preferably one related to the readings used at mass, or to the liturgial season. The Sunday message may be challenging, but it should always contain an encouraging word, or at least some good news to carry through the week..

A priest who has the facility to write can easily prepare this, or it can be delegated to another gifted parishioner, or a roster of these. Perhaps in a pastoral area or cluster, this role could be taken on by particular people, those with gifts in writing and communication: such Sunday messages for publication are eaily shared by email locally. If the editor is really stuck (and this can happen for various reasons in the most organised of parishes), a suitable reflection can easily be found in another publication or on some reputable Church website. No newsletter should be without this main focus, just as no Sunday Mass should be left without a homily.

Apart from its main message, each parish newsletter contains news and notices from the parish: its baptisms, marriage and deaths, as soon as possible after they occur. As far as possible these notices should be personal and loving, never merely functional or without a kind wish for all involved: a prayer, a blessing, an expressive gesture on behalf of the community.

All sacramental events that occur in the parish would be reported in the local publication, but events that occur elsewhere might also be featured from time to time. Locals who may bring their child to a place that is important to them for its baptism would be congratulated also, as would parishioners marrying elsewhere (but only those marrying in church, obviously). People whose deaths occured elsewhere might also be included when their passing would leave parishioners befeft. Anything that impacts on the life of a parishioner has a place in the parish newsletter, so in addition to key sacramental moments including First Communions and Confirmations of members of the parish (whether they are in school locally or elsewhere), anciliary events are also reported in it: milestone birthdays, significant wedding anniversaries, engagements, accomplishments. All parishioners’ lives, their joys and sorrows, find a place in their parish’s publication.

In addition to these vital features, parish newletter are exteemely useful for all kinds of parish information. Not only can the meetings of local bodies be announced, but there will usually be some space to explain these bodies, their roles and functions – and whether and how parishioners can be involved in them. A monthly notice advertising a local meeting of the ‘St Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society’ fails in its function if a note is not at least sometimes added to clarify that this meeting is not just for ‘young priests’ but for all Catholics who wish to support and provide for future young priests!

In every parish, there are key items of information that remain a mystery to many who attend Mass, even regularly: where is the Holy Water kept and how can people take some? How can I have my mother prayed for during Mass at the anniversary of her death? What number do I ring if I want a priest to call to me? This is the sort of information most easily communicated in a parish newsletter — questions a parishioner might be slow to raise for fear of appearing dumb, but probbaly questions shared by many in the parish. A parish newsletter in touch with parishioners will often feature answers to these and many other points of local parish information.

Local schools will always be ready soures of news about young parishioners: if they have not got an effective PRO, a designated person from the newstter could liaise occasionally with school management and produce interesting news items.

The key to an effective newsletter lies in its producers. Ideally, a team of people should be involved, with each contributing according to his or her talent. Having a team involved means that too great a burden will not fall on any one volunteer. It also means that each person has a substitute to call on when unavailable to help.

The newlsetter team should meet at least occasionally. Such a meeting if chaired in such a way as to encourage sharing of ideas, could provide the newsletter with many avenues of development that might not otherwise be considered. There is no limit to human imagination!

Tablet readers who travel over the summer should try to build up a stock of other parishes’ newletters: such a review might lead a team to make changes to its own publication (or it might give a team great satisfaction in being so much better). Indeed it is always interesting when parishioners bring newsletters back from their travels and comment on what they have seen; this can provide an opportunity for growth all round.

Bernard Cotter is parish priest of Murragh & Templemartin Parish, residing at Newcestown, Bandon, Co Cork, Ireland. Email frbernard@eircom.net







3 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    I agree with Bernard that “community is at the heart of what the parish (and the Church) is about.” Many of us now access the newsletter through the parish Facebook page and most of us see it as merely functional, giving info about events etc; and, of course, with a short, stimulating reflection on that Sunday’s Gospel.
    Bernard’s words have given me food for thought. I have no idea who writes or produces our own newsletter (which always contains an excellent Reflection, by the way) but agree that it should be a community effort, lay and clergy, female and male, youth and old age working together; to quote St Paul, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    Not every ordained one is gifted with oratorical skills or with humour, clear delivery and succinctness. Until the rules allow for the gifted lay person who does have these skills to deliver a homily we can sometimes only be left with the power of the printed Reflection in the newsletter to impact on us during the week. It would be good to try to see other newsletters and to see what best practice is, bearing in mind regional differences and local priorities. (Some of us up here in the north need a lot more light and encouragement to help dispel the heavy barometric pressure and the gloomy, ever repetitive, Groundhog Day daily news items.)
    I like Bernard’s reminder of the importance of the encouraging and kind word. After all, a parish newsletter should reflect the One we all try to follow. It is that important so thank you, Bernard Cotter, for reminding us and thank you for your passion. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair!

  2. Mícheál

    Bernard is quite correct on the importance of parish newsletters. But in the face of a publication like Alive!, can local newsletters really counteract its message and thrust? For many, this is the voice of the Church…

  3. Seamus Ahearne osa

    Thanks Bernard. It is good to read you again on this topic. The cant around here in Finglas South is this: “Whatever you say; say nothing.” (Makem & Clancy song). The word that follows this mantra is: “Don’t say a word or else you will find yourself quoted in the Bulletin.” Is that a fear or an expectation or a hope? I’m not sure. Our Newsletter does thrive on ‘gossip’ as well as ‘News and commentary.’ I’m not sure that the Orthodox army would be too impressed!

    The Newsletter (Bulletin) of a Parish, is very informative. It tells us what a Community is like; what is going on; whether this ‘Church’ is alive or just gasping for air (dying). I recall many years ago (c. 1974/5), when a journalist used to visit the Churches and write a column on the Homily (Was it The Irish Times and was it Nell McCafferty? – I know she did a column on the Court sessions). The Celebration on the weekend, can say so much about us. The Entrance (porch; hall) speaks for us. Every visitor interviews us by seeing that Entrance; Noting the Welcome (warm, bright, hospitable or weary-looking); By being part of the Celebration (if Mass is one!); Reading the Literature scattered around; Meeting or being met by people. And experiencing whether there is Holy Communion or not! Many others know who we are if they get the Newsletter. (The 95% who don’t regularly attend Church, here, learn something of us through the Bulletin which is delivered to the doors. Some have notices on their doors saying that they don’t want ‘junk mail.’ It is rather a serious challenge for us, to ensure that the Bulletin is not Junk Mail, and is actually worth the read!)

    Bernard – you are right. The Bulletin doesn’t have to be ‘clericalised.’ The ‘priest’ doesn’t always have to be the ‘voice.’ If we are what we proclaim – A Community of differing talents; then there will be people with creative skills and word sculptors among us. We claim as believers in I Cor 12 Communion, Community and Communication. Then we must struggle to make this a descriptive profile.

    Some Bulletins are really dull, dreary and seem to set out to ‘say nothing.’ They are a hotch- potch of News-items; without any trace of inspiration or even a suggestion that this group of people is alive. (Jn 10.10). Too often these Newsletters have only a little extra piece ‘lifted’ from somewhere else or someone else. It almost whispers – ‘This parish; this Church community – has nothing to say or is afraid to say anything. ‘The Gospel is Good News. The Incarnation is the Word becoming Flesh. If our community is throbbing with life, with nonsense, with hilarity, with fun, with a sense of faith, with a good self-image – then the Paper has to talk. It has to be soaked in the life of the Community. It has to be peppered with experiences that seem real to most people.

    In conclusion: ‘Whatever you say; say something.’ We have something to say. We have no reason to be apologetic. What we say and how we present ourselves, matters deeply. We must be fearless. And it is great fun. I once gave a day of reflection to the Marriage Counsellors of Scotland. My theme was: ‘What do you do for fun?’ I think that too would be a useful challenge for all of us writing a Newsletter and decorating it. What makes this Community buzz with life? Yes. This is Communication in the Worshipping Community and to the Community at large – this may be our only way. We should explore and exploit the opportunity.
    Seamus Ahearne osa (Rivermount)

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