A simplified church newsletter format

Philocrites has noted how the number of outlets for Unitarian Universalist writing has withered over the years; in spirit this is quite true, but in fact it isn’t. Church newsletters (once often proudly called magazines) are far more numerous than (say) the nineteenth-century Universalist newspapers they surplanted. In those days, with echoes even to the UU World today, non-local newspapers included the personal comings-and-goings news, an outreach to the isolated, and worship schedules. First the local job printer, then the mimeograph, and later the photocopier changed that dynamic. And boy the ugly ones (across denominations) outnumber the well-crafted and well-written ones. The excess of cute quips, bad poetry and (lately) clip art reminds me of what William Penn wrote of costly and elaborate clothing: “The very Trimming of the vain World would cloath all the naked one.”

So there are still a lot of Unitarian Universalists writing, but the work has become decidedly — well — parochial. Of all the tasks I’ve had and venially disliked in a parish, newsletter production is near the top. Such a time- and money-pit, and an opportunity for nit-picking besides. Yet — despite its relative novelty in church terms; about a century old — they are so much a given that the thought of dispatching the church newsletter is unthinkable.

But perhaps they can be reformed.

I have become very fond of the monthly diary — calendar for Americans — of the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield, London. This is an old London church — a survivor of the Great Fire and the Blitz — and featured in a number of films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral. Its site would be noteworthy in its own right for simplicity and ease of use.

Such an august and visible church is a tourist destination — I’ve been once — has an uncommon situation, but some things — notices of services, contact information, and the like — are going to true for any church, right? (There is some publication called “The Great” which may or may not be a distinct newsletter; the website is ambiguous.)

But back to their diary I like so much. First, one month fits on a single piece of A4 paper, roughly the same area as a North American letter sheet. Second, on the calendar — not a grid but a list — there is a place for every day of the month, showing days where nothing is scheduled, which helps relieve the idea that one has missed a meeting. Next, the front page has written in big, friendly letters “Please take a copy” and a brief non-prescriptive “users guide” for visitors, meaning this one publication serve a double purpose. I also like that not every event is explained in full; if you’re interested, however, there is a proper contact person listed.
Oh heck, see for yourself. The church has its current issue for download (link here) plus a link to a page with a couple years’ back issues.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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