Local church news

My Ensign comes from the UK, and my favorite part is the eight page insert, ‘News of the Church / British Isles.’ This month’s starts with an article by Elder Patrick R. Kearon, (Second Counsellor in the Europe West Area Presidency, from Clevedon, England) entitled, ‘Midsummer’s Day — Out of Darkness and into His Marvelous Light.’ OK, it’s a Mormonish metaphor, but a metaphor about Midsummer, not baseball or beet farming.

The articles that follow are like a small town newspaper: ‘Long-Term Blood Donor Receives Award,’ ‘Girls Praised for Saving Man’s Life,’ ‘Musical Sisters,’ ‘Relief Society Sisters Help Children in Kenya.’ The articles tend to focus on service projects, with great pictures of RS presidents handing over giant cheques and youth groups making quilts.

My wife’s Finnish Liahona comes with an insert as well. It starts with an article by area president Elder Hafen about how cool it is that there are three temples in Scandanavia, making links to the importance of the region in early church history. Then there are announcements of mission calls, an article about an informational meeting about the temple (written by BCC Papers author Kim Östman), etc. A few months ago, a ward youth program wrote up interviews with early members of the church in Finland. Very cool.

I don’t know how prevalent this is — I’m guessing it doesn’t happen in the US, but I wonder about other countries in Europe and other parts of the world. In Finland, it is edited by a local member, possibly under the auspices of the public affairs committee.

While some people will see this as basic Mormon cornball antics, I think it is actually quite significant.

A few days ago, in a comment, J. Stapley said,

I think the age of the centralized uber-correlated universal program of Church administration has reached its zenith. I believe that we will see more and more regional and local flavor in meeting the needs of the Saints going forward.

I agree with him, especially the fact that the need for decentralization exists. The local inserts provide a means of creating a church identity less dependent on SLC, with which most members have had only distant and/or bureaucratic contact. The inserts help members to see how gospel principles are applied in their own country on a regular basis.

Could this be done privately or beyond the scope of the church publications? Probably, but the need for a profit makes it tricky. I remember we got a Mormon newspaper in SoCal for a while, commercially produced, but I don’t know its fate; my parents cancelled the subscription because they disliked how the advertising manipulated gospel principles for economic gain (a criticism sometimes leveled at Meridian magazine).

I grew up in SoCal, definitely with the feeling that we lived in ‘the mission field,’ an expression I heard often. One possible function of the local church news inserts is to blur the ‘Deseret’ / ‘mission field;’ distinction and help members feel the church resides in their own area to some degree.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    These inserts sound wonderful. We U.S. Americans don’t get anything like that with our copies of the Ensign.

    For me growing up, the Church as it existed in northern Illinois basically was the Church. I thought it was wonderful, and a very different experience than I would have had had I grwon up in the center of the Church (Utah or thereabouts).

  2. Norbert,

    I love the UK insert…

    …but it’s still correlated to the bone. The local editor has to send the whole thing to SLC who then approve it and edit it. Sometimes the edits remove local colloquialisms, which is annoying.

    Half empty/half full?

  3. Ronan: Ooooh, that’s depressing, but not so surprising.

    I still think it’s an interesting development. Kevin’s point, that living in the church wherever you do is its own experience, and that experience should be documented … even if the documentation is apparently sanitized for our protection.

  4. Mark IV says:

    Do you know how the actual news gathering works? Do people just send items they think are newsworthy to a local editor who compiles them all and prepares them to be sent to the mothership for approval?

    Also, do you still get ‘News of the Church’, or does ‘News of the Church / British Isles’ replace it? I find ‘News of the Church’ very interesting precisely because it informs me about the Church beyond where I live. The current issue reports on mission realignments and the church response to floods in Argentina, Indonesia, and Hispaniola.

  5. Do you know how the actual news gathering works? Do people just send items they think are newsworthy to a local editor who compiles them all and prepares them to be sent to the mothership for approval?

    Precisely that.

    Do you still get ‘News of the Church’?

    Yes.

    I think the UK insert has been going for about 20 years. But here’s the depressing thing:

    Up until the 1970s (I think), the UK still used to have a pretty substantial Millennial Star. There’s an old set of them at the Gadfield Elm chapel; they’re weird and wonderful, with a seamless mixture of mothership material plus recipes, tidbits, marriages, etc. from the UK. The covers are interesting too: many of them were non-Mormon. I can think of one that had a picture of Durham Cathedral on the front.

    I think in this respect we’ve gone backwards.

  6. I just called the person who edits the Finnish edition and asked about correlation. She said it is checked by the public affairs director for Finland (who happens to be her husband). I know she solicits material as well, but there are only two stakes and some districts of Finnish speakers, so it’s a different scale than the UK.

    Ronan:

    I think in this respect we’ve gone backwards.

    As far as reflecting the local flavor of the church, I think that’s very true. I’m probably overly optimistic about the church trying to recover some of that.

    I know the Millennial Star is a unique situation, but there were mission-produced periodicals all over the world. We discovered a bunch in the Netherlands on my mission, dating from the 1950s and 60s. I wish I had copied them. But what I remember about them wasn’t the unadulterated flow of spiritual experiences, but the incredibly dodgy theology involving the coming of Christ, WW2 and Jews.

  7. Mark IV says:

    That’s just the thing, isn’t it Norbert? Institutional oversight can be annoying and have other drawbacks, but it can also weed out some of the wackiness. But I see no reason why the wackiness warden couldn’t be a local.

    I think there is an independent LDS newspaper published in Mesa, AZ. It has been years since I saw an issue, but I seem to remember chatty gossip, news of various service projects and locals who had made it big, notices of deaths, marriages, and mission comings and goings, columns filled with speculative theology and faith promoting rumors, bad poetry, worse humor, all interspersed with ads for breadmakers, modest clothing retailers, and wheat grinders.

  8. Jonathan M. says:

    Have to say if there is one thing above all others I miss about the Church in the UK it is indeed the UK ‘News of the Church’ insert. If it does not infringe any copyright issues, I would be very grateful if someone who has accesss to it could scan a copy each month and email it to me! In the early years, when it was first published, I soon threw away my copies of the ‘Ensign’, but collected and kept the inserts until I moved to Australia in 1994. I helped me develop a real sense of pride in the UK Church.

    Here ‘Down Under’ I am happy to report that the Australian insert is to a large extent reproduced on the ‘Country Website’ for this particular Area.

    I wish that were the case with the UK Country Website, which seemed to me to start off promisingly but has now seemingly been slickly ‘Americanised’, with the result being that local content is minimised, or at least seems to have taken a back seat to news from General Authorities (almost all of them of course, not resident in the UK). To be sure, unlike the Australian site, there is a ‘Log-In’ area for members where they can read of UK leadership changes etc. but I have a feeling someone is a little afraid of ‘antis’ getting to see names whom they then might trace and bombard with their own particular version of the ‘truth’.

    I find it very sad that, if true, the insert has to be approved by some bureaucrat in Salt Lake.

    BTW, for those in the south of England, I know in my time there existed a national newspaper library in Colindale, Middlesex where one could read all issues of the ‘Millenial Star’. Whether this still exists I know not.

  9. I hadn’t known about these inserts until you mentioned it Norbert. I find it very important. I don’t things will decentralized rapidly, but stuff like this is the steps along the way, I think.

  10. Northerner says:

    I agree that these inserts serve a good purpose, as do the country websites of the church.

    Then again, I must say that I find both of them rather pathetic in some ways. It takes months for material to come out in the inserts, and thus instead of news one gets the history of the church in one’s own area. The guidelines for what to print and not to print are also very strict.

    The websites could alleviate this problem by featuring loads of local church news, happenings etc., not just the highly official correlated stuff and 1P-messages. This would make the church seem like a living and active organization in many countries and get the news from one side of the country to another and generate enthusiasm among the membership. But alas, when I e-mailed the country public affairs chairperson with this idea, repeatedly I was met only with silence.

    Too bad “correlation” killed another good thing

  11. Marion McLaverty says:

    Hello everyone,

    As the current editor of the UK Local Pages, I have been quite encouraged to read your comments! Perhaps I could answer some of your queries.

    Any member of the church in the UK can send me stories from their ward or stake, or about a personal achievemnt, etc. I have to say that there have been very few in the past that have not made it to an edition, but stories that relate to deaths, or perhaps the calling of a new bishop, are impossible to print on the whole (unless there is something quite unusual about them) as we could be inundated with such stories with not enough room to print.

    I edit where necessary and then this is sent for Priesthood content approval here int he UK. It is then forwarded to SL and it is becoming a much rarer situation for English spelling and grammar to be changed. In fact, I see a pdf version of it before it goes to print and can ask them to make any last minute changes.

    We do have agreement for each edition to go on the UK website, but for various reasons this has not happened yet but hopefully in the near future.

    When I took over the assignment there was a backlog of stories as at that time only 4 pages were allowed. I tried to use as many of them as I could and did receive a comment from one reader that it was not really “news” as some time had elapsed since the events took place. However, I am now just dealing with current stories that come to me, BUT the process does take about 3 months.

    Each of the countries in the Europe West Area have 8 local pages too – ie France, Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Portugal. They each have a local editor and I coordinate all their work and send it to SL. They work 4 months in advance. My understanding is that a lot, if not all, countries do have local pages and the sheer volume of such is a heavy load for the production team in SL, especially when you take all the different languages into account.

    I hope this helps answer some of your queries. Jonathan M, Ronan has my email address and if you would like to send me yours I will be happy to forward you a copy of the pages each month. However, my brain is very low on memory and so you may just have to prompt me on occasion!

    Marion

  12. Rebecca says:

    btw that’s my mum! :)

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