The reluctant correlator

Part of my ward calling is to publish the monthly ward newsletter. (I do the layout, and my wife proofreads.) The ward decided some time ago that a weekly bulletin was a waste of paper, and it would be more interesting to publish something monthly produced by the ward for the ward. There is a message from a bishopric member, a calendar for the next month, profiles of new members, excerpts of letters from missionaries and other articles from members.

Those other articles are usually solicited, and we ask for articles from a variety of ward members: someone describes his experiences at a single adult conference; a Sunday School teacher writes about her feelings about the New Testament; a man who volunteers at a homeless shelter and a YW who studies music tell what they do. It’s been especially good to ask people to write who are too shy to speak in church, thus giving them some outlet for their spiritual expression. I have been genuinely proud of our ward for producing sincere, spiritual material every month.

Then I got a few unsolicited articles. They were quite good. In a beautiful piece, an older woman wrote about her grief when her dog died and how she found peace through prayer. A YSA wrote about what it’s like to wait for a missionary. (I did take this back to her and offered her the chance to make some minor changes; I suggested that she might find the rather intense description of her physical longings embarrassing when being read by the entire ward during Sunday School. She agreed.)

Then I got an article that demanded a real judgment. A woman submitted an article which involved some non-standard, and perhaps even false, doctrine. It would be wrong of me to tell you details of the article, but for the sake of discussion, I have thought of an equivalent topic to give you an idea. The spirits of her dead relatives were visiting her on a regular basis, giving advise and saving her from physical harm. I showed the article to the bishop and he agreed we could not publish it. He talked to her about it (it was submitted through him, although he passed it on without reading it), and she seems OK with the decision not to publish. But of course now I’m nervous about future submissions and decisions to be made.

Where would you draw the line? What topics would be inappropriate for a ward-published newsletter read by everyone from new members to ninety year-old patriarchs? How can the variety of individual spiritual experiences and the general doctrinal needs of the congregation be negotiated?

Comments

  1. No details of past transgressions. I didn’t think so before my mission, but I figured out while I was on it that you really don’t have to describe your sins in detail in order to describe your repentance experience. Talking about past transgressions can actually detract quite a bit.

    Very intense personal spiritual experiences might also not be so appropriate, but I guess that judgment should be up to the person submitting more than the person doing the editing. There have been times the spirit moved me not to share things, and other times when the spirit did move me to share things.

    It sounds like you did the right thing by going through the bishop to explain your doctrinal qualms with the story. It could have produced a difficult situation if you’d done it on your own.

  2. Sounds like you did the right thing, and I agree with onelowerlight on details of past transgressions. Since the Spirit is brought by the study of righteous and true doctrine, I don’t think it’s wrong to question publishing those stories which may be questionable in doctrinal matters.

    I love the monthly newsletter idea! I’m wondering if this sort of thing would work in my YSA ward.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    There’s good news and bad news.

    The good news is that your monthly newsletter has much more of substance than the traditional creature, which in my experience usually has messages from local leaders, lesson schedules, a listing of birthdays, and not much else. I think it is wonderful to include little essays and articles from the ward members themselves, and this has the potential to make the newsletter something worth reading and a part of the fabric of the ward.

    The bad news is that by allowing such contributions, you are now in the position of an editor, and as editor you will occasionally have to make decisions like this, and you will occasionally have to decline to publish something. And since most people are not accustomed to getting rejection letters (unlike those who regularly publish in scholarly journals), there is a real potential for hurt feelings. And, as you say, it will be difficult to know what lines to draw in the sand and where.

    I don’t have any advice on where to draw the lines, but it sounds like a very worthy undertaking.

  4. Norbert, our ward newsletter editor strikes about the right balance, makes them really nifty-looking, and there’s a mad scramble in the ward to get one each month (Fast Sundays, at the back of the chapel). Email me (tjhangen at comcast dot net) and I’ll put you in touch with him, if you’d like to chat with someone who’s doing that calling brilliantly. Don’t be nervous that the first few submissions were a bit off the mark, I would think that people who needed an outlet were trying to find one, and that sort of thing wouldn’t come up much once a newsletter was going along fine.

  5. No Brilliant advice here on how to edit. Just pray about it and ask your wife what she thinks. That’s what I would do.

    I did want to say that I heartily agree with you on the bulletins. I find them completely irrelevent. It is almost frustrating to me that I print 65 of them every week and watch them go into the trash can. How did you convince the ward they were a waste of paper?

  6. If it gets too weird, I’m OK (and well-justified) in returning all unsolicited articles and saying we just don’t have the space, but I want to give people an outlet to do this sort of thing. It’s not an issue of it not being established — it’s an issue of trying to keep it real and breathing, not a collection of clipart quotes from the GAs, or the kind of thing Kevin describes. (There is no clipart in our newsletter. Ever.)

  7. Note that if people in your ward know about your blogging activity they may quickly wonder who exactly was writing that particular essay (I love it when people share their own false doctrine except when they do it from a position of power).

    Fine to delete this comment.

  8. I would think that for a newsletter, the same principle applies as to sacrament talks, regarding false doctrine.

  9. Joshua A. says:

    The eyebrow test–if they feel like they’re about to leave your forehead as you read, don’t publish.

  10. Joshua A. says:

    Except that most Sacrament meeting talks which involve false doctrines are like train wrecks–can’t be stopped on time, and all that’s left is to clean up the mess.

  11. I’m actually for publishing most stuff. I agree no confessions of sins. That’s just awkward, but no one looks to your newsletter as a source of doctrine do they? Most people I imagine don’t look to it as a definitive source of what is or is not truth in the Church. Anyway, I think members are smarter than we give credit and so most of them might read a story like that and think, huh. Some might feel similarly, others might think it’s false doctrine. Obviously there are some lines not to be crossed, but I actually think those have more to do with social appropriateness rather than doctrinal appropriateness. People say false doctrine from the pulpit all the time (even bishops and SPs) and somehow we still survive.

  12. I find the false doctrine line less than useful. How do I know the difference between interpretation, marginalized doctrine, creative explanations that seem consistent with known doctrine and false doctrine?

    I would agree that specific confessions of sins are not good, but one of the counselors in the EQ pres. wrote a great piece very much in the ‘I once was lost but now I am found’ vein, and a general suggestion of how lost one was can be quite inspiring.

    Here’s a question I think I would ask as a correlator:

    If a person with some level of testimony read this, would it help them add to that testimony, or broaden it with a new perspective?

    Of course this is still largely subjective.

  13. No advice here, but to say along with most others, that you handled this situation perfectly.

    I do commend you on your amplifying your calling. I love our monthy bulliten, and would love it even more if there were articles and submissions by ward members. Sometimes the usual stuff is just too dry.

  14. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert, congratulations! My wife and I have the same calling. So far my plans for apocryphal crossword puzzles and sudoku have been nixed. I wonder if perhaps part of the purpose of the newsletter is more than just to uplift and edify by virtue of the messages in the stories; maybe the newsletter also exists to give a permanence to the sense of flavor and style of the ward in real life? The quirks and awkwardness of the members is an inescapable part of attending church, and if the newsletter reflected that in small measure I don’t think that’s 100% negative.

  15. Post manifesto polygamy, polyandry in Nauvoo, accounts of Book of Mormon translation that involve hats and seer stones, and articles about Adam-God. I think that if you follow those guidelines you can’t go wrong :-)

  16. The quirks and awkwardness of the members is an inescapable part of attending church, and if the newsletter reflected that in small measure I don’t think that’s 100% negative.

    Yeah, I agree. But I would prioritise that behind creating a sense of community.

    For instance: Borther X was a widow and remarried in the temple. He talks about his wives all the time, giving almost everybody the serious heebie-jeebies. I would not seek out an article on eternal marriages from him.

    Or Sister Y refuses to go to any class or meeting in which members of the Z family speak. I could give her 200 words to explain her position one month and the family 200 words to rebut the next, but I’m not going to.

  17. whoinventedfreeride says:

    Really, who cares?

    I think we worry far too much about what should or should not be spoken, read, or discussed between members of the church. It’s not like something you might reluctantly publish in your ward news letter will cause World War III to start. Why the live in daily fear and loathing that something, somewhere, somehow might be inappropriate? I mean really folks, really…

  18. Have you considered an “op ed” page? Or a disclaimer that “the opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the individual who wrote them and do not necessarily represent the Church or the editor. Take what you can use, and leave the rest.”

  19. whoinventedfreeride, point well taken. What, then, is your proposed standard for ever voicing an opinion on any topic? Believe me, I can appreciate the gleeful feeling of telling others that their entire discussion is petty and meaningless, but now the burden is on you to show that you have something meaningful yourself to say. The world awaits.

  20. whoinventedfreeride says:

    Steve,
    All I was trying to say was maybe we worry about the little things in life too much when, in fact, the gospel is really about our own personal relationship with Christ and how we can help others cultivate their own relationship with him. IMHO, sometimes worrying about every little minutia of life actually gets in the way of our relationship with Christ.

    I hope I have not disappointed you or the world

    Sincerely,
    Who

  21. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m interested that your ward dispensed with the weekly bulletin.

    Do other wards do this? Could you contact my Bishop and make the recommendation?

    It is a waste of paper, big-time.

    (I make them every week.)

  22. …the gospel is really about our own personal relationship with Christ and how we can help others cultivate their own relationship with him.

    Well, exactly. And if my calling is to put out a monthly newsletter for the church of Jesus Christ in my community, then I’m going to do it in a way that helps others cultivate a relationship with him. And that seems to involve making some decisions.

    And if you think this is meaningless minutiae, then consider this (which was the point I was subtly trying to make): the Church correlates everything. All the time. What are their criteria? What is the justification? Are they striking a balance between the needs that my silly little newsletter seems to identify (history, self expression, collective spiritual identity, unity)?

  23. David H: It’s an interesting idea, sort of a testimony meeting in print. I probably wouldn’t do it, though. There are space demands on the thing.

  24. If it were a single’s ward, they would probably want you to do a spotlight on a person or an apartment each issue. Maybe something like that would be a good idea for the newsletter–sort of a “get to know you” kind of thing.

  25. Our weekly bulletin is wanted by everyone in attendance even though there’s nothing creative in it. How do you get the calendar in the bulletin? I assume that it’s at least one full legal size page… Is it just typed in MS Word or some other program?

  26. We use Word, text TimesNewRoman 10.5, headlines Helvetica 14, plus a big banner. It usually runs 4 pages — a folded A4 paper. We’ve had several 8 page editions, though. The monthly calendar (plus lesson assignments for SS/RS/PH) fill the back page.

  27. My wife does the newsletter for our ward. Her calendar is the one everyone uses for the month. She has an activity page (word search, gospel-related sudoku, etc.), and a “getting to know you” page. She has the First Presidency message (so home teachers can have it), and she includes birthdays, and pictures from recent baptisms and activities, so people get to see themselves, friends, or family members every month. Nobody has volunteered an article yet. It kills every Saturday before Fast Sunday, but in the big picture it is worth it.

  28. Our ward bulletin is mailed out on Saturday night, as compiled by the Exec Secy. About 80% of the ward prints it out themselves or doesn’t bother with it. We provide about 10-15 printed copies for those without computers or guests.

    I’m the ward clerk, and we’ve almost completely dispensed with a printed ward directory. Again, we print 10-15 copies and leave them in the clerk’s office to be picked up (on demand; you have to ask for them). We do this about once every 4-6 months. Anyone who asks for one, we give them one and then discuss how to get online at lds.org and access the ward directory online. Our wards adds a family or two a week during the summer months, and when people complain that a printed copy is out of date, we refer them immediately to lds.org, which is about as up-to-date as your ward’s electronic records are.

  29. Decide what to publish that same way I am deciding what ‘LDS’ blogs to subscribe to… how I feel when i read /visit them.

    Granted now is a time in my life when I need so extra guidance and ‘can’t’ make a good decision on my own… till i learn how…

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