They've been around for ages, so long that few people even give them a second thought.
But where would churches -- or synagogues, or mosques -- be without bulletins and newsletters to keep members informed of important doings in the congregation?
How else would members be informed about ice-cream socials and church picnics, vacation Bible school, choir practice, summer worship schedules, committee meetings, new ministries, Bible studies, workshops and retreats?
Even in a fast-paced age of instant communication, thanks to e-mail, cell phones and text messaging, church newsletters still appear to be relevant and play a needed role in keeping communities of faith in touch.
That's according to pastors, staffers and volunteers at a number of Lawrence churches who are responsible for putting together and disseminating weekly or monthly newsletters to hundreds of members across the city.
Whether church members get printed copies of newsletters in the mail -- or, in a fairly recent bow to the electronic age, in the form of links or files sent by e-mail -- people remain eager to get their copy, read it cover to cover (or just scan its contents over a cup of coffee) and post it on the refrigerator for quick reference.
In a way, church bulletins function like a small-town newspaper, letting people know about births, deaths and anniversaries among their neighbors, as well as who might be needing prayers and assistance.
"I read it, and I'm hoping other people read it, too," said Nancy Steinle, who, along with her husband, Leonard, volunteers every other Wednesday to label about 940 copies of the bimonthly First Edition, the newsletter of First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt., for mailing out to members.
"We attend church regularly, but still there's some information (in the newsletter) about health services offered in the church, and in this one there's a blurb about our involvement in the Lawrence sesquicentennial. It's always been valuable to me, and I hope it's valuable to other people in the church."
Getting a piece of The Rock
Church newsletters don't write, assemble and mail themselves. There's an unseen army of pastors, administrative assistants and volunteers who work to pull them together.
Take Jolinda Matthews, editor of the Plymouth Rock, the bimonthly newsletter of Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.
"It's a lot of work because it's a short turnaround time. It's only a few days every month, so the few days I work (on it), I work a lot. I get enough comments from people that I know they do read it," said Matthews, who has been in charge of The Rock for four years.
The newsletter gets mailed to roughly 690 addresses. Another 400 people get e-mailed the link to the church's Web site, where the newsletters are also posted.
More people these days are asking to be e-mailed the link to the Web site. That's good news for Plymouth, because it cuts down on volunteer labor, labeling, paper and postage costs.
"We figured that to mail the newsletter each year, it costs $3 for each place that receives it. When you get 400 people receiving it by e-mail, it saves a lot of money," said Kay Cerny, Plymouth's membership associate, who is in charge of seeing that the links to the newsletter gets e-mailed to those who request them.
The Rock is still relevant to the lives of Plymouth members, whether they receive e-mailed links to it, or hard copies in their mailbox.
"I think its purpose would be around our 'Seasons' section -- people who have passed away, people in the hospital, birthdays, anniversaries, baptism announcements. I don't how you would communicate that any other way," Matthews said.
"I'm amazed at how often we use the Rock to notify people about official church business."
Plymouth's newsletter often features photographs of third-graders getting their first Bibles, Christmas pageants or other church activities.
The photos appear in black and white in the hard copy of the newsletter, while they're in color in the online version.
And every issue of the Rock gets archived, for historical purposes.
Hears about mistakes
Ruth Townsend, associate for administration at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt., is the person behind the church's monthly newsletter, the Trinitarian.
Townsend gathers content from the parish rector and different ministry leaders and lays it out on a computer, using desktop publishing software.
The Trinitarian is mailed out to about 325 addresses, and volunteers are working to get the newsletter up on the church's Web site so that it can be accessed electronically, too.
The hard copies of the Trinitarian are in no danger of being phased out any time soon, in favor of e-mailed links or files.
"We realize there are a lot of people who don't have access to computers, such as elderly parishioners. E-mail might be something we look to in the future," Townsend said.
One of the most popular items in the Trinitarian is a feature called "Guess Who," which displays childhood photos of several parishioners in each issue. The identities of those who are pictured are revealed on the newsletter's back page.
The newsletter is especially important to members who might be homebound, or who don't attend services regularly.
"I'm thinking of those who maybe can't be as connected to the church as they once were. They read it cover to cover," Townsend said.
As do many parishioners at Trinity Episcopal.
"We hear from people if there's a mistake (in it), so I know they do read it," she said.
|Church newsletters have been around for ages as a way for members to know what's going on in their congregation. Sometimes that leads to inadvertent laughs. Here are a few bloopers reportedly taken from actual church bulletins around the country:¢ "This afternoon there will be a meeting in the south and north ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends."¢ "Tuesday at 4 p.m. there will be an ice cream social. All ladies giving milk please come early."¢ "For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs."¢ "Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community."¢ "Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow."¢ "Don't let worry kill you off -- let the church help."¢ "Pastor is on vacation. Massages can be given to church secretary."Source: ReligiousTolerance.org, www.religioustolerance.org/ch_bull.htm.|