“The Body of Christ sure has many voices,” commented a visitor to the Church of St. Joseph. Father Kenneth, the pastor of this parish, believes that his is not the only voice that should be heard in the bulletin every Sunday.So, he empowers parishioners to spread the Good News with personal stories of faith in each Sunday bulletin. As a result, deacons, ministry leaders, and various parishioners have taken turns writing the weekly front-page reflection.
Jean and Jerry, a recently married couple, were invited to share their insights into the early years of marriage. In their article, “Marriage Is for Keeps,” they wrote, “We have found that being proactive in our faith and church community has brought us closer as a couple by giving us precious time together, while working as part of a team to benefit others.” They reflected on how difficult it is for young couples to find time to nurture a relationship. They treasured the “couple time” that came from serving with the religious education team, especially leading teens on a winter camping weekend. Even the assignment to write an article for the parish bulletin helped them build their identity as a couple and deepened their relationship. “Writing down our thoughts gave us an opportunity to reflect on how we’re doing together and on how significant the marriage commitment really is,” Jerry says.
In his article, entitled “From Feast to Feast,” Nick reflected on the ways the Holy Spirit has motivated so many people to work together for the success of the annual parish party on the Feast of St. Joseph. Nick would describe himself as a “nuts-and-bolts person,” but in writing the reflection, he began to understand that “something else—the Holy Spirit” was behind all preparations. “How else can you explain the enthusiasm and dedication demonstrated year after year by a variety of folks?”
Here are practical steps for encouraging other voices to contribute to your Sunday bulletin.
1. Consider a wide range of contributors and topics. Fr. Ken consults with the parish leadership team to identify writers who reflect the range of people in the parish. The team also recommends appropriate topics. He then selects promising themes and approaches specific people to request their involvement.
2. Draw up guidelines for the reflections. To strengthen the faith connection, writers are encouraged to link their topics to the weekly scripture readings, sacraments, or parish ministries. Kevin, a fifth-grade religious-education teacher, reflected on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, tying in his classroom experience with the Scripture readings for that Sunday. It is also important to supply a word limit.
3. Plan far ahead, and establish realistic but firm deadlines. Fr. Ken gives participants plenty of time to think, to pray, and then to write their reflections. He asks for written texts a week or so before the final bulletin deadline, so he has time to read them before publication. And he reserves a few weeks in each year for sharing his own thoughts with the community at St. Joseph’s.
4. Express gratitude. Parishioners at St. Joseph believe they are far richer for having heard many voices giving their witness of faith through the Sunday bulletin. Fr. Ken sends a quick thank-you email to each writer. In addition, the bulletins are occasionally sent to the bishop, who has been known to write a note of appreciation for a particular reflection.
Well-developed faith stories are a treasure for the parish and its members. Consider how this approach can be part of a broader effort to build a “culture of witness.” Since not everyone attends Mass each week or reads the bulletin, post the reflections on the parish website or Facebook page to broaden their reach. The authors may also be willing to deliver their faith stories to youth at retreats or at parish days of reflection. These witnesses will enrich the faith life of the community.
For more on giving personal witness, read Witness Matters: Telling Your Faith Story.