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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - What to Say Edition

Writer's Block...don't you hate it when it's newsletter deadline time and you just don't know what to say?

I write a "From the Pastor" article for our congregation's newsletter every other month. (I'm an associate.) I feel like this column should be devotional in nature, more like a sermon than a news article. But I often struggle with what to write about. How should I decide? Sometimes there is something in the life of the congregation or community that sparks something, but not always. What are some good topics when my well is dry?

First, a word from our newest matriarch, "Sunday's Coming", who can be followed at
Not trivial at all: on the one hand a letter is shorter than most sermons, but because it’s written people can go back over it and read it again – so in some ways you can’t ‘get away with’ things. I think you’re right to go for something reflective.
I’ve tried:
asking people for suggestions (in person, by email, on website...)
relating to dates in the calendar (St Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc)
having a series on ‘big’ questions (love, death, suffering, etc)
& even googling a question like ‘What do people most want to know?’
None of these has been totally successful, but none has been a total failure either. Just occasionally someone will refer to something I have written & it can start a really good conversation. Mostly I would want to encourage you to keep at it and live by faith – it’s amazing what the Holy Spirit does behind our backs, sometimes... Or maybe with Pentecost so close I should goes ‘over our heads’!

Singing Owl, who blogs at The Owl's Song offers the following:
I used to write a similar column. When stuck, I often read the writings or devotions of great men or women of the church—not to copy them—to get inspired. Two wonderful resources for this, both from Renovare, are “Devotional Classics” and “Spiritual Classics.” Many of the selections are relatively short, and all are well worth reading and pondering. Sometimes I would take a broad topic about which much could be said and break It into a series of articles. Like, for example, PRAYER. Big topic…so maybe consider an article on what prayer is, then one on why some prayers seem to go unanswered, and so on. Prayer, faith, hope, love, grace, mercy—all these broad topics lend themselves to pondering and “dissecting” into digestible bites of spiritual food.

Sue, who blogs at Inner Dorothy adds:
Hmmm.....I tend to write newsletters that are seasonal in nature, so the topic is sort of set for me. I like the idea of alternate month newsletters - staying connected is so important. I suppose there is the obvious "What's Happening Now" kind of topic, in which you keep folks up to date with the latest activities of the church. What if you added a theological reflection to an otherwise ordinary "announcement" type of article? In other words, try turning "We're having our spring tea" into a reflection on the wonder of God's creation and our celebration of it, along with a summer reminder of our human responsibility to be good stewards of God's earth.

You get the idea. Turn what might at first glance seem like an ordinary idea into a deeper Spirit-filled and thought-full reflection.


How about a poll? You could include an opportunity for folks to tear off the last page of the newsletter and drop it in a box in the narthex or on the collection plate answering questions such as:
* how do you like the time of worship?
* would it be helpful to you to have a printed copy of the sermon (for the hard of hearing)?
* do you attend our church's social events?
* if not, why not? Could we provide transportation if that's a problem?

There are a lot of good ideas here, but I am sure that we haven't exhausted them all! So please bring your ideas to the table, using the comment function at the close of this post.


  1. i like the idea of the poll and want to add a place for questions--ask people to write down any questions they have--about the sermon, the scriptures, theology, life in general, and put them in the offering plate. surely some idea would come from them.

  2. I, too, like the idea of asking the congregation to ask questions. I'm attempting to build a summer sermon series around just this idea. So far, after two months, I've only received four responses. So if you go the question route be prepared that you may end up in the same place.

    For a time I did a newsletter series on "What Presbyterians Believe" for which there was good response.

  3. I did an adult education series on "Ask the Pastor" this winter. Just a heads-up: be prepared for some, um...interesting questions :)

    Another idea for those of us of a Presbyterian flavor would be a series on the Six Great Ends of the Church. That'd be half a year taken care of!

  4. Ooh, Cheese, I love that idea! We don't one newsletter for June/July then start in August again, so I'm definitely going to do that!

  5. I don't write every month (the rector does) but I sometimes write semi-educational things--like why do we observe Lent, or why do we celebrate the Triduum or why do we use different liturgical colors (I did this when we switched from purple to blue for Advent). I don't think I'd do that every month, but it works occasionally.

    Or I might highlight some particular thing that is happening in the parish--a youth activity that's really special, for example.

  6. careful with the poll idea--I've long stopped encouraging people a chance to give their opinions anonymously ...for reasons I'm sure you can imagine....

    I often have problems with writers' block for the can write about some meaning you got from a movie you've seen, book you've read, whats in the news....when worse comes to worse I've reprinted other's peoples stuff that I thought was good -poem, Bishop's letter, WITH credit of course.

    I've done the "What Lutherans Believe" Also I had a long series explaining each part of the liturgy.

  7. I wrote a monthly column for the church newsletter when I was an intern...I focused on spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. It almost always had a couple of good book quotes, poems, art, or music with it.

    While I have yet the honor of doing this as an ordained staff person, I could see beginning to plants seeds which Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler-Bass, among others are writing about.

    Side question: Do you find people actually read the newsletter? I know the die-hards do...and do you find electronic distribution to be effective?

  8. Purple - - I think electronic distribution has the same problems as paper distribution - some do, some don't. In my last church we tried giving folks the option of paper or electronic, but neither seemed to increase how folks used it to get information. I've come to the conclusion that newsletters in either form are a necessary evil. OK, maybe evil is a little strong, but close. They're a PIA, but without them we lose one of the 7 ways we have to say something before someone finally remembers it.

  9. One of the best-received articles I did was a 'summer reading list' every year - probably 6-8 books on a variety of topics, some theological, some not-so, which people might want to read over the summer.

  10. We do only an electronic version of the newsletter, but then we are a 20 and 30 something church, city folk, and everyone has internet connectivity or can get it at a library. We use Constant Contact because it shows you how many people have at least opened the email (no guarantee that they will read it.)

    For people who would argue that we are leaving people out, EVERYTHING that is in the newsletter is in the weekly program. So there is a print "version" to be had.



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