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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Filing Dilemnas

One of the things they didn't teach us at seminary was how we could effectively manage the rafts of paperwork that we receive and generate! Sounds like mine wasn't the only institution of theological education lacking this important course!

I have a question about something I never realized I would need to deal with in my ministry - FILING. I've been in pastoral ministry for 15 years and I've always done my own filing - and very haphazardly I might add. My biggest issue is with filing my sermon manuscripts. In the beginning, I filed them according to church season, with each new sermon going in front of the previous one. At the time it made sense to me, but after a few years of this, it became a problem because whenever I needed to refer back to an old sermon, I had to remember or look up what season (and which liturgical year) the sermon was preached in (and then determine which year - not just which liturgical year - I preached it in!); this all seemed to be an unnecessary obstacle. I began to switch to a text-based method of filing (i.e., simply filing every sermon according to the Scripture preached) but I've never fully made the switch. Mostly I just have piles of old sermons stacked in various places around my office (in files). So I haven't really made the issue of looking back at old sermons any easier for myself!

What works for the rest of you, especially as related to sermon manuscripts, but also as relates to any other filing? I do keep my electronic files well-ordered, and they are easily searchable on my Mac, but I find that often I'd rather have the hard copy with any notes or changes I might've made by hand that I never got around to updating on my computer. With regards to other work filing, I'd be interested in any advice about how you determine what to file and what to toss, and how you decide how to organize it all.

Muthah, blogging at Stone of Witness, writes:

Dear Desire-to-be Organized:

I am not one to really help here because I am NOT organized. In my denomination, we adhere to the Revised Common Lectionary. And it is rare that we veer from it so my sermons are organized by Advent Ia or Lent II c. It makes it easy to refer to both the readings and the season, I tend to file on my computer only since I never repeat a sermon--themes yes, but I never use a sermon over as such.

And for sometime now, I have been preaching extemporaneously without a written text depending upon the size of the congregation. So I don't keep my texts or outlines. When I do come upon some of my earlier sermons, I am often surprised at how I have changed in my understanding of passages, or my constantly emerging theology. But most times, it isn't worth keeping. And having moved across country a couple of times, if I can't keep it on a little flash drive, it gets jettisoned.

I am sure some of our sisters have better ways of preserving our hard work.

And it appears that Sharon, blogging at Tidings of Comfort and Joy, does have an effective method:

I do have a paper filing system for many things, but what I want to share is a paper-less sermon saving system, which would also work for funerals, weddings, liturgies or any of the things that you write.

I no longer keep hard copies of my sermons. After 20 years of preaching, the volume is just too unwieldy. Thanks to encouragement by my techno-savvy son, I now use Google Docs to compose and archive my sermons. I give each sermon a file name according to Scripture lesson(s), and I file them by calendar year. In Google Docs you could solve your "which way to file?" dilemma by putting any sermon into multiple files -- by date, by Scripture, by Season, by type -- any way you want. I feel secure letting go of the paper knowing that they are saved to two places (computer hard drive + G-docs). I also back up what's on my computer to a portable hard drive for extra safety, so that's really three copies of each one.

FYI -- about those written notes you want to keep: almost every one of my computer-saved sermons also has a "sister" file named with the same date also named "NOTES" and filed in the same year folder. This is all the brilliant stuff that didn't make it into the sermon; notes and research that I came up with (always carefully reference others' brilliance); and any other things that might be helpful later. If I significantly marked up the hard copy, I will change the computer copy soon after. I sometimes make notes at the top of the computer page of the sermon or of the notes if I want to remember something significant regarding the preaching or the day.

An advantage of Google Docs is that any document is accessible to you from any computer, just like email is. Another advantage is that you can share selected docs with selected people. I have personal files (recipes, for example) that I share with my kids, but it easily could work for church committees and other groups.

I hope this will be helpful for helping you file some things. Happy organizing!

Do you have an effective system for managing sermons and other paperwork? We'd like to hear about it! And while you are at it, send a question or two our way here.

May you live in God's amazing grace+



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  2. I don't keep hard copies of my sermons either. They are saved on whatever computer I typed them on and then also posted on my blog. The blog has actually been the most helpful. Even if you don't want to regularly blog your sermons for public "consumption" maybe you could set up a private/password protected blog just to act like a filing cabinet! The tags help me keep my organized by season, by book of the Bible, and by topic.

    I have a dream of doing something similar with my sermons saved on the computer and have done this with my wedding and funeral sermons. Instead of naming the file with the title of the sermon itself or even the person/couple of the occasion, they are named with the text on which they are based and any other special info that distinguishes the particular sermon from another on the same Scripture - - Like a funeral one that was "Rev 21 Advent" since the sermon addressed the season of Advent when the funeral occurred. I have dreams of doing this with my real sermons, switching all of them to file names based on the Scripture instead of the title or season. I just think it will be more easily searched.

    I do have my sermon file on the computer divided into seasons (advent-TFig, Lent-Pentecost, 1st half Ordinary Time, 2nd half Ordinary Time) for each year, so 12 different file folders. It does make it easier to find things based on the lectionary.

    All that said, again the most used "filing system" for me is the tag box on my blog. I only wish I had more than just the last 3 years in it. It's really hard to find the rest since I didn't always compose them on the same computer. It's a dream of mine to get them all consolidated.

    It's also a dream that one of these software writers would incorporate a blog tag-like filing system into the software. I would pay some MONEY for that.

  3. I think I'm shockingly old school. I have almost nine years of sermons in paper files, along with the bulletins and any prayers composed prior to worship (I often pray off the top of my head). Since I've been in five churches (three interims) I don't have access to all the bulletins on my computer, and I really like to look back in those files at the liturgies I wrote or found and/or adapted. I have a file for each year, and the sermons are tucked into the bulletins and (for most of the years) arranged neatly by date from January to December. That makes it easy to find anything I'm looking for in a hurry, though admittedly I didn't keep them tidy in the early years and had to go back later and fix things up.
    All the sermons are on my computer, too, filed by the year within a bigger folder for the church where I preached them. Like She Rev, I would love a tagging system!

  4. Just a quick thought. My new favorite website/program is I can install it on multiple computers (home, work, laptop) and have my files available at a moments notice. Since it is web-based as well no matter where I am (as long as a computer and internet is available) I can pull up the file I need.

    As for hard-copy filing, I like the idea of filing by the year. I only preach a few times a year, so my hard copy file is pretty small.

  5. I have a folder for every Sunday of the lectionary (labeled A-Advent 1, A-Advent 2, etc) in which I keep bulletins, notes, sermons, and random ideas, whether they made it in or not. I also keep sermons in my computer in one folder ("sermons") and the file names are Scripture-Title-Church-Date-Liturgical Date. So I can scroll through to the text I want to see if I've preached before, and when that was.
    I also use my blog...though I don't tag it for text or liturgical calendar, I probably should. I just have them tagged "sermons"...maybe sometime I'll go through and change that...
    I have to say I'm intrigued by the google docs allowing you to keep the same document in multiple folders. I haven't really used google docs before. that could be cool.

  6. 24 years of hard copies, simply organized in folders by year, and within that, liturgical "order" (starts with Advent 1 and goes through the end of Pentecost). The early ones were done on typewriters, so I have no back up on those; others are on the computer and an external hard drive. Old school, but it works for me. All are named by season and year: sermAdv1.A[insert year]. I do love my Mac for searching; it's so easy just to put in a phrase I remember and see what comes up!

  7. Hey, thanks for the input, y'all! (I'm the original questioner)

    Like Songbird and Betsy, I'm old school, even thought I also have most things on my computer, including some on my sermon blog, except for sermons before about 2003, which were saved on previous computers to floppy disk. I still have the disks (all labeled by church season and year) but no computer to read them on!

    Even though I have everything on computer files, I still prefer to keep hard copies as well. My husband and I are co-pastors and we often like to refer to each other's old material. While I can always pull up post-2003 sermons for him on my computer, it would be great if he could easily search my paper files on his own (which he can't, because my system is totally broken-down). His files, which go back some 30 years, are very easy for me to search! I like the Google Docs idea, though I doubt he would use that (he is old school, too).

    Maybe I just need to clean up and organize all my pre-2003 sermon files and then deal with the rest on computer, if I could make myself be more diligent about transferring any written notes to my computer copy right after I preach....


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