The Communicator: Parish Publications

By Stefanie Yova Yagze

Have you considered helping to produce your parish publications as a ministry? It is! But too often this area of the work of the Church is overlooked. Why? Possibly it has simply been lost in the shuffle. Or maybe no one has been willing to make the commitment of time and talent, not seeing the value of such an individual ministry. Or maybe the idea sounds too new!

Actually, this is not a new ministry. Living in a high tech era of media bombardment, it’s easy for us to forget that the first Church newsletters and bulletins came from the Evangelists and St Paul. St Luke is given credit for more than his gospel, in which he records the life of Christ. He also is believed to be the one who wrote to a friend named Theophilus. In this letter of “good news,” he wrote about what happened on the day of Pentecost and all that followed. He included information about baptisms, ordinations (of the first seven deacons), healings of the sick, the death of the protomartyr Stephen, the decision of the apostles to ask Matthias to take the place of Judas, the work of St Peter and his miraculous release from prison, and the conversion of a man named Saul… whom we have come to know as St Paul. St Luke also told of the news in the other “parishes,” the churches at Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and others in that first “diocese.” And he wrote all this to be shared with the other believers. It proved to have a timeless impact, as this letter was accepted into the canon of the New Testament as the book of the Acts of the Apostles!

St Paul also wrote to and for many of the first churches. His letters to the Ephesians, Corinthians, Galatians, and others are filled with news, teachings, encouragement, and practical advice. These letters were shared in their communities for the edification and uplifting of everyone. They contained the same kind of material that should still be evidenced in our parishes today! But to fill the need and the ministry required a person devoted to that purpose, someone willing to give of time and talent to fulfill this role well.

A Need for Communicators

Working with the priest, a lay person can discover the value of this ministry. There is a need for communicators in our parishes who can help produce quality bulletins, newsletters, reports, etc. The Church needs people who can help make sure these publications reach the hands of the faithful. St Paul only had the “word of mouth” approach, relying on the fervor of his followers to pass along the letters he sent. We have the means to provide a copy of everything for everyone, hand-delivered by the postal system, no less!

While no one need burden him or herself with the expectation of competing with the Evangelists and authors of the Epistles, keep in mind their Spirit. This ministry of the Word is needed now as much as ever, transforming our parish publications into edifying and uplifting couriers of the Good News.

It should be noted that anyone wishing to fulfill this ministry will be working with the priest of the parish or mission. His cooperation and guidance are crucial to each successful project. It calls for a good working relationship; where ideas and materials are freely shared. Only in that spirit can success be achieved.

What particular “good works” are included in this ministry? Below are listed some of the most common. However, your own list is limited only by your imagination!

1. The Parish Bulletin / Newsletter

The bulletin or newsletter can be much more than a mundane collection of meeting dates and donation lists. The following items add a great deal to the value of these publications.

Daily epistle and Gospel reading list

Information on the Saint commemorated on Sunday, or a Saint’s day during that week/month

Icon cuts of the Feast Days, explaining the feast, as well as the icon

Passages from the writings of the Church Fathers dealing with the every day situations of life

Borrowed articles or anecdotes that focus (even humorously) on some aspect of spiritual growth

Short views of interesting books to read

A listing of those confined in hospitals or at home, as well as birthdays and/or anniversaries of parishioners

Much of the information listed in these example categories is readily available. Your priest will be able to introduce you to many of the resources. Keeping our eyes open for interesting material becomes an acquired skill. It also helps if you receive the bulletins or newsletters of other parishes in your city and deanery. Sharing items is very common!

Some simple principles

How much technical knowledge is necessary? Just enough to produce a simple, readable and neat product. Here are a few simple principles and some technical information to keep in mind:

  1. Design a standard format for your publication. This includes the first page masthead, giving the parish name/address, volume/issue numbers, and something that identifies it as a bulletin, etc. All the pages should keep a standard format of columns (one or two,) making exceptions only for special items, i.e. special announcements or materials that need more space.
  2. Keep the layout of the page simple, uncluttered and neat! A page that is pleasing to the eye is much more likely to be read. For instance, try to use only one type face as much as possible. An italic type may be saved for special notes or notices. Maintain a minimum of 5/8” blank (border) around the edge of the page (most duplicating equipment won’t copy anything closer to the edge than that.) And make sure space is left between items, so that your readers know where one stops and the next one begins.
  3. For items that appear in every issue, consider giving them a designated space. For instance, use the same place on page 1 each time for the Epistle and Gospel readings, or for the schedule of services, the listing of those in hospitals or convalescent homes, a place for an icon and/or information about the saint of the Sunday, etc. People will come to know where to find these important items at a glance.
  4. It should also prove useful to have headings for items that appear in most issues. If you are adventurous enough to want to make your own headings, art supply stores carry Transfer Type (Letraset, GeoType, CelloTak) which are sheets of rub-off letters. Or keep your eyes open in magazines and newspapers for the headings that can be used. It’s best to photocopy your originals, and keep them on file. Or simply type a heading, maybe in CAPITAL LETTERS, UNDERLINED, BOXED to draw attention to it!
  5. Does your publication need a cover? Have you thought about using a line drawing of the church, or patron saint/feast, or other Church art? Will it be mailed? If so, be sure to leave a space for the addressee, stamp/postage permit and return address. It may prove most beneficial to have several issues’ covers printed at one time by a professional printer using offset equipment. It will probably save time and money in the long run, in addition to giving your publication a neat and professional look.
  6. If there is an artist or graphic arts student in the parish, you may want to ask his/her help with these first five items. They could be of great assistance in getting started.
  7. Deadlines: set them realistically and make them known in the parish, then stick to them. Otherwise, there will always be “something else” you could wait to include. Add late items to your file for “next issue.”
  8. Mailing your bulletin or newsletter? Does your parish have a Bulk Mail Permit? It can save a great deal of $$$ on postage. Call your post office for details.
  9. Beware of using photographs! They do not copy well, unless they are specially “screened” and run on offset equipment.
  10. Tools of the trade are simple. You’ll need a fine line marker, a glue stick or rubber cement for the “paste up” of a page that includes items you have clipped and copied to use (like headings), a T-square which makes it much easier to glue things down straight, a bottle of “White Out” for mistakes, and a good typewriter. These items are available at an art supply store or office supply outlet.

2. Annual Reports

This project takes time and cooperation, along with a few extra hands for collating and stapling! Annual Reports need to be organized, typed, and duplicated in a format that is concise and readable. Again, a few guidelines can make the job better and easier.

“Information Reports” should be kept together in one section. For example, the reports of the priest, parish board, special committees and organizations should be ordered and clearly marked at the top of their respective pages.

Financial reports should be kept together in another section. One suggestion for budgets and financial statements should have items listed under Income and Expenses in alphabetical order. It is also easier to read and use information for Proposed Budgets when a side-by-side comparison listing is made using this past year’s actual figures in one column next to next year’s propose budget in the ext. (That can also be helpful in listing this year’s budget next to this year’s actual.)

Committee Reports should be concise, articulating goals, accomplished projects, successes, shortcomings, and necessary details about projects still in process.

If the Annual Report is to be distributed at an annual parish meeting, it is wise to include the meeting agenda at the front of the Report.

Don’t forget to number the pages!

3. Special Projects

There are occasions when special material may be needed in the parish or mission. For instance, copies may be needed for a service for which no service book is available for everyone to use. Or a Banquet Program. A special flyer or announcement. Most priests would appreciate the assistance of dedicated lay people to help type, copy, collate, etc. these special projects. Too many times we don’t have these nice “extras” because there is simply no one to help do them.

4. The Mailing List

All the work of this ministry can be for naught if the material does not reach the right people. Is your mailing list correct and current? Has the visitor in church this past Sunday been added to the list? What about the new families you may know have moved into the area? Are your college students who are away at school on the list? (This last group needs special attention, as they seem to move most frequently!)

5. A Parish Directory

If your parish has an up-to-date mailing list, it can easily be transformed into a Directory. Size, shape, and form may vary, given your duplicating equipment, or funds for having it professionally typeset and printed. But the content can be valuable resource for everyone.

Parishioners appreciate having names, addresses, and phone numbers at their finger tips.

Other valuable information could include:

Parish organization officers and list of Board Members

Other Orthodox clergy and parishes in the area

Hospital addresses and Patient Information phone numbers

Calendar of the year’s events, feast days, and fasts

here really is a great deal that lay men and women can do in the important ministry of the printed word. If you have the gifts to contribute toward it, please share them! This includes not only those who can write or take the full responsibilities for projects. It also includes those who can type, or have hands to offer in collating, stapling. If this ministry is to grow to meet its potential, it needs you to help.

At the time this article was written in 1984, Stefanie Yova worked in advertising, was studying at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and was a member of the OCA Department of Lay Ministries. She was brought up in Akron, Ohio where she was an active parishioner in the Church of the Presentation of Our Lord, OCA Romanian Diocese.

She is now married to Fr Anthony Yagze, pastor of St George Church, Terra Haute, IA (Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese).