It is no secret that the job of a pastor is multifaceted and seems to consist of the work of at least three people. Among many other things, he is the face of the parish, the chief communicator of information and the primary catechist.
How is a pastor to communicate all of the important information to his congregation each week, while at the same time fulfilling his mission of preaching the Gospel and catechizing the faithful? There are many ways to do this, but there is one that is being underutilized.
All too often the end of Mass is interrupted by a series of announcements, often accompanied by a plea to “take home a bulletin.” But it is high time that more pastors utilize the bulletin as the tool it has the potential to be, and use it to nurture the faith of their people. After the homily itself, the bulletin seems to be the next best way to get a message out to the people of the parish.
There is one thing the bulletin has over the homily. The bulletin is, more often than not these days, also available online for immediate download and viewing. In this way, even nonparishioners and those who did not attend Mass can reap the benefits of the bulletin. Certainly, homilies can be recorded and put online, but the bulletin is a very succinct and bite-sized way of communicating information. Importantly, this information should be more than simply announcements.
It certainly is the job of a pastor to faithfully, honestly and effectively administer the finances of the parish. It is the job of a pastor to communicate to the parish community about upcoming events, changes or initiatives. But first and foremost, and above all else, it is the job of a pastor to help his flock get to heaven. For this reason, it is important to utilize every available resource to that end.
There always is a question of space when it comes to the bulletin. A note from the pastor — or the pastoral associate, or the director of religious education — is a real opportunity to evangelize, catechize and edify the community. There are many ways in which you can utilize the bulletin to provide opportunities of prayer, catechesis and evangelization. One idea is to include a section of prayer intentions in the bulletin. This can be done in many ways, including listing Pope Francis’ official monthly prayer intentions. Another way is to list the Mass intentions for the coming week and encourage parishioners to include these intentions in their own prayers. It also may be fruitful to have a section devoted to prayer requests from the parish community, which could be referred to in the intercessions each Sunday. This is a deeply profound way of instilling a sense of support and community within the parish. There is nothing quite like knowing that someone is pleading with God on your behalf.
The pastor, director of religious education or someone else could also be enlisted to compose a weekly column with a reflection or lesson of some kind. This can be based on the Sunday readings or a particular topic from the Catechism, or even questions posed by parishioners.
One of the beauties of the Church is our belief in the Communion of Saints. The Church has raised to the altar thousands of individuals to whom we can look for guidance, inspiration and patronage. As such, another feature that could be an effective tool of evangelization and edification in the parish bulletin would be a “saint of the week” column, focusing on one saint whose feast is celebrated in the coming week. Fostering a greater connection with the saints among the congregation is of inestimable value.
It is all too easy for the parish bulletin to become purely utilitarian. There are announcements that need to be made and information that needs to be disseminated to the parish community. But it is first and foremost the duty of the pastor to help his flock get to heaven, and the bulletin is one of many resources he can enlist toward that end.
PAUL SENZ holds a Master of Arts in pastoral ministry from the University of Portland and lives in Oregon with his family.