Change punctuates our history as a church, including communications
Written by Gregg Brekke
September - October 2009
As always, our aim is to keep you informed
You'll notice something different in this issue. While we are carrying some stories about General Synod 27, an interview with outgoing General Minister and President the Rev. John H. Thomas, letters and a smattering of informational notices, the bulk of the writing is dedicated to concluding the printed edition of United Church News.
It may be curious for some to read the words "printed edition" referring to our denomination's newspaper. In fact, the tradition and tenor of United Church News is continuing in its online version without interruption.
Features, editorials and opinions, theological reflections, meeting and event notices, letters to the editor, local church news and personal profiles already are being actively published to the United Church News online news portal at <ucc.org/news>. The free press spirit that birthed United Church Herald, A.D. and United Church News remains alive in the online edition.
I know from the many letters and phone calls I've received that the transition to online newsmaking isn't popular with everyone. I'm especially aware that some older readers and those with limited or no internet access are particularly affected by this change.
As editor, I am working diligently to reach into the margins of our communications options. Printable news will still be available from the UCC and most likely from your Conference. We'll also begin publishing a twice-annual membership oriented magazine next spring. Details of these offerings are found in the Centerstage article, "UCC communications: What's next on the horizon?"
But knowing that a technology gap exists for some does not justify spending over $750,000 annually to support free subscriptions to United Church News. This is especially true when more efficient, not just cheaper as some have asserted, means of communications exist.
I sincerely believe that even if every recipient of United Church News had responded to our repeated requests and sent in at least $5 per year, which would have covered the costs of production and distribution, we'd still be making this transition. Maybe later than we are, but it would have happened.
The ways we communicate as a society have changed. Why should the church straddle itself to old methods, hoping it is immune from the way the world is now?
News or archive?
By the time you receive this paper via postal mail, the news of General Synod 27 will be at least two months old. The main articles were submitted in mid-July and the letters were collected no later than the beginning of August. Classically defined, this isn't news — it's an archive.
I invited a host of writers — former editors, editorial staff and communication directors — to weigh in on the subject of the imminent transition and the histories that relate to communications in the UCC. All but Everett Parker, due to hospitalization, submitted their first-hand accounts.
Former editors J. Martin Bailey and W. Evan Golder, along with long-time UCNews copy editor and production manager Barb Powell, tell the story of how newsmaking has evolved in the UCC.
Communication directors Beverly Chain, Art Cribbs and Bob Chase remind us that the way the church tells its story is an ever developing dance with many partners, including society and technology. Current communications director J. Bennett Guess informs us on the course communications in the UCC will take over the next few years.
I'd also like to acknowledge that a period of grief — with its associated disbelief, guilt, anger, reconciliation and acceptance — is appropriate. It's also important to point out that the end of the printed edition of United Church News is not a failure on the part of the church or its communicators.
An end, a beginning
A decade ago, the Minneapolis band Semisonic had a hit song, "Closing Time." The most memorable refrain from the song for me was the lyric, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." This is an important theological concept — one most eloquently spoken by the Rev. Otis Moss III at General Synod 27. "If there had not been a Moses, there would not be a Joshua...COMMA!" he began as he punctuated his way through church history.
Whether it's an important justice issue, the change from printed to digital communications, or the transition of general minister and president from John H. Thomas to Geoffrey Black, we affi rm that we are not to place a period where God has placed a comma.
My prayer is that the end of the printed edition of United Church News is merely a comma in the history of communications for the UCC, not a period but a continuing and sometimes messy sentence that leads to communicating not just the news but also more Good News with those to whom Christ has called us.