Discernment and the Value of Printed Church Bulletins

Wonderful piece here by Anne Helen Peterson highlighting our word for the day (I also recommend subscribing to her always astute Culture Study newsletter here):


I won’t spoil the entire piece for you (it’s worth your time), but here’s the kernel regarding discernment… 

The Invite Was Already in My Mailbox:

A printed and mailed newsletter isn’t the right solution for every community, just like a Marco Polo group isn’t right for every friend group and a phone call isn’t right for every work relationship. But now that we, as a civilization, have figured out all these ways to access everyone and everything all the time, the hardest work is no longer in the delivery. It’s in the discernment.

Those of us who have sat through many long stanzas of Just As I Am at the end of our Sunday Service at the local Baptist church as young people, dreaming of the meal being cooked across the street at the Fellowship Hall, know the value of a printed church bulletin. I think a good deal of my love of design and printed aesthetics comes from those old pieces of paper, even today. 

I still have the church bulletin from the 1994 Youth Sunday at Little Bethel Baptist Church in Mullins, SC, when I preached my first sermon (it was on Kurt Cobain and why young people feel disillusioned with the powers that be…). I still have the bulletin from the 2000 Wofford College Baccalaureate Service when I gave the Pastoral Prayer. I have bulletins from most of the sermons I gave while “on the circuit” throughout North Carolina as a seminary student in the ‘00s. I have many important bulletins from Merianna’s career and calling as a Pastor, from her first sermon to her ordination service to the blessings of our children and friends’ children, etc. I have bulletins and programs from my children’s and students’ plays, musicals, and dance recitals. I have my old love letters from 7th-9th grade in the original box they were stored during my youth.

Discernment is one of those intangibles that our modern cultures seem to overlook in favor of the instant gratification of scrolling, likes, clout, and followers count. Yet, as I reflect on these printed souvenirs from my own journey, I can’t help but feel that strange tingling of wisdom that comes with age and the accumulation of experiences at our roots.

I’ll never be an oak tree in this life. Still, this accumulated humus, topsoil, and sometimes painful rain of memories give me a glimpse into what it must be like to be a Mother Tree in the forest, seeing life come and go and then come again over the many long years and human quantified time of centuries while trying to discern what’s best for the forest.

So I hope for a little discernment for you today in your walk along The Way and wherever life might take you. Collect some scraps of paper to help you remember, and keep a good notebook to help you look back in order to look forward better with a little discernment.

Or, as the late great John Prine gave us (via Steve Goodman):

Broken hearts and dirty windows

Make life difficult to see

That’s why last night and this morning

Always look the same to me

And I hate reading old love letters

For they always bring me tears

I can’t forgive the way they robbed me

Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs

Memories, they can’t be boughten

They can’t be won at carnivals for free

Well, it took me years to get those souvenirs

And I don’t know how they slipped away from me

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