Monday, April 25, 2005

Greetings, visitors from Kendall Harmon's blog. This is less a blog than where i park my pieces for print (because i'm too lazy to e-mail copies to people to ask for them, and because i lose track of what i did with them), with some other occasional stuff. The start of this little rondelay over professionalism in journalism and parish ministry is at:

with this as my part of the column/piece:

Yesterday I received a letter from Jeff Gill, a pastor (Disciples of Christ) in Granville, OH. It's about how all newspapers--and all churches--are founded on opinion; when opinion shifts the foundations will rock. Those who have built their professional house on it may forget what the foundation is made of. They start to see themselves as the solid thing.
Gill is also a "Faith Works" columnist for the local daily, The Newark Advocate. He says, "As a pastor I have a very real sense of the importance of local dailies and even crappy ol' free weeklies to build community, or foment division if that's what clarity brings. Some regular platform for cueing the 20 percent of any town, village, or city that actually get things done as to what needs doing, or stopping, is incredibly important. I can't figure out what that would look like in Midwestern communities without a newspaper, but I'm afraid that folks who are concerned about big-C Community had better start imagining, fast."
Here's his letter:
"There is no loyalty to the mechanism, not because loyalties changed, but because they were never loyal to the mechanism in the first place."
OK, so i'm late to this party, but as a columnist in two papers and a 20+ year pastor, i couldn't not share this thought with you after reading this quote from Matt Welch in your post, "laying the newspaper down" gently or not...
In case you didn't notice, Shaw thinks he and his colleagues are "accurate and fair".... This, I believe, is the nut of his real objection -- that the weird, ahistorical 1960-2000 period of newspaper consolidation, and the "professionalization" that came with it, produced a monochromatic culture of trying-to-be-fair newsgathering that Shaw believes is basically the only legitimate form of journalism. It's an incredibly conservative and arrogant view.
That, sir, is exactly what Mainline/Oldline Protestant Churches did in the post-WWII period; the huge influx of thankful vets and Boom Babies masked systemic problems that went back before even WWI, and as downtown churches and regional/national structures consolidated and calcified, they pushed aggressively a model of clergy "professionalism" that left them utterly unable to respond to the entreprenurial surge of untrained, personally motivated new start-ups of the Assemblies of God, COGIG, Vineyard, WillowCreek, and Saddleback approaches. The world they built was based on a "weird, ahistorical 1960-2000 period" and many national and regional structures still can't comprehend what's going on.
Add to that a recent uptick in bequests from dying WWII era folk that mask the final drawdowns on endowments, etc., and a new found appreciation for stewardship and tithing preaching from even liberal pastors, which has pushed per capita giving up enough to cover the decline in total numbers, and you have. . .
Well, it looks a lot like the newsprint and ink world to me. The core function of communicating to and between people is still vital and necessary, but when the mechanism for doing it breaks down, folk will find one that works, no matter what it looks like. There is no loyalty to the mechanism, not because loyalties changed, but because they were never loyal to the mechanism in the first place. Their connection is to the community that's created, and the sentiments about the delivery mechanism were no deeper than, well, sentiment.
This ties both newspapers and oldstyle programmatic, board/committee driven churches together, with Masters of Divinity/seminary trained pastors and J-school journalists in the same leaky boat. It's not that they don't "like" us or stopped "liking" us: they never "liked" us, they liked and even love the community we helped to deliver and maintain. Stop doing that, and they move to the light and warmth of company and community somewhere else.
And if you've read this far: what happens when advertisers stop believing that advertising works? When they realize that everyone else dumps the inserts and the bagpacks and the fliers in the trash first, just like they do? And when enough old hardbitten used car and appliance traders finally go to the internet and classifieds go entirely digital, won't the Emperor catch a breeze in his hinder parts? Peace,Jeff GillGranville, OH

* * *

What fascinated me was this comment from a Presby pastor who is pretty plugged-in, as sister of Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine fame:

"The boat may be leaking, but I prefer it to a cruise with Kathy Lee." Jeff Jarvis's sister, Cindy Jarvis, is a Presbyterian minister (here.) She had this reaction to Gill's letter:
Utilitarian religion that "works" (meaning numbers--headcount plus bucks) has always had sex appeal... well, you know what I mean. The mainline churches have looked to the mega-churches for technique, forgetting "the substance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen" that have, over the centuries, given people both a ground on which to stand (a perspective both complex and comforting) and lent to daily life a meaning that does not rise and fall with the NYTimes best seller list.
Given that people engage their minds in every other aspect of human existence, the guess that glitz and manufactured emotions will do for those matters of ultimate importance is a trend that will last about as long as children's sugared cereal in the stomach of a seriously hungry adult.

Um, that attitude is awfully descriptive of what i'm trying to say is the problem. I've tried to say so in an e-mail to Pastor Jarvis, but haven't heard back.

Anyhow, new columns will be posted for next weekend soon, when i stop answering e-mail about the spots where this e-mail of mine to Jay Rosen has poked at people and made 'em holler at me.

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