Monday, February 21, 2011

Faith Works 2-27

Faith Works 2-27-11

Jeff Gill


Communicating Some Bad News




Behold, I come bearing bad news.


At least for some.


In faith community internal relations, a common subject of concern is "communications," as in "we need more communications."


Unfortunately, this is not exactly what you might call a "transparent" statement. In other words, it doesn't mean something clear and direct.


Rarely do you actually find a situation in the church or congregation where the leaders or clergy are not communicating at all. Folks will say "we need more communication," and the response will be, usually quite accurately, "but we've published articles in the newsletter, put notes in the bulletin, announced from the pulpit!"


Here's the bad news. People learn about things best in the way they expect to learn about them.




Yeah, I know. It sounds like a non sequitur. Let me try again.


People who usually learn about things from, say, a handout at a board meeting, or from their buddy in the parking lot, will sincerely and honestly not hear or see a word of what was in the newsletter or bulletin or service announcement. Likewise, someone who expects to see the entire week recapped in their bulletin won't likely know or care that you posted on the church website or at the Facebook page any new details about an upcoming event for the community.


There's a growing awareness we have that there are auditory learners, and visual learners, and it's not that the twain never meet, but they pay relatively little attention to each other. Then there's the whole question of what "visual learning" means in relation to text, to print, to . . . stuff like this column.


If you are a regular reader here, odds are you're less focused on worship service video productions to get your information, and if you prefer a live skit or digitally animated visual to drive home the reminder that the deadline for the next "Women of Faith" is coming up fast, you probably don't read long paragraphs of text unless it's to mine out of the vein a fact nugget you realized you needed (you're scanning for the price or the phone number, not "reading" the whole thing).


It's easy enough for me to insert here a rant about living in a "post-literate" culture, where people may well be able to read, but they just don't read except to extract data. I feel that frustration as a pastor and teacher often enough, but I go back before the internet and even before cable TV enough to be skeptical that this is entirely a new problem.


The UMC theologian Tex Sample was writing about this challenge for the church in the early 1980s, and today, the complication is that the profusion of tweets and status updates can fool people into thinking that reading is back in vogue.


Not exactly.


The kind of rapid scanning and skimming that was once the province of PhD candidates with twelve books to "read" by Monday is now a broadly applied skill set known to fourth graders, and reading for impression and nuance and narrative content – oh, my. You are verging on what it means to teach Biblical Hebrew or Koine Greek to your parishoners when you're trying to promote that sort of reading experience.


But that's not the bad news I had in mind. (Whaaaaaaa? There's worse?)


The reality is that, since "people learn about things best in the way they expect to learn about them," we are now leading and ministering, lay and ordained, in a world where we have to communicate in multiple modes. That's right, more work to do the same job. Ask any of your fellow worshipers who work at a fast-food drive-up window about this.


We still need a bulletin, albeit formatted a bit differently; we still need newsletters to some degree, for certain segments of our fellowships; we'd best keep the e-mail updates and blasts, even as e-mail is becoming for today what hand-written letters became twenty years ago; and yes, even a fairly small church should have a Facebook page and Twitter feed, and you should use it.


Once upon a time, kids, there was a world, very near our own, when you just announced before the service, and posted a scrap of parchment inscribed with a goose quill on the outside porch notice board, that the box social would be on Palm Sunday between services. Then you got on your horse and went out calling on families that were usually home.


Isn't that a lovely story, once upon a time?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; yes, he's on Facebook and all that stuff. Email him at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Knapsack 2-24

Notes From My Knapsack 2-24-11

Jeff Gill

Twelve Years Old in Granville – 1871


Bluebell knew that some thought her name was a bit odd, but it was
the only one she'd ever had, so it sounded right to her.

Her father was a doctor up past Mary Ann Furnace along Rocky Fork
Creek, down to Hanover and back, riding along the trails through open
valleys and into rocky gorges towards the Knox County line. Mother
died so long ago she could hardly remember her face, and recently
Father had sent her to board at the "Lower Sem," which is what people
hereabouts called the Granville Female College. That distinguished it
from the "Upper Sem," or the Young Ladies Institute, where Dr.
Shepardson led a fine institution, but Dr. Kerr was much beloved by
all of his students as a teacher and leader.

Bluebell would not quite be old enough for the Lower Sem ordinarily,
but she was old beyond her years, after becoming mother hen to so
many younger girls in the wilds of Rocky Fork – part of why her
father wanted to give her back a bit of her childhood in the best way
he knew how. She stayed in the boarding house across the street, next
to the old post-road inn on Broadway, looking out her window at night
to the four story building on the north side of the street, where so
many marvels of the wider world were brought before her.

On weekends, she went to the other side of town to stay with cousins
who had a lovely house and a spare room, but she rather enjoyed the
boarding house during the week. The older girls of thirteen and
fourteen and more looked out for her, taught her how to sew up small
rents in her skirts and other fine little skills she had never
mastered; in return, she told them about how best to tickle a fish
out of a hollow in the creekbank into your hands, and that an osage
orange would keep spiders out of the wardrobe they shared.

Today, a special treat for all the young ladies was the visit of Miss
Hartwell. Bluebell thought how marvelous it was that she was exactly
twice her own age, twenty-four years old, mature yet still so young.
Not yet married, but having graduated from this very school, she had
gone on to teach, in Granville as she had in Jersey Township, and now
in Danville, Illinois, but back to visit family in Hebron, Luray, and
here in Granville.

She was an honored guest of the Lower Sem not as a successful
teacher, though she was, but as a published author. Not just in the
Newark Advocate or North American, but in national publications like
Frank Leslie's Illustrated, "Golden Hours," "Hearth and Home," and
Lippincott's had shown an interest in her work. She had even been
paid for work, Miss Hartwell told them with a smile, before it was

As a schoolgirl, Bluebell could hardly imagine that.

During the reception after Miss Hartwell's address to the young
ladies, Bluebell had pressed forward to shake the author's hand,
hoping some of that success might, in a way, rub off onto her. She
found herself invited to a chair, where her story was gently drawn
out by the guest, asking for an account of how one so young came to
be there. It was clear that Miss Hartwell understood much of
Bluebell's story without even asking, but she asked about the oddest
details…and even drew out a small notebook, in which, with a pencil,
she noted a number of things as they spoke.

[Mary Hartwell Catherwood married in 1877, and published a book that
became a nationwide best-seller in 1882, titled "Rocky Fork," tracing
the mundane adventures of a young girl named Bluebell, from her
valley home to a town west of Newark named Sharon that is
unmistakably Granville.]