The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Congregational Hospitality – Part 3

January 22, 2019
So far, we’ve looked at getting to church and settling in the pew.  Now let’s see how the eight non-ELCA congregations I visited did with their bulletins. 
1        Helpful hints were more abundant with some than others.  One church had the order for both early and late services in one bulletin (is that a pro or a con?).  It gave an explanation of a special Advent practice that the early service, more contemplative in nature, would be practicing during the season.  I found it interesting to learn a tradition and it peaked my interest. 
          A text box in one bulletin was called “Episcopal Speak: “The lexicon of the Episcopal Church is filled with words and phrases, traditions and practices, which are unfamiliar to many Christians.  In this spot each week, we offer insight to that Episcopal Speak.”  I thought, given room in the bulletin, this was a great idea; sometimes even our own members don’t know our language.  One bulletin told people to come up to the “aumbry candle” – would you as a visitor know where to go?  What terms in our service/bulletin might mystify visitors?

2        A bulletin said once, and the pastor said twice, that visitors were welcome whether looking for a church home or just there for the day. I could imagine a little pressure being taken off visitors fearful of being pressed to join on their first Sunday.
3        One congregation’s vision statement was at the top of the bulletin.  Where do your members and visitors see yours?  Or do they?
4        The bulletin was an unfolded 8-1/2x11 sheet.  I noticed many eventually folded it in half as I did because it was too big to handle with a hymn book.
5        The Prayer of Confession was to be read by everyone but was not in bold.  Fortunately, the pastor did say “let us read together”. One bulletin said a response was spoken by everyone, but it came right after the offering so I missed it when I came back to the order because it was not in bold print.
6        Some musical responses (like the Presbyterians’ commonly-used Gloria Patri) had neither text nor music.  If I hadn’t already known it, I couldn’t have participated.
7        When time for children to leave prior to the sermon, the bulletin noted who would take them and where to pick them up following worship.  Downside:  It said “all children”, no age limit noted.  Would it be a deterrent not to know if your child was too old to go?
8        Pages of scriptures in the pew Bible were noted; of course, this would mean there would need to be plenty of Bibles and not a mix of Good News, RSVP, or different publishers; otherwise, John 3:16 would be on different pages.
9        The scripture page in the pew Bible was noted in the bulletin, but as “OT” which some might not understand means Old Testament.  The page in the Bible was 865 and without thinking, I went to the back of the book but it meant 865 OT.  Do our own bulletins differentiate between pages (front of ELW) and hymn numbers (back of ELW)?
10       A few choral things were in Latin, but translated in the bulletin so people knew what was being sung.  How do we hear the gospel if we can’t understand the words?
11       The offering on Christmas Eve was listed in the wrong place of the bulletin.  The pastor announced the offering would come later but it was never collected!  Would it have happened if the pastor had a leaders’ guide to remind him?  There was no place to leave it after worship so some gave theirs to the pastor.  I’ll bet they had an unhappy finance committee that night!
12       One bulletin said, “and now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say…” so visitors knew the cue to begin the Lord’s Prayer.
13       Communion instructions (such as intinction vs. drinking from the cup) were neither in the bulletin nor spoken.  I took a chance and guessed wrong…
14       Some had very detailed communion instructions, e.g. a separate location for gluten-free, how to tip the chalice, that the chalice bearer would dip the bread and place it in the communicant’s mouth.  Definitely helpful, but I was glad my pew wasn’t too far up so I had time to cram for the exam.
15       In one bulletin: “all bread and wine at floor station is free of the top 8 allergens.”   Comforting, though I’m not sure what the top 8 are, are you?
16       Along with the communion instructions, a congregation named St. Luke’s wrote (abbreviated here): “In the traditions of St. Luke the physician…sacrament of healing…located …before or after receiving communion”; this was offered every Sunday.  Very appropriate and something most wouldn’t offer!
17       A Lessons & Carols bulletin noted that some carols were sung seated, some standing, but the leaders in the chancel apparently didn’t get the memo and stood for everything.  Most people followed their lead until they looked around; eventually half were standing, half were sitting each time.  Confusing, awkward, irritating! 
18       Variations on hymn stanzas weren’t noted so were unexpected, and if singing harmony, we had to switch to the melody after realizing the mistake a few notes into the stanza.
19       Kudos for mostly neat and orderly bulletin formats!  I was pleasantly surprised at the small number of typos, bad margins, and inconsistent spacing or fonts.  A neat, well-proofed bulletin says volumes to a visitor.
And how about those announcements?
1        Some bulletins were very thorough.  The bulletin listed everything needed about events - Name of group, what building, what floor and room, an explanation of the group or event.  Others (verbal or printed) didn’t give a location. I spent half an hour one Wednesday trying to find a Bible study. I eventually called the office but the volunteer answering the phone wasn’t well-informed and didn’t know anything.  I went home.
2        I appreciated one announcement page listing job title and emails for all staff.
3        One announcement said there was an event that night for “all children and families” but I didn’t know if singles were “families” or not.  Since it was observing St. Nicholas Day, I decided maybe it was for families only and didn’t attend.  I wasn’t in the mood to risk being politely “accommodated” if I showed up unexpectedly.
4        Sometimes small groups listed in announcements had catchy names but weren’t descriptive.  I think most of us know “Young at Hearts” means a senior group of some kind, but is a “Chancel Choir” the main adult choir or the children’s choir?  I experienced both.
Stay tuned for Blog #4 – finally, worship itself!

Deacon Jeanette Burgess serves as the ELCA Southeastern Synod’s Administrative Liaison for Leadership, as well as Director of Music, St. John’s, Atlanta, GA.
Deacon Jeanette Burgess
Deacon Jeanette Burgess serves as the Southeastern Synod’s Administrative Liaison for Leadership, as well as Director of Music at St. John’s Lutheran in Atlanta, GA.