I wrote the following for my congregation’s October newsletter. I’ll be interested to hear your take on these issues.
* * *“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the
field” (Isaiah 40:6, RSV).
For almost as long as I can remember, the Church Herald, our denomination’s monthly magazine, has been a part of my life. Every month it would come to the house in which I grew up, informing and encouraging my mother and, by extension, me and my sister. At some point I became aware that the father of my pastor was the editor, Louis Benes, a discovery that lead me to take pride in this magazine that, at those tender years, I rarely read.
Many years later, when the household in which I lived was my own rather than my parents, I began to receive the Church Herald. I would not read every article. But I would typically go right away to four places in turn: the letters to the editor (which typically would cause me to hyperventilate), the world news section (most always interesting), the pages with news from churches and pastors (which was like an in-print family reunion), and, of course, Lou Lotz’s article in the back (a model of literary grace and theological insight).
No magazine is perfect. The Church Herald has its flaws. Yet I’m not sure how many of us who receive it every month realize that the Church Herald really is a fine magazine. Over the last few years, it has received several awards for the quality of its work. Those who work there (and I know the editor and the associate editor) labor with limited resources in the face of widely conflicting expectations from its readers. They do so admirably.
I worry that this may all soon come to an end.
In June, at our denomination’s annual meeting, the delegates, as they do every year, passed a budget for the coming year. This year, that budget reflected a shift of funding, a decision to take money from one area and move it to other areas. This decision means that the Church Herald would no longer be sent to every family in the denomination, free of charge. Beginning in January, the Church Herald will be received on a subscription-only basis.
My friends at the Church Herald have been put in a difficult place with few options. To keep the magazine afloat, they have had to set a subscription price that will cover the cost of production. That price has been set at $29.
They have offered us “a deal,” however. If we, as a congregation, cover at least 80% of our families, they will give us a subscription rate of $15. The consistory considered “the deal” too pricey, adding almost $1,500 to our budget at a time when we can ill afford such increases. We declined their offer.
What that means is that, if any of us wants the Church Herald delivered to our own home, we have to pay the $29 subscription fee.
I actually hope that you do. But I can hardly expect most of you to do so.
There are several things about this whole situation that trouble me. I’m troubled that assessment funding formerly used for the benefit of every member in the denomination has been redirected to projects that benefit only a few, none of whom are likely to be in New York state. I’m troubled that the changes in funding may very well kill the Church Herald. I’m troubled by an unshakeable suspicion that starving the Church Herald out of existence is precisely the outcome desired by certain denominational staff members, who have been unhappy that the editors of the Church Herald have not seen their role as simply being the propaganda engine for these denominational employees and their programs. I struggle with these things that trouble me. And I suspect I will for some time.
Besides deciding against subscribing all of our members, the Consistory did decide to take up two subscriptions: one for the church office, and the other for the church library. This way those of you who choose not to subscribe will be able to read the magazine at church. At least as long as it exists.