The Church Herald

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.

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5 thoughts on “The Church Herald

  1. As a delegate to Synod, the small ‘discernment’ advisory groups were decisions were framed, the scintillating highlight of recognizing the Belhar Confession as a true confession for our time was marred by the abysmal discussion on the Church Herald. After an hour long(!) discussion about the expense ($.04 perday) I was called upon to explain why I held my head in my hands and did not speak. I said, that -as the only bonafide, Dutch passport carrying Dutchman present- I was dismayed at how annoyingly dutch this discussion was…The things in which a small country can be great……It did not change the vote.The greatest offense, of course, was that Synod did not get to take a fair vote, but that the very worst of the Capitol Beltway tricks was played on us by bundling this decision as one opposed to spending funds on church ‘multiplication & revitalization.’ That the delegates were promised a $1,00 per member decrease on their assessment only made it worse, as a half truth. In political math this is fair: double times half is even.The body fell for it. Never mind that it is a Classis assessment. It may well be calculated as a ‘per capita’ tax, but it certainly is not collected that way: it is the Classis’ responsibility. Think of the great things our Classis can do with the $2,400 ‘saved’ in 2008!!Two informal viewpoints heard from other delegates who voted ‘for’ the precast budget (there was no alternative!!)1. The CH does not speak with one voice: flak and flattery, and the letters to the editor are confusing to new people, and2. New church starts should be exempted from paying for the Church Herald anyway because they are already shielded from the assessement levies at any rate.I checked; it is true. It takes a very long time before members of new churches are actually ‘counted’ as having a head in certain classes. The church I serve is close to 50% acceptance rate, but we willnot get to 80%. I hope we can work out a deal with the powers that be.I have yet to hear a hopeful sound! We are going to govern ourselves by the same spirit of many of our parents:’ Little Johnnie does not want to come to church. What can I do?’We are corrupted by the spirit that says that we will always choose what is best for us, when given a choice. That is a notion that is given the lie as early as Genesis 3. It is abhorent that the RCA allows itself to make decisions along that chapter of the Book. What happened to the T of T.U.L.I.P.? We are now Reformed by what feels good to us rather than what is good in the eyes of God? Okke

  2. I’ve got lots to say on the subject, and share some of the concerns voiced (although, not all).But I will share only one thing that I see each month. Our church receives a bulk mailing of the Church Herald (for reasons that pre-date me). They are place din each members church mailbox, and a number are made available on the welcome table. Each month–without fail–nearly 3/4 of the magazines end up in the recycling bin. I can literally watch people enter the church, retrieve the magazine from their mailbox and promptly deposit it into the blue box.We could draw so many conclusions. Maybe our church is doing a poor job of supporting and encouraging the use of the Church Herald. Maybe their is a bias against the magazine. Maybe their is a bias aggainst the denomination. Maybe the Church Herlald is simply out of touch with its readers. Maybe people are simply not interested. Maybe the Church Herald has been sending out far more “dud” copied than it factored. Whatever the conclusion, the fact of the matter is that teh Church Herald will not be missed in my church. I lament that fact for two reasons. First, our church will loose a vital connection to the rest of the church (but as my illustarion points out, that loss has happened already). Second, the Church Herald has simply not produced a magazine that is compelling or helpful to the readers in my church.Blessings, RogueMonk

  3. As I see it, we will lose two important things when the Herald goes — and I see no way it can stay alive economically:1) A paper of record. We have a treasure going back at least to the Intelligencer. The paper has been our memory in a better way than even the synod minutes. It reflects the toing and froing of the church through the years.2) A place where the voices of the church can be heard. Not every voice, of course. But it was possible to raise a counter-voice, even if that didn’t happen as often as I would have liked. Once we move to an official communications piece, we’re in the ballpark of propaganda. It’s a newsletter, and we all have and use newsletters. It isn’t a place for critical thought.The Herald’s like a family member who has sometimes irritated me. It’s still a family member. RIP

  4. I, too, lament the passing of the Church Herald. I, too, am struggling to get my congregation up to 80% subscriptions, but I am not hopeful. Some observations:1. $29.00 for 11 issues may seem like a lot, but not to those of us who are subscribing to Sojourners, the Christian Century, and many other journals. The fact is that published materials are expensive now. I tire of listening to my parishioners complain about the cost of books every time we do a study. And, as somebody with my name on published stuff, I can tell you that we authors aren’t getting rich off of this.2. $29.00 is still less than a trip to the movies with my wife and son. And we manage that at least once a year. And many folks in my congregation manage a lot more than that, no problem at all.3. I wonder if folks have decided that the Church Herald is irrelevant on their own or because of people who get up to microphones at GS and announce that the CH is irrelevant. Or is it because of the General Secretary and others publicly talking about how they hear that the CH is irrelevant (much the same way that Wes keeps telling us we’re assessed to much, thus encouraging bad stewardship).4. I also wonder if, when people say the CH is irrelevant to us, it is because it is presenting aspects of the RCA with which they would rather not wrestle. And are we doing a disservice to our parishioners when we simply let them throw the magazine away (or even recycle it) rather than confront those aspects of the church and what God may be trying to tell us about ourselves through them?5. The way that GSC hijacked what had been dedicated assessment money away from the classes was completely unacceptable in a covenant community.

  5. It may be helpful to understand the background behind the “Every member Subscription” of the Church Herald. For many years those of us who served on General Program Council and General Synod Executve Committee heard RCA staff members lament the roles of the “gatekeepers”! That is, the role of the pastors who did not promote the RCA staff agenda to their consistories and congregations. When Lou Lotz as President proposed sending the Church Herald to every member this was the opening staff had sought. Support for this proposal by staff was not support for the Church Herald but as a tool to get the every member mailing list. With that staff could directly appeal to every family for funding, bypassing pastors and consistories. The ultimate test and failure of this tool was the recent attempt to raise funds for Church Multiplication using the every member mailing list. The dismal response to that effort disclosed to staff that the mailing list was not the wonderful tool which would end funding problems. Consequently the funding was taken from the Church Herald and placed directly into Church Multiplication!Now the Church Herald staff and indirectly the denomination will suffer because of the false assumptions of RCA staff some years ago.

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