Thursday, April 20, 2006
Having grown up as the daughter of a choir director, I know something about bulletins. And as the wife of a minister, I know even more about bulletins, as I usually had the role of creating them.
One of the great things about attending church on family vacations when we were kids (yes, we made a point to do that) was walking into a different church and being handed the bulletin of the day. Sometimes it would have a photo of the church on the front; other times, there was a nature photo to go with the season. It always had useful information, though. With a bulletin, we not only could prepare our hymnals for the next hymn, we could check out what the choir was going to sing and what the organist was playing. It was always fun to peruse the section that listed congregational announcements and concerns. We didn't get to visit other churches very much, so this was always a treat. The best part of the treat was being able to sit in the pew as a family unit. On all other Sundays, one or two or three of us were in the choir, and Dad, as the choir director, would sit up by the pulpit. I really treasured the times we all had the opportunity to sit together.
You can tell a lot about a church by its bulletin. The sermon information, the chosen hymns, the printed prayers or meditations - they all serve as insight into the congregation.
Oh, but the utility of the bulletin does not end there. You can draw pictures on it, write notes to pass around, and circle misspelled words. You can roll it up and peer through it like a telescope. On hot days, you can fan yourself with it. You can swat a pesky wasp if it lands on your lap (or on the hat on the lady sitting in front of you). Of course, the paper airplane function goes without mentioning. A bulletin is also a convenient thing to have if you aren't sure what to do with your hands, or to hide behind as you giggle at the little boy in the children's choir. My father wrote long letters to me at college on bulletins, his chatty messages circling around each one, with extra comments and arrows pointing to various parts of the service. But most of all, I like a bulletin because it gives a sense of order to the service. It's all there - the service has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You basically know what to expect the minute you sit down and read it. It's security. No surprises. Well, actually, Dad would sometimes leave the last hymn blank, so he could pick an appropriate one out of his head after he heard the sermon. So that was a bit of the "unknown." But ordinarily, a bulletin represents order and method. After all, we are Methodists.
Ed and I were once assigned to a church which was rather charismatic. They sang old shaped-note harmonies and some of them "spoke in tongues," and you couldn't pray a prayer without people loudly saying "Jeeezus!" and things like that. Quite a different type of scenario for Ed and me. They had bulletins, but they kept saying that they wanted the Holy Spirit to lead the service. They didn't like the way we did things, I guess. So Ed decided we would do an experiment. One Sunday, he announced that the evening service would have no bulletins. It would be totally Spirit led - like the Quakers. So that night, everyone gathered, and Ed got up and said that we would all remain quiet until the Holy Spirit led someone to speak. There was a whole minute of silence. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it felt like an eternity. It was an awkward silence which stretched into several minutes. The congregation decided they didn't like Holy Spirit-led services if it meant so much silence. I think they missed the bulletin.
When you don't have order or plan, things can get awkward, even scary. It's the unknown factor. That night, it was eerie - Who will say something? When will they say it? What will they say?
You can probably see where I am going with this. I want a bulletin for my life! I want everything down on paper - neat and orderly and methodical. I'll take a surprise or two, like not knowing the last hymn until right before I have to sing it, but I want the rest of it to be neatly typed out in a pleasant font where I see its order laid before me. A bulletin makes me feel safe and relaxed. I know what to expect.
The alternative? I feel like I'm in one of those funhouses at the Mid-South Fair in Memphis. It doesn't matter where you go or where you turn, there's always something to shock you, blow at you, scare you, or knock you off balance. You're trying to get somewhere but forces are against you. You can't tell what lurks around the corner or down the hall, but you know your heart will be racing and your palms will be sweating and you might even want to throw up.
I know in reality that having my whole life down on paper before me is not a feasible way to live. Nobody really wants to know exactly what their future holds or how many years they have left. But I'm so ready for some reassurance that our house will sell soon and that we will get to build our new house and move by next winter!
I am not asking to see the postlude. I just need a bulletin to get me past the first hymn...dare I say through the "offer"tory?