Over the holidays I found myself back in a parish I used to serve for a Funeral Mass of a long-time parishioner there. After the Mass I re-met dozens of people from my time there, and one particular thing struck me: how many of them mentioned how important my Bulletin columns were to them. They saved them, they reread them, they copied them and passed them on to others, and some have continued to follow them through Our Lady of Grace’s website. That got me thinking.
I started writing a weekly column back in fall of 1980 – thirty-eight years ago. I had just begun as campus minister at SUNY Stony Brook, and I figured it was a good way to communicate with students (and occasional faculty and staff). I sent it out through campus mail, and it developed quite a following; some of the students from that era still get in touch at Christmas.
When I began to serve as pastor in St. Hugh’s I resumed the weekly column there. I was becoming more and more convinced that not a few intelligent Catholics were hungry for commentary on how to live as a disciple today, perspectives on what’s happening in church and culture, and brief background and history on aspects of church life. I tried hard to stay as far as possible from conventional and (especially) from “pious” ideas, since I was and am convinced that there’s hardly a quicker way to shut down thinking than those two approaches.
Now about five months from retirement as pastor here (but not retirement from ministering), I’m even more convinced that writing these weekly bits has been one of the best things I’ve done. (Not that they’re the most important; I consider preaching at Mass, and the celebration of the other sacraments – especially serving as a confessor – as number one.) But people talk to me so often about these columns that I’m thinking that I need to consider continuing them in some form.
When I was on sabbatical in 2004-05, just before my appointment here, I used a website (what we’d now call a blog, although the term wasn’t widely used then) to keep interested parishioners up to date on what I was reading, thinking, and doing while I was away from the parish. The amount of web content has, of course, exploded since then, not only with blogs but with popular platforms for people’s writing such as Facebook and Twitter, and also more thoughtful and professional ones like Medium and LinkedIn’s Pulse. (An acquaintance who’s very immersed in that world suggested that I also consider video content like a TED talk. But I don’t think that’s my intended audience; and I’ll leave video to Bishop Barron.)
I have to admit that I have a strong dislike for Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the commercial platforms. Their real business is mining people’s personal data and selling it to advertisers – the service they provide is the “hook” they use to get people to give them what they want. I have no desire to cooperate in that. (Call me a Luddite – and if you don’t know what that means, you can look it up on Google, although Google has the same business model.) So I doubt that I’ll go that route for hosting.
So I’m going to spend some time over the next few months thinking about this. If you’ve valued this column and would like to see something like it continue, I’m open to ideas: Tell me what you’d be likely to read, and where you’d like to be able to find it. If you’re a non-parishioner of Our Lady of Grace who occasionally or regularly reads this column on the web, I’d be especially interested to hear from you. You can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week, peace.