Last weekend people from 3 of the parishes I work in gathered to celebrate our parish magazine. Its editor was retiring after almost 20 years of magazine production, along with the person who co-ordinates distribution, so we had a small party and presented gifts to the former editor and distribution team leader and welcomed the new editor and thanked everyone involved.
In the months before this, we thought about what we’d do next. There was no-one obvious to take on this task. And then there was the issue hanging over the whole enterprise: if you can find everything on the internet, why bother?
As we turned over these questions of why and who, we began to realise that this little piece of local journalism still had an important function. Although it is church-sponsored, the magazine isn’t entirely churchy. Yes, its front page is partly taken up each month by the letter from the vicar (largely, the outgoing editor said, because it usually arrived ahead of the deadline). But the vicar’s letter doesn’t dictate the rest of the content. As well as an editorial, there are reports from the Parish Council and other community organisations, as well as items of general interest (local or natural history and the like).
Advertising pays for our magazine to be distributed free to every home in the 3 villages and even provides some revenue for the churches. Another parish magazine editor sums up the real value of this in an extract from a 2013 book on local papers:
[It] has reinforced community cohesion, ensuring that skilled tradesmen are on tap whenever needed and fostering a sense of shared interest between businesses and customers. A minority see all this as blatant commercialisation, but the great majority recognise the value of the adverts.
Here are a few sources of help if you’re a magazine editor. Along with subscription services like Parish Pump, that provides articles, artwork and puzzles for church magazines, or the Association for Church Editors (that provides advice for magazine editors), there is the Church Support Hub, which provides excellent editorial material to encourage mission and ministry through life events like christenings, weddings and funerals.
And as an encouragement to those teams who are facing a loss of personnel, it really is worth advertising in your own publication: that’s how we found our new editor and others: locals do value the magazine and want to keep it going.
Lastly – and just for fun – have a look at some letters to the church magazine in the (fictitious) Trim Valley Benefice.