Gegraptai, “it is written.” This was the motto found on the seal of the old Norwegian Synod. It has served as the byline for the Lutheran Sentinel, the official monthly publication for the laity of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, for many decades. The predecessor publication of the Lutheran Sentinel, the Evangelisk Luthersk Kirketidende was begun as a weekly paper in 1874. Following the reorganization of the synod, an editorial committee consisting of Pastors G.A. Gullixson, J.A. Moldstad, and H.A. Preus was elected in 1919. (Today the grandson of G.A. Gullixson, Ted Gullixson, is the Sentinel editor and J.A. Moldstad the third is the ELS president.) It was decided to issue the paper alternately every other week in English and Norwegian. Eventually these became two publications, Evangelisk Luthersk Tidende and the Lutheran Sentinel. Over time, the Norwegian edition was dropped and the Sentinel became a monthly.
Arguably, the monthly publications of the various synods are the main link between the synod and the individual members of congregations. Many laity, as well as pastors, look forward to arrival of the Lutheran Witness (LCMS), Forward in Christ (WELS), and the Lutheran Sentinel (ELS), each month. These periodicals keep the laity and pastors informed on what’s going on throughout the synod. Doctrinal and biblical articles not only are edifying and provide spiritual food, but also assure the laity that what is being taught in their church by their pastor is what is what is taught throughout the synod. (Hopefully, in an orthodox synod this will be the case!)
These things being said, I found it disappointing to receive a notice from the ELS president this past month that during 2012 only seven issues of the Lutheran Sentinel will be printed and mailed. Starting in 2013 and beyond, six issues will be sent will be printed and mailed. For the other months of the year, an online “collection of articles” edition will appear called “Lutheran Sentinel Online.” The articles will be put into a format where each can be downloaded separately. The rationale given for these changes is twofold: 1) “By directing readership to the electronic version, our hope is that more of our current readers will pass on the link to others as a way of increasing readership of our synod’s periodical, as well as our webpage” 2) considerable cost savings to the synod.
It is acknowledged in the president’s memo that this approach will be a “challenging change for some.” The decisions have come about “in light of our changing times (more use of social media, less of print).” I would agree that these are changing times and that less print media is the trend. As the Dunder-Mifflin ad on TV’s The Office states, “Limitless Paper in a Paperless World.” I am still trying to resist social media. I don’t know how to text message. I’m not on Facebook, but do have a Wittenberg Trail account that I rarely check. I do appreciate when our synod goes more “paperless,” sending the president’s newsletter, financial reports, convention forms, and parochial report forms online. It has greatly reduced the amount of waste paper and clutter around my office.
But as a parish pastor, one of my concerns is for my aging membership, a large percentage of which is in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Many people do not have computers and have no desire to learn how to use them at this point in their lives. Also, while you may “share” links to the Sentinel with other computer users, whether they actually click on them or not is another issue. I’ve seen the printed edition of the Sentinel and other devotional materials shared in waiting rooms and nursing homes. Limiting certain editions of the Sentinel to online editions also excludes those whose financial situation doesn’t allow them to own a computer or to have internet access.
I laud the efforts of communications committee and the synod president to make the Lutheran Sentinel available in an online format. I can understand offering both an online edition and a print edition and cutting down on the number of issues printed each month, but to cut in half the number of print issues seems to be going a bit too far. Call me a relic from the past, but I long for the days when “it is written” meant in a format you could hold in your hand, touching the binding, and turning the pages.
Associate Editor’s note: The Lutheran Sentinel can be viewed here. You may want to check out the March 2012 copy on page 3 for another article by Pastor Stafford.