Want to circle up with me? Today, I’m sharing the main take-aways from the Field Notes survey a few weeks ago and letting you know what I’m changing around here, in response to your feedback. After all, more than 3,100 of you took time to share your thoughts, your feedback, and your opinions on this newsletter - I figured you’d be interested to know the outcome.
The thing is, I’m already dreaming up two new book projects for the next year or two, along with figuring out the next steps for Evolving Faith gatherings/podcast/community with our team. But Field Notes and our little community here is right at the centre of my vocation now, too. I absolutely love this space to write, think, explore, build community, do good, pray, and even play a bit. And it has never felt like the typical “author newsletter” thing - I’m always very aware that it’s not being sent out into a void. Each edition is landing in your particular inbox, in your particular life, and you’re very real to me.
So here’s what you told me and here’s what I’m doing with that feedback.
YOU TOLD ME: You feel like we’re on this journey together over the long haul. The vast majority of you have been here with me for a while now. Less than 10% are new to me or to Field Notes, so many of us have a lot of shared history. You remember a lot of my own spiritual journey that I write about now, as it happened in real-time and it’s felt like we’re on the path together - navigating an evolving faith, raising kids, doing good in the world, all of it. Some of you even predate the publication of Jesus Feminist, bless your hearts.
My takeaway: A sense of relationship is still important to all of us and I don’t want to lose that, just because there are more of us in the room now. I will look for ways to honour our shared journey while also remembering that we have new folks in the room, too, who might not know my typical short-hand explanations or nods at history so I’ll make certain to be more hospitable to our newer friends, too). I hope we can make an easy pathway for more people to join in what we’re doing here, too.
One of the things I absolutely loved about blogging back-in-the-day was the sense of community among us. Before the days of click-bait articles and drive-by takes on Twitter, we entered into relationship with one another. You knew I was in the comment section and that a real person was here on the other side of the screen just as I got to know you and your stories by reciprocity. That’s going to stay a priority for me. We’re real people, let’s act like it.
The whole reason I named this newsletter Field Notes was because I saw it as just me, writing dispatches from my life as I was living it, to you as you were living yours. Let’s hold onto that.
As part of this, many of you asked for access to former blog posts or essays from “back in the day” that were meaningful to you so we’re looking for ways to make some of that available again. So more on that soon, hopefully.
YOU TOLD ME: You love Jesus but you like to just chill out, too. You are complicated, full people who aren’t just here for one particular type of conversation - you like a wide-range of topics and conversations. So even if you initially came in the door to support me or for a particular series or essay, you stick around because you like the whole experience over the month or two with book recommendations, light chat about shows or podcasts, deep dives into theology, and exclusive essays along with community chats and opportunities to do good like when we support Heartline or other non-profits for a campaign or fundraising.
My takeaway: It all belongs here. And so do we. When I was first starting out as a writer about fifteen years ago, I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere. I loved to explore spirituality, faith, and theology but I also loved to write about my family life but I also liked to talk about books and shows and have a few laughs, too. I didn’t take myself seriously enough for most theological writers and I took Jesus too seriously for most everyone else. But it seems we have found each other! We like that mix of community, GIFs, opportunities to do good in the world, rants, theology, devotionals, benedictions, music, kids, books, and all the other things that make up a full human story. So if we don’t belong else where, we belong here, together, with all the vast array of things we love and like and find interesting. We’re a mix-up that makes no sense to anyone else but that’s okay.
YOU TOLD ME: You miss knowing more about me and my family and our behind-the-scenes real life. You get that I’m trying to protect the kids and their stories on the big wide Internet and fully support my decision to remove their personal lives in particular from my public feeds but at the same time, you miss us and you miss feeling the connection to my life. That’s part of what drew you to my work in the beginning and you’re sad that it’s not part of the story anymore.
My takeaway: I do feel more protective of my four kids in particular on my public social media feeds and public writing, that’s true. But I think maybe I’ve over-corrected a bit? In an effort to pull back from sharing too much - as in my old blogging days, I’ve shared next to nothing for the past few years and everything has begun to feel a bit impersonal and removed. You miss knowing more about our real life. And to be honest, I miss writing about it. I’ll continue to hold to my rule about public social media or essays but you’re our people and a safe space for more honesty, more vulnerability about our life while still respecting boundaries with my kids’ own stories and narratives. We had a good talk about this and we feel comfortable with you all here at Field Notes knowing more about me and sometimes our family story, even as we’re in the midst of living it. So, let’s reopen the doors a bit in this space, shall we?
YOU TOLD ME: You often can’t keep up. You’d rather receive Field Notes once a week at most, even if it means less content.
My takeaway: I’ll send Field Notes once a week to paid subscribers and once a month for free subscribers.
Paid subscribers, you’ll now hear from me weekly on Tuesdays with a good rotation of essays with audio, book chats, good things, community conversations, and even more. You’ll also have access to the Special Series like devotionals or theological deep-dives we do sometimes.
Free subscribers, I’ll send you an email once a month with my news about podcast appearances, preaching, news, and a simple round-up and a check-in. Watch for that one the first Tuesday of the month. You are always welcome to subscribe and join in the full experience of Field Notes.
YOU TOLD ME: You really would like to talk about theology more often and more deeply. In fact, many of you are desperate for this. This came through not only in the survey but on Instagram whenever I try to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything). Other authors get “What are you making for supper?” and I get “What do you believe about hell?” It’s the literal best and I love you all. You’re feeling the lack of good writing and good teaching on things that really matter to your spiritual formation. You’re particularly hungry for theology that is progressive but also still deeply rooted in Jesus and in the good news of the Gospel. You are ready to start rebuilding what has been torn down but need someone alongside you in that work.
My takeaway: I’m going to do a deep dive into theology for Field Notes this fall. Thoughts and prayers appreciated. I’ll approach your questions with thoughtfulness and prayer and try to write an essay on each topic from where I’ve landed for now. It’s clear those of us who identify as more progressive in our faith are desperate for more resources and conversation on our theology for us ordinary folks just trying to follow Jesus these days (seminaries are doing a great job here, of course but that content or style isn’t accessible for most of us and we’re looking for something for us Normals). Mark your calendars for a September start on that series and I’ll have more info on it closer to the launch. First up: we’ll talk about hell. (A nice and easy first topic, that sounds fine, this is fine, it will be fine.) Then we’ll get into atonement. We’ll tackle some other big topics as we go and all this will be like a special series for paid subscribers, much like the devotional series we do every year.
P.S. The runner-up here was your stated need for more practical content on marriage, parenting, faith, and actual “apply-to-my-life” stuff, which isn’t usually my wheel-house as I tend to avoid being overly prescriptive. #Enneagram9Problems But I promise I’m taking your input to heart and will pray/think about how to approach that need in a way that feels true to my own path, too or make sure to point you in the right directions for that sort of content more often.
YOU TOLD ME: You really like the audio option for Field Notes essays. Like, really, really like it.
My takeaway: From now on, when I write an essay, I’ll make sure to record audio version. We’ll keep The Secret Field Notes Podcast for subscribers as a regular part of Field Notes, rather than a one-off when I have time. We’ll prioritize it because for many of us auditory listening is much easier than my typical long form essays.
YOU TOLD ME: The overwhelming majority of you said the price point is right on and it’s a good value. And you also like that we keep the door open for everyone who can’t afford it, too.
My takeaway: Subscriptions aren’t meant to be a barrier for readers but a way to support me and my work, so what we’re doing is working. I won’t be changing prices or format anytime soon.
You also shared that you love that we give away those paid subscriptions to everyone who puts their hand up (because we do that! always!) as part of how our community operates. We look after each other. If some of us can kick in the support to keep Field Notes going and pay me for my work, that’s great but if some of us can’t swing it, you’re still in on the fun without any worries.
P.S. If you are someone who can’t afford a subscription, I promise: we’ve got you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re happy to hook you up.
YOU TOLD ME: Opportunities to connect need to be live and interactive. The Book Club format as a discussion portal isn’t working for you and you’d like to explore other ways to connect over shared books or ideas than just the email comment section. You’re also interested in the possibility of a Zoom-ish hangout for a book club or even just to hear from me (or me and a friend) for an evening Q&A or panel sort of thing.
My takeaway: I’m putting new Book Club chats on hiatus for now until we figure out how to do it a way that works for everyone and works for discussion. It isn’t working as it is right now. I’ll continue to research and see if we can figure out other ways to connect like perhaps an evening online event or Q&A as a live chat or something so stay tuned on that, too.
YOU TOLD ME: You’d like to do more AMAs (Ask Me Anything) or Q&A sessions to have more reader input and interaction into a newsletter now and then.
My takeaway: Let’s do it. Every few weeks, I’ll pop onto Instagram (you can follow me @sarahbessey) and put up a question box in my Stories for questions. Then I’ll take your questions to that week’s newsletter and try to answer as many as I can. That way we’ll have a user-submitted edition of Field Notes every few weeks right in the moment with whatever burning questions you have for me from theological quick-takes to what I’m making for supper these days. You’ll get a chance to know each other out of the comment section, too. First one coming in a couple weeks so watch on Instagram for that request for questions. (And a tip of the hat to Erin H. Moon who pioneered this format for her excellent newsletter The Swipe-Up.)
YOU TOLD ME: So many beautiful, kind, good things, I can hardly bear it. Out of all the reasons why people choose to subscribe to Field Notes, the number one, tip-top, run-away reason was simply to support me and my work in the world which is incredibly humbling.
My takeaway: Thank you. From the bottom of my overly earnest, completely sincere heart. I never take your support for granted, not for a moment, but knowing that this is the main reason many of you are here, well, it’s a lot. I hope to be worthy of your trust.
You really get what I’m trying to do here and in the world. You see what matters to me and you know my heart. Every word of encouragement, every testimony of how my work has somehow intersected with you and your lives, your thanks, your stories, your blessings to us surprised me and have affected me deeply. We read every word you wrote.
As I said above, one of the things that really emerged from this survey is how we do feel like we’re in this together. I’m not just another newsletter from another author you read that one time - we’ve travelled a lot of road together and we’re both real. You’re really real on your side of the screen and I’m really real on this side of the screen. And somehow, our paths have crossed and we get to journey together for a while.
Thanks for your help to make Field Notes even better as we move forward.
I want you to know that this work is a genuine joy and goodness in my life, I hope it continues to be the same for you. It’s my hope that this humble newsletter is a catalyst for goodness in your life and in our beautiful, broken world, too.
It is my honour to serve you in this small way.
P.S. I’ll be teaching and holding a Q&A live online on June 9, hosted by the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. Tickets and info are available right here. I hope you can join us!
Learn more about my books:
The NYT and International Bestseller A Rhythm of Prayer
In case you missed these Field Notes:
Longing for Some Sort of Eucharist - for everyone
Links and Clicks Worth Reading - for subscribers
The Good Things of March - for everyone
A Grand Disruption (plus audio) - for subscribers
For the ones leaving Or, a reminder for the day when you cross the threshold into the wilderness - for everyone