Episcopal Communicators gathers for 37th annual conference

March 21, 2010

In the life of the church, communicators play the role of Jesus' eyes in the world, inviting others, through story telling, to do God's work, said Massachusetts Bishop M. Thomas Shaw during the 2010 Episcopal Communicators Conference's opening Eucharist March 17 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem, Massachusetts.

"You open up for the rest of us, the laborers, what we need to do for the harvest," he said. "You invite the laborers out to do God's work."

Close to 90 Episcopal communicators gathered in Salem for their annual conference March 16-20. Participants -- including many longtime members and some newcomers -- worshiped, networked and participated in skills workshops and plenary sessions together; elected two new board members and a new president; and gathered in support of one another's work for the Polly Bond Awards. A list of the 2010 winners is here.

During a time of tight diocesan budgets and staff reductions -- when many dioceses have eliminated communication's positions -- Shaw urged communicators to pray for the resources they need to do their jobs.

"It must seem to you that the work God has given you to do is precarious," Shaw said, acknowledging the changes technology and economics have brought to journalism and communications, in both the secular and religious world, over the past few years.

Episcopal Communicators includes about 170 people with communication responsibilities in the Episcopal Church at congregational, diocesan, regional and national levels in both print and electronic media. Formed in 1973, the organization's annual meetings offer members opportunities to upgrade and enhance their skills, to draw inspiration from outstanding speakers and theologians and to support each other in fellowship.

Diocesan and organizational job and budget cuts across the Episcopal Church have also affected Episcopal Communicators, causing a decrease in membership, said Jim DeLa, outgoing president and director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida.

"We've lost some good people," he said. "But we've also added 17 new people, younger for the most part, and that's a good thing."

Communicators elected Richelle Thompson, director of communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and Mary Getz, grassroots coordinator for the Episcopal Public Policy Network, each to serve a three-year term on the board. Bill Slocumb, associate director of Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers Inc., was appointed treasurer.

Nancy Davidge, director of communications and marketing for Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who served as a board member from 2007-2010, was elected to a three-year term as president.

In the past few years Davidge said she has seen membership in Episcopal Communicators expand beyond the traditional diocesan communicators, to include communicators from seminaries, Episcopal Church Women, United Thank Offering, and that she'd like to see that trend continue.

"Since I joined in 2002, I've seen a lot of new members, younger members, with a broad range of skills," she said.

Communicators also gathered in two plenary sessions.

During the first session, Byron Rushing, a Massachusetts state representative and Diocese of Massachusetts lay deputy to General Convention, talked about his call to professional politics and how he reconciles his religious beliefs with his public office.

"I am in the legislature because I heard Jesus there and I am called to follow Jesus," he said. "Are you in the business you are in because Jesus is in the work you are in?"

Rushing also talked about how his experience debating same-gender marriage first in the Episcopal Church -- the first time he said the church has been in front of the secular debate on such an issue -- prepared him to debate same-gender marriage in the legislature.

Rushing took the position that marriage is not a civil right's issue, but rather marriage is a civil institution. "Your civil right is to choose whom to marry," he said.

In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of same-gender marriage in the state.

In the second plenary session, Ginny O'Brien, an executive and corporate coach specializing in leadership development and women's advancement and founder of The Columbia Consultancy, conducted a "style differences" workshop to help communicators better understand their working styles and those of others.

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