Episcopal Communicators meet in Los Angeles--the 'brownest city in America'

May 6, 2003

Episcopal Communicators from across the nation met April 23-26 in Los Angeles, described by the keynote speaker as "the brownest city in America," where the program of the conference drew heavily on the city's cultural diversity in exploring the theme of "transformation." The 120 participants were welcomed by Bob Williams, director of communications in the host Diocese of Los Angeles, during an opening dinner at the pueblo where the city was founded in 1781.

Quoting a Buddhist teacher who said that "change by choice is transformation," Williams presided at the opening session at the Los Angeles Times the next morning. He introduced keynoter Richard Rodriguez, author and commentator on PBS' News Hour, who described the "browning of America," how old cultural categories are breaking down and new possibilities are emerging. What he described as the historic American "founding palette" of black, red and white, he said, is being muddied into brown. "Brown is irrelevant to Americans but brown gives freedom to wander, to blend," he explained.

As a result, America is getting "messy," Rodriguez argued, with endless combinations of races and cultures. He described meeting young people during his speaking engagements who don't look like any of their grandparents. Yet he said that "brown can be a dangerous color because some people don't want to be brown so some children are at war with their own complexity."

He told the communicators that "there is something essentially brown about Christianity and we must get at that if we want to get Christ, the brown man from Nazareth." Yet he expressed a fear that we could be headed into a century of religious divisiveness "like we haven't seen since the 13th century" as people war with each other for some clarity about religion and culture.

During a discussion with staff, the Los Angeles Timeswas described as a newspaper that takes religion seriously, with three staff members currently assigned to the beat. Staff religion writer Bill Lobdell said that he writes religion "because it's a place where people's lives change dramatically." Noting that the beat used to be the "last stop in journalism," he said that it is now "a hot beat," drawing some of the best journalists in the profession. He finds it "a dream job," although he admitted that it also exposes reporters to the "underbelly of religion--and it's not pretty." Lobdell has recently covered sexual abuse cases involving Roman Catholic priests.

Seeking reconciliation

Workshops at the conference included one on "race and prayer," with Bishop Chet Talton of the Diocese of Los Angeles and author Malcolm Boyd. Another tackled the very hard work of reconciliation, drawing on the experience of an initiative fostered by Bishop Jon Bruno.

The initiative began in the wake of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, with its strong stance against the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians and the blessing of same-gender relationships. The Rev. Brian Cox of Santa Barbara, who has professional experience in conflict management, said that reconciliation is about "how we learn to love one another in the midst of our profound differences." Cox participated in the New Commandment Task Force's initial meeting in Seattle in November, 1999 and saw first-hand how difficult and painful the process of reconciliation can be. He admitted that he wondered if the church could hold together as it faced divisive issues. Yet he concluded that the goal is to create an atmosphere that allows for transformation, based on the conviction that reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel.

"This is about spiritual transformation, not about changing someone else's mind," added Joanne O'Donnell, another participant in the panel. She said that it had been possible in the reconciliation seminar to develop deep caring and respect "so that we no longer saw each other as enemies. Now I couldn't imagine the church without these people."

Magical awards

Participants trundled off to the Magic Castle in Hollywood, home of the Academy of Magical Arts, for the annual Polly Bond Awards--a mixture of magic and mayhem. (A complete list of awards is available.) The top awards for General Excellence for national publications went to Cathedral Age, edited by Craig Stapert; Episcopal Life, edited by Jerry Hames; and honorable mention to Trinity News, edited by John Allen.

General Excellence for publications with a subscription above 12,000 went to Anglican Advance, edited by David Skidmore; The Communicant, edited by the Rev. Ted Malone Jr.; and honorable mention to Interchange, edited by Richelle Thompson.

General Excellence for publications with a subscription under 12,000 went to Diocesan Dialogue, edited by the Rev. Dan Webster; The Advocate, edited by Kay Collier McLaughlin; and honorable mentions to Churchwork, edited by Ann Ball; The Southern Cross, edited by Jim DeLa; andChurch News, edited by Marjorie George.

General Excellence for Newsletters went to Hi-Lites, edited by Norman Carr; FaithWorks, edited by Malaika Kamunanwire of Episcopal Relief and Development; and honorable mentions to Vestry Papers, edited by Lindsay Hardin; and St. Columba's Newsletter, edited by Susan Elliott.

Business, business

During a luncheon at the Cathedral Center, following a "new media Eucharist," a very surprised Sarah Moore received the Janette Pierce Award for her "outstanding contributions" to communication in the church. She has been a board member and president of the organization, served on the board of governors of Episcopal Life, and communicator in Utah, Michigan, Unviversity of the South, and now the Diocese of Hawaii. The award is given occasionally by the board of Episcopal Communicators to honor the memory of Pierce, veteran communicator who was managing editor of The Episcopalian at the time of her death in 1988.

Carol Barnwell of Texas presided over a breakfast forum and business meeting, including the election of new board members (Jim DeLa of Southwest Florida and Heidi Schott of Maine were elected.)

John Allen of Trinity Church Wall Street described the new Anglican Communion web portal. He reported that 20 provinces out of 38 have web sites--half of those in the developed world. He said that the new portal will connect sites throughout the Communion, using links, and will reflect the needs of different provinces.

Ed Cimafonte, web director at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, previewed the sweeping changes on the church's site which should be operative before General Convention. "The site is designed to get the church talking and working together through a more dynamic flow of information and resources," he said. "It's not just a pretty face, it is meant to foster collaboration throughout the church."

Joe Bjordal brought news from the Diocese of Minnesota as it prepares to welcome the General Convention this summer. He said that this will be the third time the convention has met in Minneapolis, going back to 1895 when it was the first convention west of the Mississippi. The convention in 1976 cleared the way for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. "We are going to meet on very sacred ground," he said.

Frank Ballard sketched early plans for the next Communicators convention June 2-6 at the Kanuga Camp and Conference Center in the mountains of western North Carolina, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary as "a crossroads of the Episcopal Church."

Arlene Pickard of Oregon and Jim Solheim announced plans to retire at the end of the year.

--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal News Service.