Global dimensions resonate with Episcopal Communicators

June 6, 2004

New understanding among Episcopalians and Anglicans from Africa, the Americas and elsewhere worldwide emerged as Episcopal Communicators met June 2-5 at Kanuga, North Carolina, in a conference that was deliberately planned to "listen" and called for a more intentional approach to local, national and global church communications.

Incorporating the Benedictine format of prayer, work and study, Episcopal Communicators--a self-supporting U.S.-based organization of persons with communication responsibilities in the Episcopal Church--welcomed guests from England, Australia, El Salvador, Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, Panama, South Africa, and Wales. The conference listened to how communications ministries are being practiced in different parts of the world and heard some of the challenges of fellow brothers and sisters in the Anglican/Episcopal family.

Some 125 communications directors, editors, Web masters and broadcasters serving dioceses and other church agencies participated in the conference, which included the annual Polly Bond awards, and the election of Laurie Wozniak, communication officer for the Diocese of Western New York, as the organization's national president to succeed Carol E. Barnwell, director of communications for the Diocese of Texas.

'A radical shift'

The Rev. Sipo E. Mzimela, an Anglican priest from South Africa who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, addressed the conference June 3, delivering a sobering account of the international perception of the United States. Exiled from his country for decades, he returned to South Africa in 1994--following the end of apartheid--as an active member of the new government, serving as minister of correctional services and then in Parliament until 1999.

South Africans and Americans, Mzimela noted, have historically shared a warm relationship, but since the conflict in Iraq began in March 2003, he has "sensed a radical shift in how South Africans think of Americans." Opponents of democracy now point to the invasion of Iraq and ask if that is what they want South Africa to be. "You cannot imagine," Mzimela said, "the impact this war is having around the world."

A lively question and answer session followed Mzimela's initial remarks, with much discussion about the role and makeup of the international community. The divisions and boundaries we place on one another are artificial, he said. The world needs to realize that "the killing of a person in Rwanda is the killing of a person next door and the killing of me." We spend time trying to "divide what is indivisible." He added, "In the final analysis, there is no Iraqi, no American, no South African....we are one family, one people...We need a new world: a world where we understand that truth. We are one."

Priorities in Jerusalem

Nancy Dinsmore, an American missionary and director of development in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, offered the conference an overview of the diocese and the unique challenges it faces.

The diocese is made up of 7,000 Anglicans in five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. A major concern for the diocese is the number of people--particularly young people--it is losing to emigration, as young and then extended families move away from the areas of strife and violence.

Despite the challenges, the diocese offers a number of vital services to the region, including the Ahli Arab Hospital, which stands at the ancient crossroads of two trade routes in Gaza. The outreach clinic is one of the hospital's key services, offering health care to villagers who do not have access to medical care otherwise. The clinic served 5,000 people last year and hopes to serve twice that number in 2004. Children are of key importance to the diocese, which supports and runs several interreligious schools as well as schools for the disabled and for the deaf.

Dinsmore said that her highest priority as director of development was the initiation of long-term relationships, working with the "living stones," the people of the region. Characterizing her work and the work of the diocese, she said, "Peace isn't only possible, it's our only choice."

Good news--educating with truth

Communicators Tzeital Allen of the Diocese of Panama and Susanna Barrera of the Anglican Church of El Salvador shared their work with the conference June 4. "A miracle every day" is how Allen characterized her work in Panama, where resources are limited. Communication is empowering people, she said, and "the church has to know itself--who it is and why it exists--to be able to share its people's testimony with the rest of the world." The balance between public relations and real journalism is an important one, Allen added. "Media has an obligation to inform, to entertain and to educate."

Susanna Barrera has worked in communications in El Salvador for 11 years, both with the church and in secular media. She gave the conference an evocative description of El Salvador and its particular dynamics, declaring at the end that now "You have seen El Salvador." The media, Barrera said, should be full of hope. "Communications," she added, "is the work of the truth." Because so much of what people read is bad news, our "...challenge is being able to make good news become news."

Listening and understanding

Communicating Across the Cultural Divide, a workshop led by Katerina Katsarka Whitley, focused on learning how to listen with intelligence and understanding to people of other cultures. Whitley, an adjunct professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, explained that everyone is brought up ethnocentric. "It is only education that brings about this change and eradicates the preconceived motions," she said. "Everyone has prejudice; the difference is how much and how we control it."

Highlighting the differences between individualism and collectivism, Whitley, who was born in Greece and moved to the United States at the age of 16, described the U.S. as a "supremely individualistic culture." Because of that, she said, it doesn't understand collectivistic culture. "Individualistic cultures are very impatient, ambitious, longing to make money and very direct in communications to one another," she said. "Collectivistic cultures think of 'we' rather than 'I' and decision making affects the group and community rather than the individual." Whitley urged the workshop to remember this when thinking of the struggles in the Anglican Communion.

The different value systems in societies also contribute enormously to misunderstandings and misinterpretations between cultures, Whitley explained, contrasting the honor/shame system that exists in Arab culture, and Western society, which is based on the concepts of right and wrong. "If we shame the Iraqis we will never be forgiven," she said.

Whitley described how we all have a "perceptual set" of values, beliefs and attitudes and how this changes from culture to culture. This, she explained, is why there is more respect for a bishop in African society than there is in the US, adding that America is a "low context" society, whereas Asia and Africa are "high context" societies.

Finally, Whitley pointed out the difference between listening as intentional and hearing as unintentional and involuntary. "Critical thinking is asking questions and only then can we become constructive, which is the highest rung of the listening ladder," she said. "We have to understand the differences within the context. We have made so many mistakes because we didn't understand the culture. We have so much educating to do."

Copy editing

The Rev. Jan Nunley, deputy director of Episcopal News Service, delivered a workshop on the basics of copy editing for those who receive submissions from various sources. Nunley underscored the significance of asking the basic questions "what, when, where, who, why and how," and the essentials of being meticulous in checking spelling, grammar, math and facts.

Constantly asking questions--is there a new way to approach this; what are people going to get from the package--will help to visualize the end product. "It is important to understand which way the story is going and to be aware that people may have no idea how certain aspects of the church operate," she said.

Most important, Nunley noted, is to keep the audience in mind and always be careful to avoid jargon, clichés and outdated cultural catchphrases.

New Ad Campaign

Dan England, director of communication for the Episcopal Church, gave a presentation about the "National Ad Campaign", which is actually designed to work as a local ad campaign. The committee helping to organize this effort, he said, realized that although the $750,000 allocated for the campaign by the General Convention was useful, it really wasn't going to go very far. The key to success, England said, was that churches and dioceses participate in buying ad time at the local level. The conference had an opportunity to view those ads which have already been created for the campaign and which, as England explained, are currently being professionally tested with focus groups. Approximately 25 people gathered later for a workshop in which more details about the campaign were discussed.

Other workshops included presentations on the Discipline of Writing by Tom Ehrich; Christianity and Islam by Dr. David Mycoff; Managing Your Publication's Workflow by Ruth Birge; Digital Photography and Spiritual and Contemplative Photography by Robin M. Smith Jr.; How to get an Online Presence by Nicolas Knisely; and Web Design, Navigation and Usability by Joe Burns. Joyce Blakely, a highly-acclaimed artist who has taught at Kanuga's eight-week Summer Guest Period for 19 years, offered two workshops on watercolor painting.

Global reflections

On the evening of June 3, Canon James M. Rosenthal, director of communications for the Anglican Communion and a long-time member of Episcopal Communicators, hosted a reception during which he spoke about his 13 years working for the global Anglican family and his dedication and commitment to his friends and colleagues in the Episcopal Church and beyond. "My prayer and my work for these many years have been to show our continuing need for being interdependent," Rosenthal said. "Technology and communication of our day renders us a tiny global village and the power of a worldwide church is a vital force for places like the Sudan--and I have been there three times--where being a worldwide communion enables their story to be heard. Communion is no small matter and even in these difficult times the highest degree of unity for the sake of God's people should be our aim."

At the final business session June 5, international guests were invited to speak about the work in their provinces and their reflections on the meeting. Thanking Episcopal Life's feature editor Nan Cobbey for her support for the Diocese of Haiti and her coverage of the devastating situation facing that country, the Rev. Jean-Elie Charles, communications officer for the diocese, said that, despite the appalling conditions, "our faith is still alive, our faith is not in crisis." As a church with more than 100,000 members and 33 active priests, Charles added that the people of Haiti are "very much engaged in the life of our church." The diocese celebrates 150 years in 2011.

Two attendees from Australia--Allan Reeder, editor of an independent Anglican newspaper, Market-Place, and the Rev. Diane Heath, editor of Anglican Messenger which serves the dioceses of Perth, Bunbury and North West Australia--spoke about being reenergized by the meeting and stressed the importance of connecting. "We work in an environment of misinformation which makes it difficult to make informed decisions," said Heath, who has been involved in media for most of her adult life. She added that the power of Christian media can be used to change public opinion, emphasizing the need to reach out to one another. "It is important to make the effort to cross the miles," she said, "so that we can together get the strength, energy and clarity to combat this misinformation."

Three attendees from Africa--Justus Waimiri, communications officer for the Council of African Provinces of Africa (CAPA); Alex Allotey, communications coordinator in the diocese of Accra, West Africa; and Miles Giljam, head of communications in the diocese of Cape Town--offered very different perspectives from their continent, which represents 12 of the 38 worldwide Anglican provinces and the Diocese of Egypt.

Allotey gave a broad overview of the communications work in the province of West Africa, describing some of the achievements of recent years, including opening a website, data collection initiatives, advancement in electronic media and some of the public forums and workshops that are being held. The two main challenges that face the province are the lack of infrastructure such as telephone lines and the expense of electronic equipment. "A PC alone can cost $2,000 each in Ghana so in my office two or three staff are constrained to use one computer," he said. "Communicating on the internet is also very expensive in West Africa and connection can cost between $820 and $1900 per month."

Bringing greetings from CAPA, Waimiri noted the unity that the Episcopal Communicators demonstrate and said he is encouraged "realizing that we're not alone." He also observed that there needed to be more support for the communications ministries for the provinces in Africa.

Giljam observed the cultural differences, particularly in spirituality, between Africa and America. "There was a lack of talking about Jesus," he said. "Maybe faith is more of a private thing in the US but I think we need to be talking about Jesus' message." He also cited concern about how democracy is not so much of a dearly held value in other parts of the world as it is in America.

Other guests included Sion Brynach, archbishop's press officer and communication team leader for the Church in Wales; Catalina Cuellar, a volunteer advisor and assistant for communications in the Diocese of Colombia; Andrew Colquhoun, a novice master of the uMaria uMama weThemba monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa, which is part of the Order of the Holy Cross, an Anglican Benedictine religious community; and Fran McKendree, a musician from North Carolina who engaged the members of the meeting in musical fellowship.

All the international participants spoke about their time at Kanuga as "memorable," thanking board members Carol E. Barnwell of Texas, Heidi Shott of Maine and Melodie Woerman of Kansas for their hard work in making their presence possible.

Final worship

Gathered by the lake for the closing Eucharist June 5, the Rev. Dan Webster, director of communications for the Diocese of Utah, preached about the value of support for one another and the glad tidings of "redemption, peace and release…as we realize that we're not alone." Webster named one of the biggest challenges as "looking at what is compromising us," adding that we should not delude ourselves by "compromising for the sake of peace" but should seek "comprehension of the truth." He concluded, "We're not all of one mind but we're all of one purpose--to 'lift high the cross' and claim the high calling so that we will publish good tidings of peace, redemption and release."

Future service

Stepping down after three years of service as president of Episcopal Communicators, Barnwell said, "We learned that listening is sometimes a very difficult task, but it is extraordinarily important now. We are blessed to be able to draw from such a deep well of talent, both within our country and around the globe. Serving this group has been an honor and a distinct pleasure."

What makes this group unique in the church, Barnwell added, is how well we incorporate new members--more than 30 this year--and our overseas guests into modeling the best of what the Episcopal Church offers: all opinions, diversity, listening to one another to understand better, and then worshipping together.

Incoming president Laurie Wozniak said that she was impressed with the number of young people who had attended the meeting. "We need to hear their voice and see through the age divide," she said. "If we can come together and keep Christ at the center we can continue to do wonderful, incredible and powerful things."

Two new board members--Frank Ballard, director of promotion at Kanuga Conferences, and Neva Rae Fox, director of communications for the Diocese of New York--were also elected to serve the Episcopal Communicators during the next triennium.

The Episcopal Communicators will meet next in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 27-30, 2005