|Agency helps church connect digitally worldwide|
Olivia Schwartz holds the communion chalice for fellow
commissioner Candis Shannon at the closing worship service of the United
Methodist Commission on Communication meeting. UMNS photos by Ronny
By Linda Green*
Sept. 18, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
From communication centers in Africa to training programs in the
Philippines, United Methodists are making strides in becoming more
digitally connected around the world.
Much of that progress has occurred in the last four years, as The
United Methodist Church's communications agency has focused on leading
the denomination into the digital age. Members of the church's
Commission on Communication, meeting Sept. 12-14, celebrated that
progress and shared excitement for what the future holds.
They also reflected on a busy four-year period that included the
commission's first ever meeting outside the United States — in
Zimbabwe — and a stronger global emphasis by United Methodist
Communications, the agency they oversee.
The Rev. Larry Hollon (left) and Bishop Thomas Bickerton confer.
"God has blessed us richly with some marvelous experiences together,"
said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, president of the commission. "We have
experienced cutting edges and crossroads in bringing vitality to the
place we love, which is The United Methodist Church."
With support from annual (regional) conferences and the United
Methodist Communications Foundation, the agency has established 15
communication centers in Africa, and it has trained and equipped people
in Africa, Europe and the Philippines to tell the stories of the church
in their areas. More training is planned for Europe in November.
Helping in times of need
Commissioners affirmed United Methodist Communications' work in
helping the denomination offer messages of caring and support during
times of disaster, such as the 2004 tsunami in South Asia and the 2005
Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Through the denomination's Web
site at www.umc.org, the commission enabled people to respond in many different ways.
"The church rushed into the media maelstrom and was present," said
the Rev. Larry Hollon, top staff executive of United Methodist
Communications. "If the church is not present in public ways in times
(of disaster), our absence is noticed. Absence leaves an impression of
detachment and lack of concern."
The commission also heard updates on the agency's work with
organizers of the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's
legislative assembly, which meets next spring in Fort Worth, Texas.
United Methodist Communications staff members are using different forms
of media and technology to help link the episcopal, laity and young
people's addresses as well as other key presentations during the opening
days of the gathering.
"It will be more than people standing at the podium and speaking," said
Ginny Underwood, executive director of strategic programming at the
agency. "Technology will enable us to make General Conference content
available online so that people see and participate in the work of
"The United Methodist Church will go down in history as a leader
in connecting people to problem-solving at the global level," says
Michael Madnick, spokesman for the United Nations Foundation.
In an effort to foster leadership development, one of the
denomination's four Areas of Focus for 2009-2012, the commission
approved a partnership agreement between the agency and the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to establish an online
distance-learning infrastructure in Africa. The network will connect
colleges and universities across the continent with others in Asia,
Latin America and the United States.
"This partnership in online learning has the potential to make very
real and concrete the wiring of the global church, a mandate United
Methodist Communications has been given by General Conference," Hollon
Commissioners affirmed the work of the Central Conference
Communications Initiative, which has provided the leadership in
developing communications centers and training programs in Africa and
elsewhere. In addition, a radio station has been launched in Liberia and
80 hand-cranked radios have been distributed to people who have no
access to computers or live in areas with limited resources.
"Through the initiative, the church is taking its global nature
seriously and doing something about it," said Andreas Elfving of
Finland, chairman of the commission's central conference communication
committee. "It is one of the greatest things that has happened in a long
time. It has the possibility to change the church on so many levels and
has the potential to change negatives into positives."
Collaborating on health
The group also affirmed the recently launched Global Health
Initiative. The initiative is an interagency effort to raise awareness
and understanding of global health issues, engage the church and create
support for expanding health ministry, and reduce illness and mortality
related to diseases of poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and
The initiative's partners include the United Nations Foundation, United
Methodist Communications, and the church's Boards of Global Ministries,
Church and Society, Higher Education and Ministry, and Pension and
Commissioner Rebecca Kohler speaks while the Rev. Cynthia Harvey listens at the Sept. 12-14 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
The Global Health Initiative is committed "to a style of
collaboration that has not been seen in the general agencies, annual
conferences and local churches, in recent years," Hollon said.
Commissioners celebrated the success of the Nothing But Nets
anti-malaria campaign, which has raised $8.5 million. The United
Methodist Church is among several major partners in the effort to
distribute insecticide-treated nets to protect African children from
mosquito-borne malaria. To honor the staff of United Methodist
Communications, the commission donated $800 to the effort.
Through Nothing But Nets, "every individual has the chance to save a
life," said Michael Madnick, U.N. Foundation spokesman. People often
think large global problems are so overwhelming that an individual can't
make a difference, but the impact of Nothing But Nets has been huge, he
"The United Methodist Church will go down in history as a leader in
connecting people to problem-solving at the global level," he added.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Michael Madnick: “We can align our strengths.”
The Rev. Larry Hollon: “This is an unprecedented endeavor.”
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United Methodist Communications
Commission on Communication
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry
United Methodist Board of Church and Society
United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits
The United Nations Foundation