Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > News Archive 2007 > September 2007 > News - September 2007
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 Perry.  

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.

The Rev. Larry Hollon (left) and Bishop Thomas Bickerton confer.

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.

"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.

"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.

"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 General Conference."

Connecting schools

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 said.

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 tuberculosis.

Commissioner Rebecca Kohler speaks while the Rev. Cynthia Harvey listens at the Sept. 12-14 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.  

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 Health Benefits.

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 said.

"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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Highlights

Michael Madnick: “We can align our strengths.”

The Rev. Larry Hollon: “This is an unprecedented endeavor.”

Related Articles

Commentary: Are you ready for the revolution?

Henderson to lead church's Global Health Initiative

Community radio crusade renewed in U.S. Congress

United Methodists lead dialogue at global health summit

Communications commission meets in Zimbabwe


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

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW

Original text