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Communicators must help people overcome fear, executive says

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A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert

The Rev. Larry Hollon encourages United Methodist communicators to help people overcome fear.
Oct. 18, 2005

By Linda Green*

SAN ANTONIO (UMNS) — One of the most profound gifts the United Methodist Church has to offer to a world living in fear is the assurance that no one is abandoned by God or by the faith community.

The Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications, told more than 75 church communicators and editors that no one should feel alone in society but that the fear of being alone is a common trait many people share. This fear impacts the work of church communicators, who are challenged to expand community in a world that uses media to replace community, he said.

Church communicators must inspire community, inform community and engage community, Hollon said during his Oct. 13 keynote speech to the United Methodist Association of Communicators.

UMAC’s Oct. 13-15 annual meeting included workshops, an awards banquet and a roundtable discussion.

Hollon told the communicators that although fear is exploited in advertising to motivate the purchase of products and to gain acceptance, the hope provided by the church is “not ephemeral” or “self-serving.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert

Dana Jones, editor of Response magazine, talks about truth in religious journalism.
“I believe the role of the church today is, in part, to speak ... to the fear of being left behind, or left alone, in a culture that excludes, particularizes and isolates,” he said. The church enables the voices of Christian communicators in the United Methodist Church to “say it does not have to be this way.”

A primary function of United Methodist communicators is to tell stories that transform the world and provide alternatives to ideas that instill fear and result in isolation, division and broken community.

“Our task is to expand community,” not to just sustain organizations and institutions, he said. While talking about the importance of effective and formal ministries, he said, “institutional maintenance is not the sole reason for us to communicate. We do it to inform community.”

Christian communicators stand at the intersection of the concerns of the world and the concerns of the church for the world, he said. The intersection is the crossroads of culture and faith.

At this crossroad, church communications presents the emergence of a new world, one that does not allow people “to be merely consumers who withdraw into cocoons and live as if our only responsibility is to ourselves and our own pleasures,” Hollon said. “We call people to be more than consumers.”

The task of United Methodist communicators is to present an alternate vision of what a “secular, material culture” offers as an inclusive community.

“Inclusiveness is more profound than diversity,” he said. “Diversity, important as it is, emphasizes our uniqueness. Inclusiveness invites us in despite of our differences,” and “is about our common humanity, not about our cultural differences.”

In storytelling, United Methodist communicators not only document the diversity of the human family, but reveal its underlying, common humanity. “This is a remarkable gift to offer to a world that is polarized and broken, confused and lost.”

In expanding and informing community, there must be collaboration among Christian sectors to help people understand their place in the world and their relationship to God.

“One of the greatest threats I see in the organizational life of the church is the inability to collaborate on those concerns that people are confronted with today,” Hollon noted. “This inability to collaborate leaves us fragmented and weakened. Turf battles are usually about us, not about the needs of the people whom we need to serve.”

Those needs are about quality of life and survival, but when church entities seem more concerned about procedures, maintenance and territories, the perception that emerges is that the church is indifferent to people’s real-life concerns.

“It is not about us, it’s about serving a world that is broken, searching and yearning for connection.”

UMAC was created in 1973 to help church communicators stay informed about developments in the industry and to promote dialogue and discussion on technology and communication advocacy issues.

Love and truth in journalism was another focus the communicators addressed. A panel of communicators from different areas of journalism provided viewpoints.

Responding to a question about there being a place for telling the truth in religious journalism today, Jeanean Merkel, president of the Religion Communications Council, said, “The real question comes in defining truth.”

Dana Jones, editor of Response, the magazine of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, told colleagues that “what is truth is at the heart of the conversation.” The challenge she said is to fuse “our” words and images with grace and truth.

According to Sarah Wilke, chief executive of UMR Communications, church communicators have the responsibility to educate, inform and move people to action, but communicators should not give people more than they are capable of hearing.

But, “there is so much truth that needs to be told, and sometimes there is so much truth that people are afraid of it,” said Kristin Knudson Harris, a communications staff person with the United Methodist Commission on Status and Role of Women.

In other action, the communicators:

  • Elected David Malloy, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference communicator, vice president; Mark Rehn, Western Pennsylvania Conference communicator, treasurer; Jeneane Jones, California-Nevada Conference communicator, director; and Fred Koenig, Missouri Conference Communicator, director. Erik Alsgaard, Baltimore Washington Conference communicator, remains president.
  • Welcomed its two Helping Hand Scholarship winners — Chrystal P. Henderson of Birmingham, Ala., and Carmelia L. Matias of the Philippines — to the annual meeting.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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