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Agency equips pastors for digital age, offering email for life

Sept. 21, 2005

By Ginny Underwood*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Bishop Thomas Bickerton opens a session of the commission’s meeting.
“NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — United Methodist pastors can count on several address changes during the course of their ministry. But now, thanks to the church’s communications agency, one address will remain the same throughout their careers: their e-mail.

The United Methodist Commission on Communication approved a plan to provide pastors e-mail addresses for life during the board’s Sept. 16-18 meeting.

“In this technological age that we’re in, it just seems to me that it’s absolutely critical, as we talk about United Methodist Communications, to have a convergence of resources together,” said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, president of the Commission on Communication and leader of the denomination’s Pittsburgh Area.

“And for us to be able to converge, the whole idea of having standard e-mails across the church - is a really powerful tool,” he said. “You can imagine that gives annual conferences and the general church a consistency so that we don’t have to spend more people power inputting a different address every time a pastor moves.”

The new initiative, tentatively scheduled to be available next spring, was referred to United Methodist Communications by the 2004 General Conference. The plan is for pastors to be able to register for a permanent e-mail address that would then be forwarded to a personal e-mail address. When a pastor moves, he or she would forward the e-mail address to his or her new provider. The service possibly would be provided through UMCom’s relationship with Kintera, a San Diego-based provider of technology services to nonprofit organizations.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Being directly in touch with Africa’s people is important, according to Mozambique Bishop Joao Somane Machado.

Plans are under way to make the service available globally.

UMCom’s global focus surfaced in other ways, too, during the meeting. The commission voted to hold its first meeting outside of the United States. In January 2007, the commission will gather on the campus of Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

“We are a global church, and when we are trying to do something for all of Africa, like the Central Conference Communications Initiative, really it will be good when the whole commission goes there and is in touch with the church of Africa and the people,” said Bishop Joao Somane Machado, a commission member and leader of the church’s Mozambique Area.

Through the initiative, mandated by the denomination’s General Conference, UMCom is working to improve communications systems for United Methodists in Africa, Europe and Asia.

The commission’s Committee for the Central Conference Communications Initiative will meet with African communicators and research their needs as a preliminary step to reporting back to the 2008 General Conference.

During their meeting, commission members discussed the value of a ministry of presence in Africa versus sending financial donations.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Ken Bauman and other commission members pray during morning devotion.
“Any kind of NGO (nongovernmental organization) can send money to help the people of Africa with AIDS or to help people because of hunger,” Machado said. “The difference is that we are the church. We are brothers and sisters. We are one church; we need to share and feel. It is important, not only for the churches but also for the community in Africa, for the government in Africa - This can bring radical change in Africa.”

“It’s very hard to put a price tag on presence,” Bickerton said. “There’s something about sending our financial resources to be of assistance, but there’s that emotional connection that needs to be made eyeball to eyeball with people who need a word of hope, that need a word of joy and encouragement along the way.”

Commissioners committed to participating in a Volunteers In Mission project when they meet at Africa University.

In other business, the commission heard about plans for its Health and Wholeness Committee to meet with health practitioners who serve children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. The committee is providing strategic guidance to UMCom regarding how the church communicates about global health issues.

The commission also affirmed plans to hold a churchwide Digital Summit in 2007, received an update on the redesign of the denominational Web site,, and began preliminary planning on how to employ technology to serve the 2008 General Conference.

*Underwood is director of the Media Group at United Methodist Communications. United Methodist News Service is a unit of the Media Group.

News media contact: Ginny Underwood, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

Video Interviews

Bishop Thomas Bickerton: "Standard e-mail is a really powerful tool."

Bishop Joao Machado: "Presence could bring radical change in Africa."

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