Church Communicators Celebrate Legacy, Look to the Future

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More than 200 communicators gathered at the North American Division headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, United States, from October 13-15,  to attend the 2022 Society of Adventist Communicators (SAC) convention. United by a common goal of uplifting the gospel through communication, professionals and college or university students in the communication field networked, learned, and worshiped together, with more attending online through a virtual content pass.

“After holding our convention online in a modified format for the past two years, it was exciting to be back in person,” said Kimberly Luste Maran, Adventist Journey editor, NAD communication associate director, and SAC interim executive director. “We weren’t sure how many people would be able to attend and were encouraged to watch our registration numbers reach and then exceed our cap. It was such a blessing to see [so many] gathered this year for SAC!”

Bryant Taylor, SAC president and communication director for the Southern Union Conference, opened the convention with a welcome. Brandi West, vice president for AdventHealth Consumer Innovation, and Carolina Anthony, executive director for Digital Brand and Content Strategy for AdventHealth, presented a session on reputation management with a focus on brand reputation and its impact. They reminding attendees that “We have to be where our consumers are … rather than inviting them into our space.” After the presentation, Garrett Caldwell, executive director of External Communications for AdventHealth, hosted a Q&A session.

The next session was coordinated by Celeste Ryan Blyden, executive secretary of the Columbia Union Conference and former communication director. She was joined by other sage communicators and innovators who shared their thoughts on the past, present, and future of Adventist communication. Some of the guest panelists included Orlan Johnson, Melissa Reid, Rebecca Carpenter, Kaspar Haughton, Richard Castillo, Hugh Davis, and Michael Campbell.

“We are just one mark within the proud lineage of Adventist communicators,” Campbell said. “Indeed, from our inception, we found it our responsibility as believers to be vocal for change and progress.” Campbell, who serves as director of the North American Division’s Archives, Statistics, and Research department, confirmed that the origins with the abolitionist movement spurred Adventist development. Attendees were reminded that “Our brand as Adventists was forged through social reform,” acting as the catalyst and the foundation upon which the Adventist brand gained its strength. 

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The development of this brand has always been founded on sharing Christ. Eleven professional communicators took to the stage to discuss topics ranging from “The Role of Communication in Telling Our Story” to “The Role of Communication Today: Challenges and Opportunities” to “The Role of Adventism in Public Affairs and Social Justice” and “The Role of Adventism in the Post-Pandemic Era of Social Communication.”  Each of these discussions, led by Blyden, shared a universal dedication to breaking out of our sphere, being active disciples in the world, and entering new spheres of communication as the modern mission field. Carmela Monk Crawford, editor of Message magazine, summarized it best: “[Adventists] should be a loud voice in the conversation, because all we are doing is shaped by the gospel.” 

More than 50 percent of those present said they were attending SAC’s convention for the first time. Founded in 1988, the organization was first known as the Southern Society of Adventist Communicators. The name was shortened to Society of Adventist Communicators 11 years later. Now, decades later, it continues to play a crucial role in supporting the church’s communicators. This year the event was even more significant because it was SAC’s first in-person convention since the disruption triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic, though disruptive, created opportunities for communicators to do what they do best: explore new ways to create connections. Blyden spoke about how every convention is built around asking, “How do we shape and share the Adventist message?”

TechTalk, Keynotes, and Workshops

The convention featured a Friday morning TechTalk, hosted by Bryant Taylor and Courtney Herod. TechTalk has long been a favorite among regular attendees due to presentations on technology such as the Elgato box, Mevo Multicam, Insta360 Link, and several other items that are promoted and even given away. This year, the 8 a.m. session was filled with communicators who were eager to get a first look at the featured technology and learn how it can be applied to their ministries.

Pierre Quinn, a pastor and communication consultant, was the morning’s keynote speaker. He gave an engaging presentation on unlocking the potential of our unique abilities to acknowledge every aspect of communication. Quinn encouraged listeners to submit every action to God in prayer and concluded by detailing the questions we must ask ourselves as we embark on the ministry of communication. 

Twelve workshops were offered after the keynote address, each exploring the personal, professional, and spiritual aspects of communication. 

Greg Dunn, a long-time public relations and crisis communication specialist, hosted a workshop on “How to Handle Media During Crisis.” Kelly Coe, Columbia Union Conference communication director, offered expertise on “Art Theory: Fonts, Design, Trends, and More,” diving into the nitty-gritty of contracting for mediums that include photography, graphic design, art, and more. 

Heather Moor,Kaleb Eisele, and Nina Vallado, content creators and hosts of Adventist Learning Community’s hit podcast How the Church Works, joined Pastor Anslem Paul on a panel to answer Caldwell’s questions on “Podcasting: Why and How.” They explored how the podcasting medium allows for deeper conversations that are accessible to the public.

Tanya R. Cochran, professor of English and communication at Union College, discussed “Mindful Self Compassion” in her workshop. “Compassion isn’t self-pity or self-indulgence, it’s an observation of reality and support,” she said. One attendee praised the workshop for spotlighting the topic, saying, “In Christian spheres, self-compassion isn’t supported, but it’s such an important pillar to Christianity.”

With the morning workshops concluded, conference attendees gathered for lunch and a brief business meeting where they received information about the current and new board members. The most notable transition was Taylor passing the mantle to new president Brenda Dickerson, Mid-America Union Conference communication director.  

After lunch, the workshops resumed. Content creator Kevin Wilson, affectionately known online as “The Chai Guy,” led a session on “The Role of the Christian Influencer.” Occupying social media as a Christian comes with great responsibility, he said, while calling communicators to understand that consumers “may not accept your theology, but they will stay for your integrity.”

Professional freelancer Becky St. Clair shared her freelancing expertise in her workshop, “Written Word: Freelancing Bootcamp.” In it she parsed out the details of being a freelancer and shared guidance on navigating the freelancing environment. She implored freelancers to “know their worth and lean into your skillset.” 

Program analyst and government contractor Stacia Dulan Wright spoke on “The Pivot: A Post-Pandemic Communications, Marketing, and Events Survival Guide.” This session allowed the audience to share how they adapted their personal and public ministries during the pandemic.

Victoria Joyner, professor at Southern Adventist University and long-time radio host, facilitated a discussion that catered to the many students present at the event. The discussion, titled “Tips for Student Job Searchers: Wardrobe, Resume, Interviews and More,” was led by Brittney Winkfield, Kevin Krueger, and Gina S. Brown.

Those eager to learn how to have a healthy work/life balance attended licensed counselor Kim Machado’s workshop, “Balancing Act: Navigating Stress in the Home, Church, and Career.” Finally, Derek Lane, Oregon Conference Outreach Ministries director, and owner of Lane Consulting Group, offered guidance in his presentation titled “Fundraising for Ministry: Beyond the Pews.”

Connections

Resuming in-person conferences meant those attending got to the heart of the event: connecting with like-minded professionals and networking with students and pros.

 “We tried to balance presentations with time for people to connect — there was a human need for our communicators to connect and just talk. Having the students there with the pros just added to those precious moments,” Maran said.

Students from many NAD colleges and universities also received offers for internships, job opportunities, and professional guidance. Miranda Delgado, a senior at Southern Adventist University (SAU) said, “It’s encouraging to see all of the progress that’s being made. We’re able to move forward and see all of the new things to expand.”

Another senior from SAU, Stefanie Green, was grateful to have met so many others in her field. “I’m here to meet people [who] know about communications and network with professionals who can provide guidance,” she said. SAC practiced what they preached about digital evangelism by offering an app where attendees could view the schedule, post discussions about workshops, and share social media insights about the event under #SACNAD22. 

The Gospel through Communication

On Friday evening, vocalist Tony Douce serenaded attendees during a vespers service before NAD president G. Alexander Bryant opened with his message titled “Tell the Story.” Mark 5:18-20 was the central focus of Bryant’s sermon as he explained how everyone is a minister of the gospel. “The power of God can transform lives from the very worst human condition,” he said.

Sabbath School began the next morning with video features of extraordinary individuals working for God’s ministry. Nicole and Victor Broushet, founders of The Vegan Nest restaurants, and Monterey Bay Academy history teacher Timothy Zytkoskee were highlighted in videos from Adventist Journey magazine. A worship team from Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist Church’s D.C. Campus led the praise and worship service and their pastor, Joanne Cortes, also an SAC board member, explored the story of Mark 6:31-44 and John 6:7-9. Cortes focused on people and the younger generation in her presentation and noted that “sometimes we overlook people because they don’t fit our criteria.” She said, “we must never miss out on our calling due to external speculation.” 

On Saturday evening, attendees returned to a decorated auditorium and a plated meal. Musician Felipe Paccagnella played music during dinner, then the program transitioned to a Sonscreen Film Festival showcase, which some attendees described as a delightful conclusion to the convention. Maran and Rachel Scribner, festival program director and event manager, and SAC convention manager, shared feature films from this and previous years’ festivals, including three student films: SparkKnock Knock, and Hamilton. Trailers of past, present, and future projects were also featured.

The evening culminated with the presentation of SAC awards. Megan Yoshioka won the SAC Student Award, Makena Horton received the SAC Young Professional Award, and Rajmund Dabrowski and R. Steven Norman III both received the Lifetime Achievement Award. A final award, the SAC Leadership Award, was presented to Daniel Weber, former SAC executive director and NAD communication director, for his servant leadership, hard work, and mentorship throughout the years.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.



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