Monday, March 30, 2009

Convention: Day 5

Goodbye, Bean Town
As I packed up to leave Sunday, I was amazed at how many people I’ve met in the past five days. I received the kindness of several new friends. Len, who works the ECLA in Chicago offered me a spot in his taxi back to the airport. Once at my gate, I met up with Andrea, who lives in Indianapolis and is a bible study leader for the Alpha Phi sorority. She offered me a ride back to campus. On the way back, I learned about her time as part-time volunteer with Campus Crusade. She had a lot of great insight. What more can I say? God is good!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Convention: Day 4

Pluralism Project
We began our day at Episcopal Divinity School, founded in 1858. A group of researchers at Harvard told us about the Pluralism Project, which examines case studies of faith dilemmas in society (i.e. Muslim drivers who did not service people carrying alcohol) and maps out the religious diversities of cities like Boston.

Photography 101

My last workshop was “Photography 101,” where a group of us learned some photo techniques in the setting of Harvard Square and the campus itself. Our guide, John Mottern, is another Boston Globe guy, has covered presidential elections, and free-lances. His workshop was a no-frills, fun tour of the area and we captured some great moments. I got to chat with Randa, one of the scholarship students. She is the vice president of the student organization, the Muslim Student Association. We met up with another person on the walking tour, Vineet, who works for the Hare Krishna faith, and used to be lawyer in D.C.

Exploring Harvard Square
After the workshop I met up with some other scholarship students for lunch. At Tiffany’s suggestion, we checked out 9 Tastes, a Thai restaurant. We had a great time discussing all sorts of things, including the Southern Baptist faith, life at seminary and, of course, Twitter. Since we had the rest of the afternoon free, we explored shops like the Out of Town News (which has a ton of magazines and newspapers), a Curious George toy store, and got some photos at the John Harvard statue, where you rub his toe for good luck! We also made use of the public transportation, called “The ‘T’” (efficient at times, but very crowded and dirty). A walk up and down Newbury Street was like walking down a fashion runway – Cartier, Juicy Couture and Marc Jacobs provided plenty of eye candy.

Podcasting with Shirley
I promised my mentor Shirley I would be her next podcast subject for her blog “Spirituality and Christianity.” So that afternoon we talked a lot about faith paths and the conference’s theme, “Identity Amid Diversity.” It was a great conversation and I look forward to hearing the outcome.

The Wilbur Award
The Wilbur Awards Show was the culmination of RCC Convention 2009. Shiba Russell, of WCVB-TV (Channel 5) in Boston hosted the black-tie affair, which was held in the Royal Sonesta’s Grand Ballroom. She presented the awards to the secular press for their coverage of religion news. Some notable winners:

• Television News (national) - CBS News Sunday Morning, “With Full Honors”
• Television (comedy) – TBS’s House of Payne, “We’ve Come this Far by Faith”
• Newspapers (top 15 markets) - Chicago Tribune, “Trial, Triumph and Transition of Chicago’s Trinity”
• Magazines (national) - Newsweek, “Our Mutual Joy”
• Web-based communications (blogs) -, “The Seeker”

Afterwards, I chatted with Manya Brachear, who won two Wilburs for her Chicago Tribune series on Barack Obama’s pastor at Trinity, and her blog, “The Seeker.” She had sat at the same table as Dan Gangler, my supervisor at the Indiana UMC office. We briefly discussed the challenge I have been finding – being a journalist and being a blogger. The scholarship students had a brief photo session (our last time all together) and Ms. Russell even joined us for a photo. Afterwards I talked to Brian Gray, who writes for the National Catholic Education Association in Washington, D.C. Since I will be in D.C. next semester, he kindly invited me to RCC’s meetings, which have been held at the Ba’Hai' national office near DuPont Circle.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Convention: Day 3

One Dynamite Panel
We began Friday morning with a panel of renowned journalists:
  • Rachel Zoll, Associated Press religion reporter
  • Michael Paulson, Boston Globe writer,  Pulitzer Prizer winner, three time Wilbur Award winner
  • John Yemma, Christian Science Monitor senior editor, former writer for Boston Globe
Ironically, today was the Christian Science Monitor's last day of print publication, ever, in its year history. Other connections: my mentor, Shirley Paulson, is a Christian Science practitioner, and that afternoon we toured the Christian Science headquarters.

Yemma commented on CSM's last day of print publication. He even admitted that it will be better to go online; the cost of publication leaves a bad carbon footprint. He very astutely pointed out that most people check Web sites like CNN because they are updated several times throughout the day. 

Zoll explained that because AP is a content provider, the recession is affecting it differently than it would a print publication. "We are trying to strengthen beat reporting," Zoll said. She said there are only TWO religion reporters for the entire United States. She works out of New York, while the other writes from Denver. She did point out several trends for religion communicators to watch out for:
  • Immigration - how immigrants are bringing their faith traditions or picking up new ones
  • Islam - how American Islam has an impact on the economy
  • Religion and politics
  • Decrease in denominations; growth of "general" Christian
Paulson said he feared that as newspapers dry up, democracy will be at stake -- we will be compromising objectivity. He admitted that the Boston Globe has more readers now than ever before -- but they're on the Web reading it for free instead of buying a newspaper. "It's a finance problem," Paulson said.

Yemma pointed out that news consumption is fragmented these days. CSM has over 3 million viewers a month, and in print the reporters end up "talking to themselves."

Paulson is a blog reader. He 107 of them everyday. He encourages religion communicators and bloggers to use blogs to tell reporters what's going on -- even to send an email. Plenty of stories are derived from "men on the street" offering up ideas. 

2.o Technologies
I was really looking forward to this session. Interestingly, it was the discussed that ensued during and after the workshop that I found most fascinating. My friend Sarai, the student at Garrett, said her church in Naperville is working with Fishhhook (remember my friend from my first post, Evan McBroom) to do some branding of the UMC church. We both then joined in discussion with RCC member Tim Frakes, who does video production for churches in the Chicago area.

New things I learned from the workshop to investigate:
  • Google Analytics
  • SEOs and keywords
  • Wikilocals
The workshop host, Deb Weiner, is the communications director for Unitarian Universalists. She mentioned the importance of RSS feeds,  keeping content updated and the benefits of a Content Management System. 

I intend to check out a few things she mentioned:, where you can apparently take a quiz and find out what faith background you are. One portion of information came from, "Media Myths and Realities: 2008 Media Usage Survey."

De-Rose Hinkhouse Luncheon & Awards
RCC has a long tradition of presenting awards to its members for the work they have done in their fields. The attendees had a luncheon at the historic Trinity Church in Boston's Copley Square. Some award winners included Samford University's public relations pieces, a Presbyterian Women's publication and others.

A Bit of Christian Science History (Mary Baker Eddy Library)
Having had little previous knowledge of the Christian Science denomination, I was in for a big surprise. We visited its headquarters, where the Mary Baker Eddy Library is located. Eddy was the founder of the church and has a sort of museum dedicated to her. There is also a pretty comprehensive library (open to the public!) of her hundreds of papers. She founded the church based on the concepts of using healing as a large part of the faith. One fascinating part of the tour included the Mapparium, the only stained-glass globe in the world.

Happy 80th Birthday, RCC!
Our evening event was one big birthday celebration for RCC, which began in 1929, making it the oldest public relations organization ever to exist. During this time, I got to chat a bit with documentarian Dr. Jack Shaheen, from last night's "Reel Bad Arabs." He and his wife live on Hilton Head Island. After chatting with them, the group had cake and even sang "Happy Birthday" to RCC!

The Bostonian Experience
And, at end the evening, my peers and I ventured to Inman Square and enjoyed each other's company at McCowsky's. Tiffany, another student, lives near Harvard and so joined up with us. Great way to end the night.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Convention: Day 2

Morning Greeters
The scholarship students were put right to work helping register the RCC members in the hotel lobby. It was a great time to meet people who had traveled all over the country (and Canada, too) to be part of this conference. The Boston RCC chapter was in charge of registration, so while helping out I got to meet Sister Joanne, of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She's the Director of Communications for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brighton, Mass. Coincidentally, two of my aunts (former nuns) were part of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Kalamazoo, Mich. in the '50s and '60s! In conversing with Sister Joanne, I discovered she is one high-tech nun. She has her own blog!

Opening Keynote Speaker
Dr. Richard Parker started off the 80th Anniversary of RCC with a few words of wisdom. He is the co-founder of Mother Jones, a publication known for "smart, fearless journalism." Parker is Episcopalian, though his wife is Jewish. In speaking on the theme "Identity Amid Diversity," Parker said the challenge lies in giving meaning to the message, rather than just trying to sell it. "Everything is about winning," Parker said. "We forget about actually playing the game." He described religion as being playful, engaging - giving a sense of community and belonging. "Religion is in itself a reward," Parker said. Parker's comments echoed a theme I continue to hear at my church, Common Ground (Indianapolis, Ind.): The battle between Jesus and Consumerism. Essentially, people today are looking for something to fulfill them. Most turn to "things" which, as the Bible states, are of this world and will pass away. The only thing that lasts is faith. It is our job, as faith communicators, to see how to best capture our audience, not because we are pushing a brand, but because personal faith means so much to us that we can't help but share it with others.

Mentor Time
Following the keynote speaker, I finally had the chance to meet my mentor, Shirley Paulson. She is a Christian Science speaker, and talks to Chicago-area seminaries about the Christian Science denomination. She also has a blog, Spirituality and Christianity, which explores questions of spirituality, and discusses how faith can be used to heal. We discussed the challenges of being a journalists and having a blog (no kidding!). We both agreed it is hard to find the balance of talking about faith and being sensitive about it, too. I am looking forward to learning more about Shirley and her work.

Dinner & Divinity
For dinner, several of the other students and myself headed to the mall for the Cheesecake Factory. I opened our meal in prayer, and then got to talk more in-depth with my peers. John told me about his involvement with the United Methodist Church. He grew up in a more rural UMC in Michigan, and is looking to do some pastoral work in the future. Sarai is currently at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. She has boldly gone forth to create her own self-designed curriculum in media ministry. Tiffany goes to school right in the area - at Harvard Divinity School. It was interesting to learn about seminary and why these students chose to pursue it. 

"Reel Bad Arabs"
Anytime you mix religion and politics, you're likely to spark some discussion. And discuss we did, following a viewing of the documentary "Reel Bad Arabs" by Dr. Jack Shaheen. It was an engaging film that looked at how films, since the early Hollywood days, has villianized Arabs and Muslims. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Convention: Day 1

As I get ready for bed tonight, I can already tell this is going to be an eye-opening experience.

My roommate is originally from Brazil and grew up in the Catholic Church. She attends Union College, in Kentucky, on a soccer scholarship and is studying communications and religion. But that's how most of the scholarship recipients are - studying a merge of journalism and religion in undergrad, or else working towards a Master of Divinity ("M-Div" for short). We represent Protestant denominations, Catholicism, Islam and no denomination. Looking forward to some interesting conversations to spark!

I'm one of about 10 scholarship students. We're here at the RCC Convention to assist with the workshops, registration and do some promotional (video, writing and otherwise) for next year's convention, which happens to be the RCC Congress 2010, to be held in Chicago. Convenient!

Earlier today (and I got here super early) I did my own walking tour of the Cambridge neighborhood. I grabbed lunch at the upscale "Galleria" mall, observed the mix of people  - diverse backgrounds, ages, collegiate and not. 

With my extra time, I jogged up and down the Charles River - to MIT and back. After my 5K last weekend, the two miles today was a breeze. It was a cool, but the sunshine was gorgeous as it reflected off the water. Boston is growing on me. And its only been 12 hours.

View From My Window

Welcome to Boston! I'm in Cambridge, actually - just over the river. I've just arrived in my room at the Royal Sonesta Hotel (which has free wireless!). Here are a few snapshots from the window and of the room. Pretty nice place...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Journey to Boston: We have a purpose

Tomorrow begins my five-day business trip in Boston (Cambridge, specifically) to attend the Religion Communicators Council conference. I leave at 5:30 am and will be in the city by 9:30.

In reading an article by USA Today it's clear that we, as religion communicators, have our work cut out for us.

Those who identify themselves as religious are becoming fewer and fewer. 

I look forward to this conference as a time to see how I, as a communicator, can be an effective advocate for my beliefs, and also for raising awareness of faith holistically.

Hooked In: Part II


I couldn't finish my day without mentioning I got a shout out from Evan McBroom on his blog . He chatted about me after I chatted about him. Seems cyclical, doesn't it? 

He congratulated me on my first blog post and we discussed my first "business trip" conference -- to Boston this week, for the Religion Communicators Council. I am a student scholarship recipient, so for five days I'll be learning and networking and learning more about what God has called me to do! 

I know I'm super-pumped for what's in store! BAH-ston, here I come!

The photo above is McBroom's company, Fishhook. It is based in Indianapolis, but they do work regionally and one employee even lives in Florida. That's the power of communications! 

Children: Our Future

One in six kids live in poverty in the U.S. How can we let this happen if they are supposed to be the next leaders?

Tonight I heard Dr. Marian Wright Edelman speak at Clowes Memorial Hall. Her focus "The State of America's Children" pointed out the flaws in healthcare, education and parenting. 

Edelman created the Children's Defense Fund, which works to promote public policy that creates a level playing field for all children. She worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. to help create the organization and was the first African American admitted to the Mississippi bar.

The advocate, lawyer, reformer and educator stressed the need to take strides forward with Civil Rights:

"The new president wants to the right thing, but he has so much on his plate. He needs a citizen's movement. This election mattered, but we need to renew our founding principles and Judeo-Christian traditions that every child's life is of value."

I don't claim to be an expert on public policy, but Edelman is an example to the rest of us. She is a leader and inspiration for change. In a country where "recession" has become our middle name, I pray that others may see that its only by investing in children, that we can alter our future. 

As I interviewed Edelman backstage for the campus newspaper, a staff member approached us and said to me, "You do know you're talking to a legend, don't you?"

Finally, here's one great quote from a long list of wise words from Edelman:

"Never work just for money or for power. They won't save your soul or help you sleep at night."

In my search for my calling in life, I will be sure to take comfort in that.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hooked In

God really knows how to network.

On Friday I met with Evan McBroom, who started Fishhook, an Indianapolis-based marketing/communications company that serves churches and Christian businesses.

I met him through my internship at the United Methodist Communications office. I think it was his business card that struck me most.  A sharp-edged fishing hook that seemed to jump off the card. The company's motto, "to be fishers of men" is a key aspect of their business. They help churches communicate their message from a Christ-like perspective.  

Evan and I had a great conversation about what God calls us to do. For Evan, it was to drop his nets (Matthew 4:19) and trust that God would provide. He quit his job in Corporate America and followed God's plans.

For me, I believe God is calling me to using my communication skills to be an effective leader in a faith-based setting. I don't what that looks like, but I continue to pray that God will put me where I best serve Him. 

I am thankful that God has placed people in my life to help me discern my calling.