Written by Arthur Cribbs
September - October 2009
Walking into the UCC's Office of Communication in January 1996 offered a special treat. As the new executive director, it meant I was following in the footprints of giants Everett Parker and Beverly Chain. Eventually, my role became the unintentional bridge between the historic feats achieved under my predecessors' leadership and the progressive vision of my successor Bob Chase, who jettisoned some of the past in favor of a highly technical advance into worldwide media access.
The immediate challenge I faced was creating an environment where professional, creative skills could be applied to the variety of communication streams available among our staff. The staff members were an incredible collection of talented, faithful lovers of the United Church of Christ. Among that special group of dedicated religious communicators were Laurie Bartels, Cade Bursell, Eric Caldwell, Nancy Erickson, W. Evan Golder, Daniel Hazard, Sandra Hirano, Hans Holznagel, Judy Jaye, Andy Lang, Kofi Ofori, Sylvia Penny, Monica Pombo, Barbara Powell, James Ray Reid, Charlene J. Smith, Randy Varcho, Jackie Wilkins, and William (Bill) Winslow.
Re-imaging everything we debated philosophical differences about the role and relationship of religious journalists to the wider church. The task of reporting on the complicated and sometimes contradictory nuances peculiar to our beloved denomination forced us to craft a policy and statement of purpose to guide our understanding of our ministry.
It was hard work that required pastoral care, team cooperation and a prayerful commitment to open our minds to new possibilities.
United Church News was central to our work. Each member of our department was encouraged to re-think the paper's look and its content. Everything was subject to change. Color was added to the front and back pages and special sections were dedicated to issues confronting church and society.
United Church News reflected the troubling concerns affecting local congregations and mega-issues like the restructure of the UCC's national ministries. We were on our way into the future.
Working in teams consisting of staff persons from each unit allowed us to create unified projects for our website, video production and print. We began reaching out to every setting in the UCC and its constituency groups. We wanted United Church News to be owned by all members and ministries of the church. We felt as diverse as the UCC was becoming, so it was necessary to make sure that a wide range of theological, political and social perspectives were represented and our stories were generated from every segment within the UCC. Doing so was not always easy.
As we moved deeper into a new direction, confirmation of our achievements swept through the national offices. Executives of instrumentalities and ministerial agencies requested our assistance in developing new communication strategies for their programs. We forged partnerships with Conferences and affiliated ministries of the UCC.
A banner which signaled that new things were happening at the Office of Communication was hung in the entrance, "We Are Going Pro-Positive!" Several of our staff wanted an explanation of its message. Instead of a direct response, they were asked what they thought it could mean. Their answers formed the basis of how we went about improving every aspect of our department.
The Office of Communication and United Church News were recognized inside and beyond the UCC as producers and providers of top quality media. Evan Golder, editor of United Church News, announced with his usual brand of enthusiasm, "I feel like I have gone to work at a new job without leaving my old one!"
The escalating cost of printing a monthly newspaper for our denomination required creative designs and strategies. Even as readership increased, we were hard pressed to keep up with production expenses.
Today, we are looking ahead with hope that the digital age will provide a more cost-effective way to deliver the news of the church without compromising the quality and expansive coverage needed to give voice to the variety of constituencies and perspectives that make us one in the United Church of Christ.
Former newscaster the Rev. Arthur Cribbs was executive director of the UCC's Office of Communication from 1996 to 1999. Currently pastor of San Marino (Calif.) Congregational UCC, his resonant voice is often heard in UCC board settings and at General Synod.