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RCC 2000 reflects world's diversity

4/13/2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

CHICAGO (UMNS) - Whether displaying expressions of faith, demonstrating methods of communications or relaying stories that need to be told, participants in Religious Communications Congress 2000 reflected the diversity of the world today.

While many of the 1,150 participants in the March 29-April 1 event were Catholic or Protestant - including nearly 200 United Methodists - many other religions were represented. Those other traditions were included as part of the program.

Also on hand were nine global partners who had been invited on scholarship. They were among the more than 100 communicators representing 23 countries at RCC 2000.

Brad Pokorny, editor of One World, the newsletter of the Baha'i International Community, said that the dozen Baha'is who attended the congress felt welcomed and included.

"In general, there was an atmosphere of genuine interfaith ecumenism that went beyond mere tolerance to a real sense of harmony and consonance," Pokorny added. "I think in some ways religious communicators may well be out in front of their congregations and their leadership on this issue."

Reflecting diversity through workshop and plenary speakers, international participation and a broad spectrum of faith traditions and theological perspectives was a goal of the RCC 2000 planning committee, according to Shirley Struchen, the United Methodist who served as chairperson for the event.

"I'm thrilled with the response we've received on evaluation forms and via e-mail," Struchen said. "Over and over, participants applauded exposure to world culture and learning about the global implications of communications."

Under the theme, "Faith Stories in a Changing World," the once-a-decade congress got off to a rousing start with an opening banquet that featured the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Challenging religious communicators to "take light into dark places" and "do bold things," he urged people of faith to be activists, not mere observers.

"Your task is to do more than record the changing world but be agents that change the world," Jackson declared.

The next morning, the Rev. Patrick Anthony, a Catholic priest from St. Lucia who is Caribbean regional president of the World Association for Christian Communication, warned participants to avoid seeing people only as images.

Instead, religious communicators could become the humanizing conscience of the media. "As we seek to communicate, people must not be transformed into images but sown into the hearts of human beings, never compromised," Anthony said. "We must recognize that what is important is not the almighty dollar but the human soul."

The Rev. Martin Marty, the renowned theologian and historian, suggested that the task of religious communicators is not to be at home with the secular order of things but to introduce the element of faith.

According to Marty, the secular and religious worlds are not separate but interactive on many levels. He noted that voices of faith, religion and spirituality must penetrate not just one public, but many sub-publics.

Two separate panels of communicators discussed the difficulties involved in "sharing our stories" in today's world. A panel of secular journalists addressed the challenge of accurately describing the ever-changing dynamics of religion and spiritual life in North America. Another panel outlined the barriers to full global communications, ranging from restrictive policies of government-owned media to geographic obstacles to the lack of technological infrastructures.

But not all was talk or spoken stories during the congress. Ken Medema, a globe-trotting concert artist based in the San Francisco area, used both composed and improvised music to address themes of love, justice and the idea that there should be room at the table for everyone. The performance art of Cynthia Winton-Henry, Phil Porter and their Wing IT! ensemble combined dance, theater, music, comedy, improvisation and theology.

Ted Swartz and Lee Eshleman of Harrisonburg, Va., -- otherwise known as Ted and Lee - delighted their audience with their comedic approach to familiar gospel stories. Ella Jenkins, an award-winning children's performer from Chicago, demonstrated the effectiveness of using simple chants and rhythms.

Workshop topics and speakers again reflected the diversity of the gathering. Judy Corey, a United Church of Christ minister and story specialist from White Cloud, Mich., talked about the art of storytelling and how prejudices and differences can be transcended by sharing stories. Albert van den Heuvel, president of the World Association of Communication, discussed how communicators must face the challenge of connecting with those parts of the world that have been left out of the "informational age."

The concluding banquet began as Munira Sen of India, Hillary Nicholson of Jamaica and Scott Collins of Dallas charged participants with the task of bringing the many faith stories of RCC 2000 back home with them.

Emmy-Award winning journalist Mary Alice Williams and Susan Frank, executive vice president and general manager of Odyssey, a Henson and Hallmark Entertainment Network and the evening's sponsor, spoke before the hand-clapping part of the evening began. Chicago's Thompson Community Singers literally rocked the ballroom, warming up the crowd for a special performance by gospel singer Yolanda Adams.

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