RCC 2015: Faith-Based Communications: Connecting Locally, Reaching Globally

When: April 9-11, 2015

Where: The Westin Alexandria, Alexandria, VA. The Westin has easy access to Washington, D.C. The hotel is a quick walk or shuttle ride to a Metro shop and Old Town Alexandria. It is two Metro stops away from Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA). RCC Room Reservations (deadline March 18, 2015)

Save the date flyer PDF file


Annual Convention: April 3-5, 2014

Sharing the Gift of Communicating 85 Years of Excellence

April 3-5, 2014, Nashville, TN

Convention News

Convention Online

Convention Information

RCC 2014 Convention Schedule

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

3:00pm - 6:00pm


7:00pm - 8:00pm

Wednesday Night at the Movies

Welcome to Shelbyville posterWelcome to Shelbyville

Welcome to Shelbyville is a glimpse of America at a crossroads. In this small town in the heart of America's Bible Belt, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Through the vibrant and colorful characters of the town, the film explores immigrant integration and the interplay between race, religion, and identity. The story is an intimate portrayal of a community's struggle to understand what it means to be American on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election.

Directed and produced by Kim A. Snyder, an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of the BeCause Foundation which produces socially conscious documentaries that further the work of the social innovators they highlight. The film was originally aired on Independent Lens / PBS.

Bud Heckman from Religions for Peace USA will facilitate the discussion.

8:00pm - 9:00pm

Mix & Mingle

Thursday, April 3, 2014

8:30am - 12:00pm

Service Projects

Room In The Inn

Since Dec.1986, 365 days a year, Room In The Inn offers emergency services, transitional programs, and long-term solutions to help people rebuild their lives. Their mission is to provide programs that emphasize human development and recovery through education, self-help and work, centered in community and long term support for those who call the streets of Nashville home. On this service project you will have the opportunity to hear about the program and to participate in a service activity on location.

Magdalene and Thistle Farms

Founded in 1997, Magdalene is a residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction, and life on the streets. Thirty residents are offered the necessary resources to maintain recovery, heal from childhood wounds, become physically healthy and find employment. Magdalene stands as a witness to the truth that in the end, love is more powerful than all the forces that drive women to the streets. Thistle Farms is the social enterprise that is run by the women of Magdalene. The women create hand-made natural bath and body products that are as good for the earth as they are for the body. On this service project you will have the opportunity to hear about the program and to participate in a service activity at Thistle Farms.

12:00pm - 1:30pm

Lunch on your own

1:30pm - 3:00pm

Opening Plenary

Remziya SuleymanA Muslim perspective on the interrelation of religions and the role of religious communication in public advocacy

Remziya Suleyman, Director of Policy & Administration, American Center for Outreach

In this plenary, Ms. Suleyman will discuss her personal journey into public advocacy, how her religion plays a part in day-to-day work and interaction, and her perspective on how religious communities can work together to bring about social justice and tolerance.

3:00pm - 3:30pm


Snack provided

3:30pm - 5:00pm


Matt CarlisleStrategic Planning of Web Sites

Matt Carlisle, Founder of Big Heart Creative

Matt Carlisle founded Big Heart Creative to help non-profit and faith-based organizations strategize their online presence through websites and new media, and that is exactly how he plans to help attendees at this workshop. You will learn how to make your presence online meaningful, and at the same time make sense strategically for your business or congregation.

Slides from presentation


Charles HaynesReligion and the First Amendment

Dr. Charles Haynes, Director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute

What are your rights as a religious communicator? In this workshop, you will walk through history and right up to the present with key information about communications, religion and how your rights are protected by the First Amendment.


Susan BarnesAPR: Accreditation in Public Relations

Susan Barnes, APR, Fellow PRSA, retired public relations faculty, Belmont University, Nashville

As one benefit of membership, RCC members may seek accreditation in public relations. The voluntary APR designation identifies communicators who have demonstrated broad knowledge, experience and professional judgment in planning and managing public-relations activities. To earn accreditation, candidates must demonstrate mastery of a specified body of public relations knowledge, which is what you will learn from this workshop.

6:30pm - 9:00pm

DeRose-Hinkhouse trophyDeRose-Hinkhouse Awards Banquet

The DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Awards are given annually to active members of the Religion Communicators Council (RCC) who demonstrate excellence in religious communications and public relations.

Friday, April 4, 2014

7:30am - 9:00am

RCC Business Meeting

Breakfast provided

9:30am - 11:00am


Sybril BennettWhat Do the Underground Railroad and the Internet have in Common?

Dr. Sybril Bennett, Associate Professor at Belmont University, Nashville, TN

In our Friday plenary, Dr. Sybril Bennett will use her latest book Innovate: Lessons from the Underground Railroad to apply her seven elements of innovation to the Underground Railroad and to the digital age. Her research areas include social media, innovation, and civility.

11:30am - 1:00pm

Plenary and Lunch

Larry HollonWe Must Speak

Rev. Larry Hollon, General Secretary, United Methodist Communications

In his book, We Must Speak: Rethinking How We Communicate Faith in the 21st Century, Rev. Hollon issues a clarion call to action for mainline denominations to speak now in the language of the day or risk becoming obsolete in this media-saturated world.

1:15pm - 2:45pm


Caitlin CongdonCommunicating Faith in the 21st Century

Caitlin Congdon, Communications Manager, United Methodist Communications

Communicating Faith in the 21st Century is designed to expand each participant's knowledge and skills to communicate their message of faith, hope and love in the 21st century using current and emerging communications tools and storytelling principles.


Daoud AbudiabCommunicating Faith in a Culture of Fear

Daoud Abudiab, President of the Islamic Center of Columbia in Columbia, Tennessee

Daoud Abudiab has personal experience fighting discrimination and hate, while trying to forward a positive message of religious tolerance. In this workshop, he will share stories and give examples of how to persist when it seems that everyone around you is against you, knowing that your message is one of peace, tolerance and love.


Greg DroubayHow to Turn a Negative Message into a Positive

D. Greg Droubay, Director of the Media Division for the Missionary Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

D. Greg Droubay is highly skilled in taking a negative message and making something positive out of it. When the musical "The Book of Mormon" hit Broadway, the LDS Church advertised in the playbills at many of its venues to encourage attendees to learn more about The Book of Mormon, with phrases like "the book is always better." With his workshop, Mr. Droubay will encourage attendees to think with ways to use publicity to one's advantage, and get the positive message across.

2:45pm - 3:00pm


Snack provided

3:00pm - 4:30pm


Sophia Agtarap Joel AbramsonMaking Social Media Work for You!

Joel Abramson, Community Engagement Associate at the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and Sophia Agtarap, Minister of online engagement for Rethink Church, a movement led by United Methodist Communications

Social media is here today. But as it evolves, so does the ways in which we use it and the tools that help us accomplish our goals. We don't have to give in to the fear of social media taking over our lives, but we can learn to work smarter using these great communication tools we have at our fingertips. We'll go over best practices, strategy, tools and messaging for the most commonly used channels. Follow the conversation using #RCCsocial. Bring your laptops, tablets and smartphones as well as your questions, and we'll make this a time of learning and conversation.


Bob SmietanaReligion in the Mainstream Media

Bob Smietana, Religion reporter and author

Bob Smietana is a seasoned religion reporter. His stories have been picked up by national and regional newspapers including the Washington Post, LA Times and Chicago Tribune. In his workshop, Bob will cover how to get your news into mainstream media: what reporters and editors are looking for, common mistakes, and good practices.


Aileen KatcherHow To Handle a Crisis In Your Congregation

Aileen Katcher, Principal of Katcher Strategic Communications

In today's world of instant communications, a crisis can take many forms. How an organization responds in the first 60 minutes can set the tone for how it survives. Every congregation should have a crisis communications plan and hope that they never need it. Katcher will outline the key elements to include in the plan and how to make sure your team is ready to use it to communicate when and if (or even before) a crisis hits.

4:30pm - 6:00pm

85th Celebration Party

Light snacks


Dinner on your own


Free time


Luminous Journey posterOptional: Documentary Film

Luminous Journey: 'Abdu'l-Bahá in America, 1912

Shot in high-definition and using engaging documentary storytelling, Luminous Journey celebrates the centenary of the travels of an Eastern sage, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, to America – a visit the filmmakers and others believe will eventually change the consciousness of our nation and the world.

RCC members and Filmmakers Anne & Tim Perry will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterwards.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

8:00am - 8:30am

Continental Breakfast

8:30am - 10:00am


Michael WatersThe Role of Music in Religion Communications

Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters, Founding Pastor, Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dallas, TX

Music is an integral part of many faith traditions and groups. It can uplift and inspire far greater than mere words often can. In this plenary, Dr. Waters will share how music can transform a religious communication into something even more beautiful, inspiring and noteworthy.

10:15am - 11:45am


Maria A. SpearAmy J. EverhartCopyright and the Web

Amy J. Everhart and Maria A. Spear, Attorneys at Everhart Law Firm PLC

Ms. Everhart and Ms. Spear are attorneys who specialize in copyright law, trademark, entertainment and the internet, among other areas. In this workshop, they will take you through what you should know to stay safe and legally protected when writing on the web.


Joyce LitoffCommunicating Across Faith Lines

Joyce Litoff, Writer and Edtior, Office of Communications, Bahá’í National Center

Have you ever wanted to communicate a message to someone of a different faith? How do you say your message without offending someone in the process? In this workshop, Joyce will show you how to get your messages out to those of other faiths and be well received.


Doug CannonLoving to tell the story – a hands-on writing session

Douglas F. Cannon, Ph.D., APR+M, Assistant professor of communication, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Good writing is simply good thinking with ink on it. Good writers think about their purpose, objective, reader, delivery medium and communication context before they type their first word. They match vocabulary and readability to audiences. They align message packaging with medium. They pick tactics most likely to reach their communication goals. Bring your computer or tablet to practice some techniques to make your writing more strategic.

11:45am - 1:30pm

Lunch on your own

1:30pm - 3:00pm


Sarah WilkeMoving from Page to Presence: Religious Communication and Global Community in a Digital Age

Sarah Wilke, Publisher, Upper Room Ministries

Ms. Wilke will describe the journey The Upper Room has taken from being a single print publication to building meaningful community around the globe in 100 countries, in 35 languages. Technology offers a unique opportunity to engage with readers and participants in new and exciting ways. From social media to webinars to e-courses to digital magazines, The Upper Room is focused on moving from printed page to engaged presence.

6:00pm - 7:00pm

Wilbur Award Meet and Greet

7:00pm - 9:30pm

Wilbur Award trophyWilbur Banquet and Awards

The Wilbur Award promotes excellence in the communication of religious faith and positive values by secular communicators.

Speakers and Workshop Leaders

Listed in alphabetical order.

Joel AbramsonJoel Abramson

Workshop leader

Joel Abramson is the Community Engagement Associate at the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Originally from Florida, he dedicated himself to Jewish communal work after being touched by Hillel at Kent State University. He began working for Hillel at Virginia Tech, engaging students with Shabbat programming and Israeli opportunities. Joel is now focusing on connecting with a Jewish Nashville. Thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation and its Jewish Foundation, Joel's position allows him to work on developing opportunities for the 22-40 year-olds to find meaningful connections to their Jewish community.

Daoud AbudiabDaoud Abudiab

Workshop leader

Daoud Abudiab, a native of Palestine, is President of the Islamic Center of Columbia in Columbia, Tennessee, where he has made his home for over a decade. In 2001, Daoud was among the founders of the Islamic Center of Columbia. In February of 2008, he found himself in the national spotlight when the Center was desecrated and destroyed in a fire. By November of that year, the mosque reopened. Daoud has taken a leading role as a speaker on behalf of the Muslim community and as a builder of bridges between faiths. He is a member of Clergy for Tolerance and on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition. He became part of an initiative to educate others on tolerance called Our Muslim Neighbor, and recently founded the Faith and Culture Center. While maintaining his family life and job as administrator of a physicians group, he also assists as an organizer of the Family of Abraham series of interfaith educational events.

Sophia AgtarapSophia Agtarap

Workshop leader

Sophia Agtarap is minister of online engagement for Rethink Church, a movement led by United Methodist Communications, dedicated to connecting and re-connecting young people who are disconnected or disengaged from church and faith communities, through relevant media and culture. She is a transplant from Seattle and is quickly finding herself charmed with the South. Connect with her on Twitter at @sophiakris or http://about.me/sophiakristina

Susan BarnesSusan Barnes, APR, Fellow PRSA

Workshop leader

Susan Barnes, APR, Fellow PRSA, is retired from the public relations faculty at Belmont University in Nashville.

Barnes previously worked in university advancement at the University of Tennessee and three other universities. She was a partner in her own public relations firm and has worked in community relations for the U.S. Department of Energy. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee.

She is accredited in public relations by the Public Relations Society of America and became a Fellow of PRSA in 2006. She has serves as immediate past chair of the Universal Accreditation Board.

Sybril BennettDr. Sybril Bennett

Plenary Speaker

Dr. Sybril Bennett is an Associate Professor at Belmont University, Nashville, TN. She is a Vanderbilt educated, Harvard trained, two-time Emmy award winning multimedia journalist. She is currently an Associate Professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee where she helped to establish the New Century Journalism Program. With more than 20 years of experience in television news, she's worked behind the scenes at ABC in Milwaukee and at CBS in Chicago. Her last television gig was at CBS in Nashville where she was general assignment reporter, fill-in anchor and fill-in talk show host.

Dr. Bennett's first book, The Color-Full Alphabet Book is a Dr. Seuss-like work with positive inspiration for all children. In her latest book, Innovate: Lessons from the Underground Railroad, she applies her seven elements of innovation to the Underground Railroad and to the digital age. Her research areas include: social media, innovation and civility.

Dr. Bennett earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University; a M.Ed. from Loyola University of Chicago; and a B.A. from Marquette University. She is an innovative facilitator, mentor and speaker spreading the word about and through social media at The Multimedia Maven and on Twitter @drsyb.

Doug CannonDouglas F. Cannon, Ph.D., APR+M

Workshop leader

Immediate past RCC president, Douglas Cannon worked as a United Methodist communicator for nearly 25 years. He now teaches public relations as Assistant Professor of Communication at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and researches how faith groups practice public relations. He’s been a daily newspaper reporter, weekly newspaper publisher, TV newsmagazine producer and Army public affairs officer. He has taught writing since 1982.

Matt CarlisleMatt Carlisle

Workshop leader

Matt Carlisle is the founder of Big Heart Creative, a communications consultancy located in Nashville, Tenn. Big Heart Creative partners with nonprofit and faith-based organizations, helping them to embrace new media, create custom websites, and bring to life strategies that make the world a better place.

Caitlin CongdonCaitlin Congdon

Workshop leader

Caitlin Congdon is the Manager of Communications Training and Development at United Methodist Communications. She has a master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology with an additional 9 years of Training and Development experience. Caitlin has an extensive background developing online and face-to-face training programs. She joined the Training Department at UMCom in 2012.

Greg DroubayD. Greg Droubay

Workshop leader

D. Greg Droubay is the Director of the Media Division for the Missionary Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Media Division is responsible for all materials and communications designed for those that are not members of Mormon faith. This includes printed materials, mormon.org, and digital, social media, and television messaging and advertising. Mr. Droubay has overseen recent messaging and advertising efforts such as the "I'm a Mormon" campaign and the Church's response to the Book of Mormon Musical.

Amy J. EverhartAmy J. Everhart

Workshop leader

Amy J. Everhart, Attorney at Everhart Law Firm PLC, founded her law firm to counsel individuals and organizations in the creative industries, entrepreneurs, inventors, business owners, and others with legal needs in the areas of trademark, copyright, entertainment, and the internet.

From 1998 to 2009, Ms. Everhart practiced with Nashville law firm Riley Warnock & Jacobson, PLC, where she focused her practice on commercial litigation, entertainment, copyright, trademark, internet, and other intellectual-property matters. She was named a member of the firm in 2008.

Charles HaynesCharles Haynes

Workshop leader

Dr. Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute. He is best known for his work on First Amendment issues in public schools. Over the past two decades, he has been the principal organizer and drafter of consensus guidelines on religious liberty in schools, endorsed by a broad range of religious and educational organizations. In January 2000, three of these guides were distributed by the U.S. Department of Education to every public school in the nation.

Dr. Haynes is the author or co-author of six books, including First Freedoms: A Documentary History of First Amendment Rights in America (2006) and Religion in American Public Life. His column, Inside the First Amendment, appears in newspapers nationwide.

Larry HollonRev. Larry Hollon

Plenary speaker

The Rev. Larry Hollon is the chief executive of United Methodist Communications, the global communications agency of The United Methodist Church.

We Must Speak book coverIn 2012, Hollon authored We Must Speak: Rethinking How We Communicate Faith in the 21st Century. The book issues a clarion call to action for mainline denominations to speak now in the language of the day or risk becoming obsolete in this media-saturated world.

Before joining United Methodist Communications, Hollon was an award-winning producer whose primary focus was telling the stories of persons affected by poverty. His work has taken him to more than 50 countries to collaborate on projects ranging from the stories of street children in Brazil to economic self-development in rural villages in Africa. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations. He has also worked in television news and commercial radio as a talk show host, and has been published in numerous publications.

Hollon is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma and Saint Paul School of Theology.

Aileen KatcherAileen Katcher

Workshop leader

Aileen Katcher is principal of Katcher Strategic Communications, a PR firm which offers crisis readiness planning to help businesses plan for potential crisis. If a crisis does occur, it becomes part of the company’s ongoing crisis management and communications team. Katcher served for 10 years as the Executive Vice President of Holder Kennedy Public Relations before joining Baptist Hospital as Director of Marketing. She became a partner at Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations where she continued for 17 years. She is now in her current position as an independent consultant.

Joyce LitoffJoyce Litoff

Workshop leader

Joyce Litoff is a writer and editor who works in the Office of Communications at the Bahá’í National Center. She has served as a public spokesperson for the Bahá’í Faith, and is a frequent guest speaker and lecturer. She has a degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois. Joyce has personal life experience with other religions, as she was raised Catholic, spent the first ten years of marriage to her Jewish husband actively involved in synagogue life, and is now a member of the Bahá’í Faith.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana

Workshop leader

Bob Smietana served as the religion writer for The Tennessean from 2007-Aug 2013, and a correspondent for Religion News Service. He now works for LifeWay Christian Resources, writing about research on church and cultural trends for Facts and Trends magazine. His stories have appeared in national and regional US newspapers, including the Washington Post, the LA Times, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as national religious magazines such as Christianity Today, Christian Century, Sojourners, and US Catholic. He was one of the first American journalists to interview Graham Taylor and has written about Taylor for RNS and Christianity Today. Bob is the author of The Breath of Life: A Christian Exploration of Personhood, and co-author of Good Intentions. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Kathy, and their three children.

Maria A. SpearMaria A. Spear

Workshop leader

Maria A. Spear, Attorney at Everhart Law Firm PLC is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she majored in Vocal Performance, and Pace University School of Law. Ms. Spear has served as Contracts Manager at Country Music Television for their Artists of the Year program, and the CMT Music Awards.

She previously worked at the office of the Arizona Attorney General in the community services department, where she gave presentations across Arizona on identity theft and Internet safety.

Remziya SuleymanRemziya Suleyman

Plenary speaker

Remziya Suleyman is Director of Policy & Administration at the American Center for Outreach. A native of Kurdistan, she came to the U.S. with her family in 1991. She holds a Master's in Public Administration and certificate in Nonprofit Management from Tennessee State University. She is known for her political activism on immigration issues, interfaith organizing, and her work in the Kurdish community to raise awareness on the Kurdish genocide.

She has spoken to diverse audiences on Kurdistan and its people, her own experience as a refugee and a Muslim woman, and on life in her community after September 11. Nashville Public Television featured her story in the award-winning documentary Little Kurdistan USA as part of the Next Door Neighbors series. She was recognized as one of the Nashville Scene's "Nashvillians of the Year" for her work in Nashville's immigrant communities in response to the historic flood of 2010, and her organizing and advocacy was highlighted in the recent New York Times article "The 9/11 Decade: Young Muslims Coming of Age."

As the former Policy Coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Remziya led a successful effort to mobilize Muslim leaders throughout the state against what could have become the most extreme anti-Muslim legislation in the country. In recognition of her exemplary work in her community and the field of human rights she was awarded as a 2011 Rising Advocate Honoree for the Tennessee Human Rights Day Celebration.

In 2012, she was voted one of the top inspirational Muslim women in the United States by MBMuslima's 40 under 40 a leading Muslim magazine that highlights 40 Muslim activists under the age of 40. Recently, she was named one of "13 TN Newsmakers to Watch in 2013" by the Tennessean, "13 Progressive Faith Leaders to Watch in 2013" by the Center for American Progress, and highlighted by the Nashville Scene in their 2013 People Issue.

Michael WatersRev. Dr. Michael W. Waters

Plenary speaker

The Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters is founding pastor of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas. A sought-after preacher, Dr. Waters has made numerous presentations before church, civic, collegiate, and corporate bodies on topics of interest ranging from Fortune 500 diversity practices and ethical leadership principles to the intersections of religion and hip-hop culture.


He is the author of Freestyle: Reflections on Faith, Family, Justice, and Pop Culture. His writings have appeared in such respected publications as The Huffington Post, The African American Pulpit, and Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writings from Rising Generations, with forthcoming efforts to appear in Feasting on the Gospels and The Upper Room Disciplines.

Dr. Waters is chair of the City of Dallas's Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center Board, chair of the Black Alumni of Southern Methodist University, and serves on the boards of the Community Council of Greater Dallas and of the Revitalize South Dallas Coalition. He is a recipient of The White House's Presidential Youth Service Award, the Humanitarian Award of the South Dallas Professional and Business Women’s Club, the B'nai B'rith's Harold M. Kaufman Memorial Award in Social Ethics, the William K. McElvaney Award in Peace and Justice, and the "M" Award, SMU's highest student honor.

Sarah WilkeSarah Wilke

Plenary speaker

Sarah Wilke is publisher of Upper Room Ministries, a United Methodist global prayer movement dedicated to Christian spiritual formation. Since assuming the post in July 2009, Wilke has overseen the Nashville-based operation, which most notably produces The Upper Room, a daily devotional guide with over 3 million worldwide readers. The nonprofit company produces an array of other faith-based magazines and books, as well as organizes seminars and workshops around the country and world. Upper Room Ministries is a division of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, and Wilke, also serves as an associate general secretary of the GBOD.

Previously, Wilke served five years as the chief executive officer of UMR Communications, a national communications ministry based in Dallas that includes the United Methodist Reporter, the UMPortal, and UMDigital printing. Prior to joining UMR, she served as the North Texas Annual Conference’s urban strategist for four years. In this extended-cabinet level position, she led Dallas inner-city efforts to form new congregations, revitalize existing churches, and spearhead community development initiatives.

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