RCC 2017 Convention: March 30 - April 1, 2017

2017 Convention: Virtually Here, There and Everywhere: Faith Communications and Presence

Convention news from RCC

Religion Communicators explore faith communications and presence at convention

Re-writing the script: analyzing gender and religion in the media

Ali to communicators: We have to tell our own stories

Creating podcasts with sustaining power requires research, thought

Theater as communicator? Silk Road Rising shows how it can be done

The many lessons learned when hosting the Pope

Podcasters give tips to RCC convention goers

Meaning-making among the disenfranchised

RCC elects new leaders at annual business meeting

Religion communicators trained for crisis scenarios

Workshop tackles anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim movements

Going viral with Father Rocky and Facebook

Film tries to answer pressing question for those who remain after Newtown tragedy

Seasoned religious communicator offers tips for connecting with secular media

National interfaith leader to head Religion Communicators Council

RCC awards excellence in religion communication at Chicago ceremony

2017 RCC convention opens with film, discussion about issue(s) of violence

Convention news from elsewhere

U.S. religion communicators address violence and Islamophobia from WACC Global

Personal reflections from RCC members

Religion Communicators Council Annual Convention – A Member’s View by Brian Fesler

REPORT: Religion Communicators Convention Dives Deep by Paul Chaffee

March 30 - April 1, 2017, Chicago, IL

Workshop and Plenary descriptions, leaders, and resources

Venue: Crowne Plaza Hotel Chicago O'Hare, 5440 North River Rd., Rosemont, IL 60018



RCC is grateful to these sponsors for the 2017 convention.

Bahá’í Faith

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The Foundation for Religious Literacy

Odyssey Networks

Relevant Radio

St. James Cathedral

United Methodist Communications

Co-Chairs of RCC 2017 Steering Committee

Bill Aiken

William (Bill) Aiken, Consultant, Soka Gakkai International Office of Peace and Global Issues, Washington, DC. Contact Bill

Bud Heckman

Bud Heckman, Convenor, Interfaith Funders Group, New York, New York. Contact Bud

RCC National President

Casey Tom

Casey Tom, General Manager, Faith for Today, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Riverside, California

Workshops and Plenaries


Guns into Plowshares, Presence into Hope: On Violence and Faith

After a downward trend since the 1990s, Chicago received national attention in 2016 for a sharp spike in its rates of violence and gun deaths. Chicago had more than 700 gun homicides in 2016. It leads all cities in a country that has more than 30,000 deaths per year due to injury by firearms. Faith communities are deeply and uniquely situated anchors in the communities torn by violence. But what role can, does, and should faith communities play? What are they doing and what do they need to be doing? A county government leader, a faith-based non-profit leader, and an academic working on the front lines give us their perspectives on the violence problem and the possible contributions of faiths.

Angela CowserDr. Angela R. Cowser is an associate professor of the sociology of religion at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She is the director of the Center for the Church and the Black Experience. An experienced fundraiser, Cowser previously worked with The Industrial Areas Foundation, The Fund for Theological Education and Lilly Endowment.

In the classroom and in the church, Cowser comes as a sociologist of religion, community organizer, and pastor, and as such, she tries to give her students theological, ethical, and sociological tools to help them think and act in ways that deal realistically with the world as it is, while they dream, plan, and organize towards the world as it should be – a place where all people are healthy and secure, strong and prosperous, and just, especially towards the poor, and where the people of God are educated rightly on the ways and means of God. Her vocation as a teacher is to help students who hunger and thirst for justice and mercy and equity work effectively and concretely towards these values in this world which God so loves.

Myron McCoyRev. Dr. Myron F. McCoy is senior pastor at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple (@ChicagoTemple). Prior to joining the pastoral staff in Chicago, he was president of Saint Paul School of Theology with campuses in Kansas and Oklahoma.

He has more than 20 years of experience in local church leadership, including serving as a district superintendent.

Dr. McCoy captures the essence of his ministry in three words: adaptive, steward, and bridge-builder. He stresses the need to be adaptive, acknowledging that everywhere he has served, he has pushed organizations to think beyond what they know today and how they can be relevant for the future. As a steward, he searches for how organizations can, instead of burying their talents, make something more from them while at the same time recognizing the gifts they begin with. Finally, as a bridge-builder, he builds connections between church and community, across various theological spectrums, and among people with different levels of education.

Rami NashashibiDr. Rami Nashashibi (@RamiNashashibi) has served as the executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) since its incorporation as a nonprofit in 1997.

He has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago and is a Visiting Professor of Sociology of Religion and Muslim Studies at the Chicago Theological Seminary.

In 2016 Rami was appointed by President Obama to serve on the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Toni PreckwinkleHonorable Toni Preckwinkle (@ToniPreckwinkle), Cook County Board President, has been a dedicated community leader for over two decades. She has worked with the Cook County Board of Commissioners, elected officials and county employees to implement major reform and reshape county government through fiscal responsibility, innovative leadership, transparency and accountability, and improved services.

President Preckwinkle has developed a broad policy agenda – focusing on critical public safety reform, working to strengthen the county’s health care system, and increasing the capacity and capability of our economic development efforts.


Covering Christianity: The Great Temptations

Covering a faith tradition in an ever-changing atmosphere is a challenging balance act of expectations, hopes, demands, and realities. Two well-respected editors share their insights into the great temptations they face in covering Christianity. With humor, humility, and honesty, they share stories of what they think works for them and their audiences. Their tips will be of interest to religious communicators of many faiths.

Mark GalliMark Galli (@markgalli) is editor-chief of Christianity Today (@CTmagazine). A graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz (B.A.) and Fuller Theological Seminary (M.Div.), he served churches in Mexico City and Sacramento, California as a Presbyterian pastor before moving into journalism. He has also been an editor with Leadership and Christian History magazines, and has written for a variety of publications. He is author of a number of books, including Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God (Baker Publishing), Francis of Assisi and His World (Lion Publishing) and Beyond Bells and Smells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy (Paraclete Press). He has also written a forthcoming popular biography of theologian Karl Barth with Eerdmans.

Joyce DurigaJoyce Duriga is editor of Catholic New World (@CathNewWorld), the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. She previously worked in the Diocese of Pittsburgh for Catholic Charities and the diocesan Communications department. She later served as an editor at Our Sunday Visitor national newsweekly. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous local and national publications. In 2017 her book on death-penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean will be published by Liturgical Press. She is a graduate of Penn State with a degree in journalism.

Bill AikenBill Aiken (@billaiken), a practicing Buddhist since 1968, serves as consultant in the Soka Gakkai International Office of Peace and Global Issues. He previously served as national public affairs director for Soka Gakkai International (SGI)-USA (@OfficialSGIUSA), a socially engaged, lay Buddhist community. He is also the director of the SGI's Washington, D.C. Buddhist Culture Center. Located on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., the SGI-USA Office of Public Affairs seeks to bring a Buddhist-humanist perspective on contemporary issues and works with others to advance the values of global citizenship, peace culture, nuclear disarmament, education for sustainable development, free religious expression, and the separation of church and state.


Media Panel Plenary: Covering Religion in an Age of Corporatized Media and Self-made Bubbles

With the intensive post-analysis of the presidential election last year, we had the beginnings of a national conversation on the impact of the new realities in how people are consuming news. Fake news is now superseding real news in consumption in some troubling ways, and the President has openly labeled news he doesn’t like as “fake news.” Selective exposure, filter bubbles, echo chambers, confirmation bias, implicit bias, and other terms entered into our common dialogue and consciousness, but suggested solutions were rare.

This special plenary is an honest conversation about these challenges and the responsibility of religious media professionals, improving the choices and options of consumers, and future of news about religion and faith.

Manya Brachear PashmanManya Brachear Pashman (@TribSeeker) joined the Chicago Tribune in June 2003. As the paper's religion reporter, she has helped chronicle two papal transitions from Rome, the Dalai Lama‘s visits to Chicago, Protestant debates about gay clergy, progress and pitfalls of interfaith dialogue and the emerging role of religion in American politics. Brachear Pashman earned a bachelor's degree from Appalachian State University and masters degrees in journalism and religious studies from Columbia University. She also has written for Time magazine, The Dallas Morning News, Beliefnet.com and the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Mariam SobhMariam Sobh (@mariamsobh), is an award-winning news anchor and reporter based in Chicago, Illinois. She‘s covered everything from political races to shootings, and currently splits her time between CBS radio in Chicago and her own projects. Mariam is also an entertainer and studied at the famed Second City Training Center Conservatory, becoming the first woman in hijab to graduate from the program. She is also a pioneer in the hijab fashion industry, and founded Hijabtrendz.com.

Jessica Mesman GriffithJessica Mesman Griffith (@Mesman_Griffith) is a widely published writer whose work has been noted in Best American Essays. Her memoir, Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship in Letters, co-authored with Amy Andrews, won the 2014 Christopher Award for “literature that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” She is also the author of Sick Pilgrims: A Journey Into the Mystery of Faith (forthcoming, Loyola Press, 2017), Grace Filled Days (2016, Loyola Press), and a co-author of Daily Inspiration for Women (2014, Loyola Press). She’s currently at work on a second memoir of her Catholic girlhood in southern Louisiana, Eden Isles.

Emily McFarlan MillerEmily McFarlan Miller (@emmillerwrites) is a national reporter for Religion News Service (RNS) based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity. Before joining RNS in 2016, she won awards for her work as education reporter at The Courier-News in Elgin, Illinois, and social media manager at the Chicago Sun-Times. Her writing also has appeared in Relevant Magazine, Her.meneutics, Acts of Faith, Crux and more. She graduated with honors from the journalism department at New York University and is working toward a master’s in intercultural studies from the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies and George Fox Evangelical Seminary.


How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Be a Moderate Muslim

In 2016, hate groups in the U.S. targeting Muslims tripled in number. There are now 101 of them, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And according to the FBI and civil rights groups, there is a marked increase in hate crimes and acts of discrimination against Muslims and Jews, in particular, since the beginning of the presidential election cycle.

President Trump announced a Muslim entry ban during his campaign and is still working to institute some variation of it and several key figures in the current administration have close ties to some of these entities classified as hate groups.

Wajahat Ali has been working for years to illuminate how Islamophobia is a heavily moneyed and utterly manufactured industry. He is the lead author of the Center for American Progress's widely cited investigative report, Fear, Inc. Now a regular fixture on CNN, Wajahat is a master of wit and humor.

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Wajahat AliWajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) is a journalist, writer, lawyer, award-winning playwright, a TV host, and consultant for the U.S. State Department. As creative director of Affinis Labs, he works to create social entrepreneurship initiatives that have a positive impact for marginalized communities, and to empower social entrepreneurs, young leaders, creatives, and communities to come up with innovative solutions to tackle world problems.

In 2012, Ali worked with the U.S. Department of State to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. He initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. Secretary of State Clinton honored him as a “Generation Change Leader.”


The Fierce Urgency of Now: Advancing Justice, Peace, and Cooperation

Religious communities and people of faith are often the leavening for and grassroots actors of our great historic movements for justice, peace, and cooperation. This keynote will address some of the most important ways that faiths writ large can and are rising up to help us overcome our greatest human challenges. Few people bring such a globally informed view to faith work or speak with such passionate conviction about the enduring and driving values of our various faiths as Rabbi David Saperstein.

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David SapersteinRabbi David Saperstein (@RabbiSaperstein) is an American rabbi, lawyer, Jewish community leader, and former United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in the Obama administration.

The Ambassador-at-Large is a principal advisor to the President and Secretary of State and serves as the United States’ chief diplomat on issues of religious freedom worldwide. He also heads the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. President Obama also designated Ambassador Saperstein to carry out the duties in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014.

He served as the director and chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center for more than 30 years.


Three Keys to Reaching People Through Facebook – Beautiful, Now, and Personal

Facebook is approaching 2 billion active monthly users and is constantly innovating with Live posts and now partnerships with real-time TV broadcasting. It is the unquestionable juggernaut of the social media game. How do you connect with people meaningfully in such a sea of options, postings, and ads, though? Father Rocky Hoffman has a large following on Facebook because he has held to just a few key principles of engagement. Bring your own learnings and share.

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Francis HoffmanRev. Francis J. “Father Rocky” Hoffman (@FatherRocky) will share effective, proven strategies on how to communicate about religious faith through Facebook, apps, and other social media.

According to Father Hoffman, his three keys to reaching audiences on Facebook are “beautiful,” “now,” and “personal.” In his workshop, he will discuss these ideas, his experiences of what works and doesn’t work on social media, and how to adapt to the latest changes on the Facebook platform.

Father Hoffman is the executive director of Relevant Radio (@relevantradio), a Catholic radio network which broadcasts on 65 stations in 29 states. His “Father Rocky” Facebook page has 3 million likes and reaches 30 million unique persons monthly.


In the Spotlight: A Media Training Workshop

Anuttama DasaFew of us were born with the skills required to survive, or thrive in, a media interview. For the rest of us, training is required. This hands-on, interactive workshop will focus on effective preparation for media interviews, how to deliver key messages, being cool and effective under pressure (and hot lights!), maximizing your impact in TV, radio, and print interviews, and more. A positive skill enhancing experience for new spokespersons and old hands alike, each participant will prepare for, and learn to thrive in, a simulated media interview.

Anuttama Dasa is a Governing Body Commissioner and the Director of Communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) (@iskconglobal). As such he has been interviewed on Dateline, Larry King Live, Fox News, BBC Radio and more. He has taught media interview seminars on six continents.


Re-writing the script: analyzing gender and religion in the media

Sexism, Islamophobia, and intolerance filled the news cycle of our latest presidential election. This workshop seeks to critically analyze and suggest ways to transform the conversation about gender and religion in the public square. Through case studies and major reports such as the Global Media Monitoring Project, participants will gain skills for analyzing news content and the persons who deliver it. Participants will also gain concrete strategies and tips for creating content within their own organizations that moves beyond tokenism and tolerance to promote gender equality and religious literacy.

Glory DharmarajDr. Glory Dharmaraj is U.S. coordinator for the Global Media Monitoring Project (@whomakesthenews) of the World Association for Christian Communication (@waccglobal). Since the project’s inception in 1995, she had led media monitoring on the role and image of women in the United States. She also participated in WACC’s peace journalism project, coordinating peace monitoring for the United States.

Dr. Dhamaraj has spoken and written widely on the themes of Christian mission, interfaith relations and media literacy.

Karri WhippleKarri Whipple (@karriwhipple) is a media specialist, writer, and activist promoting intimate justice and building transformative communities. Her work focuses on the intersection of trauma, identity politics, and religion. She is particularly interested in the ways in which gender and race shape responses to violence and trauma.

Karri is adjunct faculty at Rutgers University and Drew University and the communications specialist for membership and new media at Religion Communicators Council (RCC). She is a board member of the RCC and World Association of Christian Communicators - North American region. Karri also serves as the chair of the Domestic Violence Awareness Task Force for the Metro-New York Synod of the ELCA.


The Joy of Improv: An After-Hours Practical Playshop

What do you do to unlock creativity? What exercises does your communication team use to keep it fresh? Have you ever tried improv? It’s not much harder than Pictionary, but unlocks a lot more in the human heart and mind.

In this new after-hours “playshop” concept, we will play with a few basics in order to discover the joy of improv for our work and life. Improv is simply about revealing what is true about human nature. It is about truths, not jokes. The truth is funny all by itself.

Bud HeckmanRequired end credit legal notice: “No introverts will be wounded or harmed in the production of this playshop.” Or so we hope...

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Rev. Bud Heckman (@BudHeckman) will facilitate. He has absolutely no expertise or qualifications whatsoever to lead this (except taking one stupid four-week how-to class which he failed), and he was clearly warned by the Executive Director Shirley Struchen multiple times to slow down on the flow of such hair-brained ideas. He will attempt, however failingly, to facilitate the playshop. Come help him. Please. No, seriously, you might save an introvert’s life. See that? The truth is funny, isn’t it?


Podcasts That Are Addictive

Who listens to podcasts? How do they listen to them? What are the best ways to produce them? How do you distribute them and build audience? What does it take to make one well? What makes them “sticky” and “interesting?” How do they integrate with other communications and activities? What are common mistakes?

Two successful podcasters – David Dault of Things Not Seen and Steve Martin of the National Council of Churches – share their tips, tricks, and insights. Participants will leave with a clear idea of how to produce and publish their own podcasts and learn how to make existing podcasting work better.

Workshop Audio

Audio recorded and provided by David Dault

Check this out on Chirbit

David DaultDavid Dault (@DaultRadio) is an expert at helping people tell their stories. He produces engaging, innovative media for public radio, public television, and public events.

He is the former president and CEO of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, founded in 1908, a world-renowned nonprofit media company that is a pioneer in non-denominational, faith-focused radio and television broadcasting.

Since 2013, he has been the executive producer for Responding with Faith, an ongoing series of television documentaries for WTTW in Chicago. Each hour focuses on a different problem facing the city, and highlights the ways that faith communities are making a positive impact to solve those crisis issues.

David is also the creator, executive producer, and host of the radio program Things Not Seen: Conversations about Culture and Faith (@NotSeenRadio), an hour-long, weekly interview program available to NPR affiliates through PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Steve MartinRev. Steven D. Martin is the director of communications and development for the National Council of the Churches of Christ (@ncccusa) in the USA. He has served United Methodist churches as pastor for twenty years and is a graduate of Candler School of Theology.

He has produced several films for public television, including Muslims in Appalachia, Islam in America After September 11th, Theologians Under Hitler, God With US: Baptism and the Jews in the Third Reich, Elisabeth of Berlin, and most recently, Islam in America: The Christian Truth. He has lectured at the prestigious Chautauqua Institute and in churches and seminaries across the US.


Advancing Ministry Through Accreditation in Public Relations

As one benefit of membership, RCC members may seek Accreditation in Public Relations. The voluntary APR designation is recognized across many fields. RCC is one of nine communication organizations participating in the APR credentialing process. Communicators with APR after their names show they have demonstrated broad knowledge, experience, and professional judgment in planning and managing public relations activities. For RCC members those activities relate directly to advancing the mission and ministry of their faith group.

Doug CannonThis workshop will discuss the value of APR; explain the accreditation process; review the knowledge, skills and abilities that APR candidates must master; and help religion communicators plan how to earn accreditation.

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Douglas F. Cannon, Ph.D., APR+M, Fellow PRSA (@dcannon), represents RCC on the Universal Accreditation Board. That board is the credentialing agency for members of nine professional communication/public relations organizations and public affairs practitioners in the Department of Defense.

Cannon is a former RCC president and United Methodist communicator. He now teaches public relations at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Special Arts Feature

Theater as a Communicator: The Silk Road Rising Story

Silk Road Rising creates live theatre and online videos that tell stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses. It is housed in a prominent Chicago church in the theater district as part of a partnership with the congregation. In representing communities that intersect and overlap, Silk Road Rising advances a polycultural worldview.

In this workshop co-founders Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury will showcase a 28-minute film featuring a story of their company’s coming into being and a 15-minute film bringing to the fore intercultural tensions amongst two American friends. Participants will be invited to think about theater as vital form of communication and look at successful models.

Sacred Stages: A Church, A Theatre, and A Story tells the unique and inspiring story of the relationship between the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple – Chicago's oldest Christian congregation – and Silk Road Rising, a theatre company founded in response to 9/11 that showcases playwrights of Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds. A shared commitment to storytelling, racial and economic justice, and LGBT inclusion characterizes this profound partnership between a religious community and a secular theatre.

The Balancing Arab tells the story of Heidi (played by Leslie Frame), an Irish American personal fitness trainer, and Hanan (played by Amira Sabbagh), her once morbidly obese Arab American client. Set in a downtown Chicago gym amidst a strenuous training session, the mood turns tense as the two women recount an event at the Arab American Cultural Center a few nights earlier, an event at which the evening’s political discourse got filtered through decidedly different lenses. The Balancing Arab explores tensions that exist within and between political cultures and the challenges of messaging that gets stranded in context and lost in translation.

Malik GillaniMalik Gillani (@MalikGillani) is Founding Executive Director of Silk Road Rising (@Silk_Road), a position to which he brings extensive experience in producing, management, and business development. He is thrilled to be advancing both the rich cultural legacy of the Silk Road and greater visibility for Silk Road artists. Gillani nurtured Silk Road Rising from its embryonic stage into a celebrated theatre company, integrating business acumen and fiscal responsibility within an artistic mission.

He is a recognized leader in the creation of innovative arts programming that expands artistic access. Most notably, he conceived of and developed Silk Road Rising’s model for creating online video plays which are now being accessed across the globe. Gillani conceived of and established Silk Road Rising’s arts integrated education program, Myths to Drama, which was heralded as one of the finest elementary school arts education programs in the Chicago Public Schools system. He also conceived of, developed, and piloted a new arts education program for high school and elementary school students in partnership with San Diego’s Playwrights Project called EPIC (Empathic Playwriting Intensive Course).

Jamil KhouryJamil Khoury (@KhouryJamil) is the Founding Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising (@Silk_Road). Promoting playwrights of Silk Road backgrounds (Asian and Middle Eastern) is a passion that dovetails well with Khoury’s experiences living in the Middle East and his eleven years as a cross-cultural trainer and international relocations consultant. A theatre producer, playwright, essayist, and film maker, Khoury’s work focuses on Middle Eastern themes and questions of Diaspora. He is particularly interested in the intersections of culture, national identity, and citizenship, as well as ever-evolving notions of Americanness.

Khoury's newest play, Mosque Alert, received its professional world premiere at Silk Road Rising in spring 2016. The play grew out of an online interactive new play development and civic engagement project that was launched in 2011, exploring resistance to the building of mosques in communities across the U.S. This unique, first-of-its-kind pairing of artistic and civic processes received the 2013 Change Maker Award from South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).


Creating Meaningful Materials by and for Children and Adolescents

One of the most important things we can do to build the vibrancy of our communities is to engage the ideas, enthusiasm, and energy of children and youth. This session will share learning and experiences from two youth publications, Brilliant Star and KidSpirit.

These two organizations will describe their distinct approaches for engaging youth about questions of significance. Brilliant Star, published by the Bahá’ís of the U.S., empowers kids ages 8-12, from all faiths, to explore their roles as world citizens through stories, activities, music, and more. KidSpirit’s mission is to engage adolescents ages 11-17 from many backgrounds and traditions through writing, artwork, and poetry created and curated by youth around the globe.

Join us for a lively and enlightening conversation about why it’s critical to incorporate the needs and perspectives of kids and teens into our publication missions. By offering youth tools and opportunities for exploring and expressing their faith and ideas, we help them to develop the skills and strengths to contribute positively to a global community.

Elizabeth Dabney HochmanElizabeth Dabney Hochman, MM, is the founding editor and executive director of KidSpirit (@kidspiritonline), an unaffiliated magazine and online community that empowers global youth to explore life’s big questions in a spirit of openness. In 2016, KidSpirit was awarded first place in the Magazine Overall Excellence Award by the Religion Newswriters Association. In its nearly ten years in publication, KidSpirit has received special recognition by many organizations including the Parent’s Choice Foundation, the Association of Educational Publishers and Common Sense Media, and received awards from the Religion Communicators Council, and NAPPA, among many others.

Amethel Parel-SewellAmethel Parel-Sewell is the editor/creative director for Brilliant Star Magazine and Brilliant Star Online (@BrilliantStar9), published by the Bahá’ís of the U.S. to encourage world citizenship, spiritual development, and a love of learning in kids and youth worldwide. Brilliant Star’s team has earned over 30 awards under Amethel’s direction since 1997. She brings to the team broad strategic vision and agility from her multi-disciplinary experience as a photojournalist, photography editor, graphic designer, multimedia producer, and as a chief editor for other award-winning publications. She encourages a culture of collaboration and mutual respect to foster creativity and team unity.

Aaron KreaderC. Aaron Kreader (@akreader) is the master artist behind the dynamic range of engaging and imaginative characters for Brilliant Star Magazine and Brilliant Star Online (@BrilliantStar9), published by the Bahá’ís of the U.S. for an international audience of kids and youth. As a prolific designer/illustrator since 1999, Aaron infuses his art with freshness and humor. His background in game and comic creation enhances his ability to develop compelling puzzles, activities, and mazes. He creates cover art that attracts readers with rich visuals while encouraging thoughtful exploration of complex themes. He also expands Brilliant Star’s online content through inviting “How to Draw” videos.

Amy RenshawAmy Renshaw is the senior editor of Brilliant Star Magazine and Brilliant Star Online (@BrilliantStar9), guiding the editorial team in developing creative concepts and content for these publications of the Bahá’ís of the U.S. She joined the team in 2000 as a part-time editor, and by 2005 her enthusiasm for encouraging kids as world citizens inspired her to embrace a leadership role as senior editor. Since then, she’s been instrumental in innovating content and workflows for the magazine and website. With a focus on collaboration and consultation, she coaches staff, freelancers, contributors, and kid bloggers. A fan of sleuthing since discovering Nancy Drew books as a kid, Amy loves finding fascinating scientific facts related to kids’ interests and challenges.


Five (or More) Ways to Make One Sick Blog

How do you become the top blog on the biggest religious and spiritual website? Jessica Mesman Griffith has a few ideas. She is co-founder of one that rocketed to success in the last year. Doing everything counterintuitively, largely. You may be surprised about what she has to say. In January 2016 she launched Sick Pilgrim (@sickpilgrim) with another sympathetic author, Jonathan Ryan, and they were shocked to find so many others who felt just like they did. Together they found a way – almost by accident – to speak over all the noise that had made their peers check out from Catholic media. Participants will walk away with ideas about how to build a great blog and build a growing audience.

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Jessica Mesman GriffithJessica Mesman Griffith (@Mesman_Griffith) is a widely published writer whose work has been noted in Best American Essays. Her memoir, Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship in Letters, co-authored with Amy Andrews, won the 2014 Christopher Award for “literature that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” She is also the author of Sick Pilgrims: A Journey Into the Mystery of Faith (forthcoming, Loyola Press, 2017), Grace Filled Days (2016, Loyola Press), and a co-author of Daily Inspiration for Women (2014, Loyola Press). She’s currently at work on a second memoir of her Catholic girlhood in southern Louisiana, Eden Isles.

JJonathan RyanJonathan Ryan (@authorjryan) is an award-winning journalist, author, columnist, speaker and co-founder of Sick Pilgrim Media. The Library Journal called his debut paranormal thriller, 3 Gates of the Dead (Open Road Media), “a real attraction for fans of The Exorcist and the darker fiction of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.”

He co-founded Sick Pilgrim with Jessica Mesman Griffith as a way to explore the edge of faith, reason, and doubt. Along with the online community, they started the Wonder Podcast. Their book, Stranger Journeys: How Two Sick Pilgrims Stumbled Back into the Catholic Church will be published in Fall 2017 by Loyola Press.


News From the Frontlines: Defeating Anti-Muslim and Anti-Immigrant Movements

The treatment and situation of immigrants and Muslims are leading news issues these days. But what is actually happening in the efforts to continue being a welcoming and inclusive nation? And what are the real threats to security? Kalia Abiade has been a pivotal organizer in nonprofits and the funding world, supporting civil and human rights for Muslims and immigrants. She brings news from the grassroots about what is working and deserves more attention and is joined by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, an Associate with the Security and Rights Collaborative at ReThink Media.

Kalia AbiadeKalia Abiade (@kuhleeuh) works with the Pillars Fund at the Chicago Community Trust and is the former advocacy director at the Center for New Community (CNC) where she led work to equip and mobilize grassroots organizations and national coalitions to challenge racial discrimination in public discourse, practice, and policy.

Kalia brings to her work more than a decade of experience as a newspaper editor and reporter, and she taught high school students in Southwest Virginia with the Upward Bound/TRIO program.

Her analysis has been cited in The Washington Post, The Nation, The Associated Press, The Hill, and NPR, among other outlets. She currently serves as an adviser for the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.

Guthrie Graves-FitzsimmonsGuthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons (@GuthrieGF) is an Associate with the Security and Rights Collaborative at ReThink Media, where he works to broaden the movement of allies speaking out against anti-Muslim bigotry, including the religious, veteran, and business communities as well as local elected officials. Prior to joining ReThink, he worked at the National Immigration Forum from 2011 to 2015 to mobilize conservative and moderate faith, business, and law enforcement officials in support of comprehensive immigration reform.


Crisis Communications: Not “If,” But “When”

Every organization experiences crises. How serious they are, how much attention they get outside of your organization and how your agency’s leaders respond can determine the future well-being of your organization. Faith-based agencies are held to a higher standard and the spotlight is especially bright when a crisis happens in the religious realm. This presentation will provide you with the outline of a plan for your organization, prompt you to think about how to protect the future of your organization’s reputation and operations and include an interactive exercise to get you thinking about how to respond when, not if, a crisis happens.

PDFWorkshop presentation slides

PDFWorkshop handout

Katherine KerrKatherine Kerr, APR (@katherinekerr01) is a recovering journalist who covered numerous crises and disasters as a reporter for daily newspapers. As a reporter for 11 years, she covered the police and criminal court beats, as well as general assignments. Disasters/crises include the Challenger explosion, two Delta crashes, the kidnapping and murder of a UT student by narcosatanicos in Matamoros, Mexico, numerous floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, murders, suicides, car accidents. In the nonprofit sector, she has had to deal with client, volunteer and staff deaths and inappropriate behavior; layoffs, sales and shut downs of services, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires. So she has seen it and worked it from both sides and gets what works and what doesn’t.

She brings a practical and realistic approach to non-profit communications. She and her husband, Tim Kubatzky, founded Polaris Non-Profit Solutions, LLC, which offers communications, marketing, and fundraising consulting services to non-profits.


Communications Lessons Learned From Hosting the Pope in the U.S.

What is it like trying to be a communications handler for the world’s leading religious figure? How do you focus and where do you move in the midst of a media and communication storm? Who gets access and how? You might be surprised about what one learns in such an exciting trial by fire situation. Father Manuel Dorantes brings together some unique insights from his experience as liaison to the Spanish-speaking media during the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the U.S.

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Father Manuel DorantesFather Manuel Dorantes, S.T.L. (@tweetingpriest) served as the spokesperson for the Vatican to the Spanish-language media during the visit of Pope Francis to the United States.

Since 2014 he has worked as an assistant to the director of the Holy See Press Office as liaison to the Spanish-speaking media. He has been a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago since 2010.

Fr. Dorantes is a native of Mexico and immigrated to the United States when he was twelve.

Film and Discussion

Violence in Chicago: Responding with Faith

Violence in Chicago: Responding with Faith is an hour-long documentary produced by the Chicago Sunday Evening Club.

The documentary highlights the city-wide cost of violence for all the citizens of Chicago, explores the dynamic between acute and chronic violence, looks at ministries in the Chicago area that are working to increase economic opportunities, educational access, and empathy across dividing lines here in the city, and concludes with a call to action for congregations, offering concrete steps that faith communities can take.

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Katy ScroginDr. Katy Scrogin is the Vice President for Programming at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club. Having served as the senior producer of the podcast, Things Not Seen, and the creator of its Religion Moments series, Katy’s interest in media has also involved work with The Peoples Channel in Chapel Hill, NC and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (now Learning Ally) in Austin, TX. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Taylor Gould and Katy Scrogin with CSEC and guests: Ernest Coverson works at Amnesty International (Chicago), who just put together a report on Violence in Chicago. Danielle Buhuro is an activist, a CPE supervisor and chaplain, a pastor, a professor, and an author is rooted both in Chicago and womanist liberation.

Film and Discussion


Newtown was filmed over the course of nearly three years. The filmmakers use unique access and never before heard testimonies to tell a story of the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history on December 14, 2012. Newtown documents a traumatized community fractured by grief and driven toward a sense of purpose. It’s an intimate story of community resilience.

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Nick StuartNick Stuart, executive producer of Newtown, is an independent television producer and journalist who has made award-winning programming on both sides of the Atlantic and is a former BAFTA judge. He has made programming for BBC, ITV, Discovery, National Geographic and Al Jazeera English. He was EP on “Serving Life” with Forest Whitaker that won the Cine Golden Eagle Judge’s award. He is president of Transform Films, Inc. and CEO of Odyssey Networks.

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