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WFN and NCC lose church communication pioneer 

New York City, August 10, 2006 – Michael de Beer was not too young to be a pioneer in digital church communication.  He was too young to die.  At age 33 Michael passed away from an apparent heart attack last week.  His funeral is tomorrow at the Episcopal Church of Our Redeemer, Lexington, Mass., where his mother, the Rev. Tricia de Beer, is rector.   

In his early twenties Michael helped design Worldwide Faith News, part of the communications ministry of the National Council of Churches USA.  He continued his work with WFN [www.wfn.org] as technical consultant making regular improvements in one of the most visited religious sites on the worldwide Web.  Religious groups from around the globe post news releases in several languages on the site. 

“When we were beginning Worldwide Faith News in 1995,” recalled George Conklin, WFN project manager,” Odessa Elliott of the Trinity Grants Program and I searched high and low for an organization with the technical smarts to realize our dream.  We found the Institute for Global Communication (IGC) in San Francisco.  Michael joined IGC shortly after we selected them to be our original WFN host.  Michael was among those responsible for the core design of WFN.”   

Michael was active in the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), a pioneer organization in helping global nongovernmental organizations connect even before there was the Internet as we know it, Conklin said. 

At the time of his death he was collaborating with his father, the Rev. John de Beer, on a new adult curriculum [www.connect-course.org] for unchurched seekers.  The Rev. de Beer had experience with adult Christian education.  He was one of the developers of Education for Ministry (EFM), a national program of the University of the South, School of Theology.  Michael had even taken the EFM course at Grace Cathedral when he was living in San Francisco. 

Michael also became active in faith-based community organizing.  The family’s suggestion of donations reflected his new interest.  Instead of flowers, contributions were recommended to RISC, Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities [400 West 32nd St, Richmond, VA 23225].  He graduated from Amherst College in 1996 and lived in San Francisco, Toledo, Ohio and most recently Richmond, Va.  He had traveled and worked with non-profits all over the world.

Michael’s passion for social justice stemmed from his family’s experience of living in apartheid South Africa.  He posted this reflection on the site of the Direct Action and Research Training Institute alumni: “I get very angry at systems of racism, sexism, and vilification of the poor. This comes out of my growing up in a family that worked against apartheid; my uncles were either imprisoned or expelled from South Africa, and my parents left before such could befall them and their children. I can see my values and anger in the choices I have made in my life – what I have done, what I have not done. They are how I chose my college major, why I travel and work in ‘dangerous’ places, why I devote many hours each week to political action and service, and my very identity as a person who is about working for social justice.” 

Some of his friends are finding comfort in a poem he sent four years ago to the APC upon learning of the departure of a colleague. 

Coming together for a while
we walk, laughing and talking.
We are making a project, an exciting story.
As stories do, it changes us.
As people do, we connect, attach. 

Time comes to split.
We resist! Worry, Sadness.
Imagining a future with a scary void. 

But, the time has come.
We part.
All go onward, trailing a joined past.
We part, sad and enriched. 

Michael de Beer died last Sunday (August 6) while on a camping trip in New Hampshire with his girlfriend and her family.  He was an active outdoor enthusiast, enjoying running, kayaking and aikido.  Besides his parents, he is survived by a brother, Christopher, a sister-in-law Jen and a niece, Sadie.  The funeral is scheduled for 11amEDT Friday (Aug. 11) at Church of Our Redeemer, 6 Meriam St., Lexington, Mass., 02420.


Contact NCC News: Rev. Daniel Webster, 212-870-2252.

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