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New media will change the church profoundly,
Union Seminary president tells communicators

New York, October 2, 2009 -- Emerging media will have a dramatic and disorienting effect on the church every bit as profound as the impact of the printing press in the 15th century, the President of Union Theological Seminary told the National Council of Churches Communications Commission this week.

When Johannes Gutenberg's movable type press mass-produced the Bible, "what changed was not just the medium but the understanding of what was a human being began to shift," said the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones on the opening day of the Communication Commission's meeting in New York September 28-30.

The Commission is composed of media and communications staff of NCC member communions and other partners. The Rev. Jerry Van Marter, director of news for the Presbyterian Church (USA) is chair of the commission. Wesley M. "Pat" Pattillo is NCC Senior Program Director for Communication and Justice & Advocacy.

"The space between reader and (biblical) text began to collapse," Jones said. "People could sit at home and read and ponder" without waiting for an interpretation from a priest or bishop. "There was a new focus on our conscience and our interaction with the bible. A new set of thought wires began to develop."

As people read for the first time about Jesus as a historical figure, the concept of a personal Jesus was born. Throughout medieval Europe, the church's foundations were shaken by change and reformation.

Citing modern media such as the Internet, social networking and computer-generated virtual realities, Jones said another revolution is under way in the church and in society.

"We're living in a similar moment with respect to the changes that are taking place," she said. "New kinds of selves are being created -- new synapses are emerging in our brains. New communities are being formed ... The Internet is quickly replacing the communities we used to call churches."

People who are seeking to connect "with a source of truth that they recognize as authentic -- a desire for a connection that can be emotionally felt" are turning increasingly to media, she said.

A physical and emotional connection with what people regard as truth is often gained through aesthetic forms such as music, drama and art, "not in the world of doctrine."

Today people of faith "live in a world of overwhelming transitions, and the result is fear and exhaustion," she said. The feeling of disorientation is not unlike the experience of the Apostle Peter when he was chained in prison and devoid of hope (Acts 12:6-11), she suggested. "Two angels came and told Peter to put on his clothes, the chains fall, the doors open and he finds himself on the street," she recounted the story. "He thought it was a dream -- but it was a dawning reality."

"That's what transition does," she concluded. "It throws us into disorientation. What we have to do is trust that the God we believe in surrounds us with angels who will guide us -- and as we awake on the other side, life will be good beyond imagining. What a perfect faith that is."

People's Production House

Also addressing the opening session of the Communication Commission was Deepa Fernandes, executive director of People's Production House.

Fernandes pressed the need for media justice.

"We will never truly have democracy if poor communities do not own the means of (media) production," she said. "We come from communities that are not represented well in the media. How do we keep our stories front and center?"

People's Production House believes that "a diverse, ethical, and independent media is an essential element of social change and we believe that historically excluded communities must be protagonists in media democracy. Our work combines media creation, media policy education and media organizing to preserve and expand the free press so central to America's identity and democracy. "

People's Production House is run and staffed by journalists and community organizers from historically excluded communities.

Media Encounters

Meeting in the world's premier media market in New York was an opportunity for the communicators to engage colleagues in a myriad of media projects, including religious television programming and news writing.

In between business sessions and committee meetings, the Commissioners jumped on buses, subways and taxis to meet with the following New York media personalities:

Jack Blessington, chief of the religion and culture unit of CBS and a partner with the National Council of Churches Communication Commission through Interfaith Broadcast Commission (IBC) documentaries, was a gracious and genial host. Blessington organized a tour of the CBS newsroom and CBS National Correspondent and 60-Minutes reporter Byron Pitts -- a devout Baptist -- met with the Commission. (Pictures and story)

Dr. William F. Baker, widely respected as an "icon of public television," and David Brancaccio, host of PBS' NOW program, met with the National Council of Churches Communication Commission Monday afternoon, September 28. (Pictures and story)

Laurie Goodstein, National Religion Correspondent at the New York Times, welcomed members of the National Council of Churches Communication Commission to the Times Tuesday, September 29, and joined the commissioners in a friendly dialogue about the nature of religion news.  Rich Meislin, Technology Editor of the Times and the primary creator of the paper's Web page, traced the history of the paper's presence on the Web since 1991. Today, 57 percent of the Times' followers engage the paper both online and on paper. (Pictures and story)

Rachel Zoll, national religion correspondent for the Associated Press, welcomed members of the National Council of Churches Communication Commission to the eighth building the news service has occupied since 1849. The AP's new location at 450 W. 33rd Street in Manhattan, also the home of U.S. News & World Report and PBS' Channel 13 among others, is a New York city block filled with the most up-to-date technology to cover breaking news in print, radio, television and on the Internet. (Pictures and story)

After their adjournment Wednesday afternoon, September 30, most commissioners attended the 27th annual Parker Lecture at Riverside Church. The lecture, delivered this year by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, is named in honor of the Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication and a stalwart activist for media accuracy, availability and justice. (Pictures)


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 914-589-6948 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org

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