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This space inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis will house the 2019 General Conference Special Session.

Photo by Andrew Jensen

This space inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis will house the 2019 General Conference Special Session.

Special Session 2019: Q&A with Dan Krause

 

The following is a Q&A session with Dan Krause, general secretary of United Methodist Communications, about the General Conference Special Session 2019:

How is United Methodist Communications preparing to support the communication needs of the event itself?

First is our own internal preparation: who needs to be there, what will be covered, all the details and logistics for our staff. Our presence will be reduced from a normal General Conference as it’s only four days and it’s also a time to show some fiscal restraint, so we don’t want to show up with more people than necessary.

We’re doing our normal things, the newsroom, public relations coverage, working with media credentialing, figuring out networking needs and doing production. What we won’t have is a booth or marketing areas where we are promoting our work or interacting with delegates.

Given that the called special session doesn’t have a significant budget to go along with it, we’ve been asked if we can contribute to the costs of the special session. The total cost is about $3.7 million and we were asked to contribute $450,000 toward that – and our board has elected to do so. That will go toward a lot of communication costs such as networking, website distribution of the Daily Christian Advocate, and the General Conference website – things that are traditionally covered out of the General Conference and other church budgets. It was a chance for us to use our reserves to help the denomination, while also recognizing a broader communication role. In addition, before we were asked to contribute financially, we recognized that this is a monumental event for the church in its history, and we needed to produce it -- so we had already agreed to do production for the 2019 session fully at our own cost.

Will using the reserves have an impact on UMCom’s other work?

No, our board had designated some reserves to use toward General Conference and this is an opportunity to do that. Part of the reason we have always talked about financial stewardship was so we could fund any big initiatives that may come in the future, and this is one that we felt was important in the history of the church.

In the lead-up to the event, what are our communication objectives?

Really, we are focused on two things.

One is making sure we prepare people so there is awareness that the called session is going to happen and an understanding of what that means and what the impact will be and we are doing that through all our channels. Members who don’t know about General Conference and the impact that it could have on their local church; what it means for our leaders and sharing a full understanding of the various plans and what they mean; and news coverage across all the various mediums. So, sharing facts and information to help people process what’s happening on the road to February.

The second goal is how do find the voice of hope and recognize all the great things going on in the church? We are working on a messaging plan for the church that transcends fear and division within the church itself, which is challenging in the environment we are in where the church is very politicized.

The Communications and Marketing Teams are working on an internal campaign that will launch later this summer that will run through February to highlight world-changing ministry that our local churches are doing and to share those good positive stories. The overall message is that regardless of what happens at General Conference, there will still be a place for the church to continue to make disciples and transform communities.

How might UMCom be affected by the possible outcomes of the session moving forward?

We’re not sure what will happen and we’re being open to the movement of the Spirit to lead the church to new directions.

The “One Church Plan” would not have much impact on our work, as it maintains the church as it is in terms of general church structure. We’re waiting to find out what other legislation people may file; after that it may become clearer what the options are in term of legislation. We’ll be talking to the board about that in our fall meeting and with the executive committee in August.

What I can say is that, no matter what, communication will play a big part in the future of the church. Communications is key to the church and always will be. No matter what the future structure looks like, I’m confident there will be a need for communication just as there has been when the church started more than 2,000 years ago. One of the first things we know about the church is communication from the letters of Paul.

What is the role of communication in a time of uncertainty such as this?

I think it helps people understand the bigger picture of what’s going on and communicate what this event means and put it in a larger context. With social media people get trapped in their own echo chamber of hearing similar thoughts. What communication does in a time of disagreement is to allow people to see alternative perspectives besides those of their own peer networks and understand if we’re going to live into the theological and social diversity of The United Methodist Church and some of what’s behind the current disagreements, we need to understand what’s driving people’s perceptions of what it means to be the church and what it means to be Christian.

What else would you like to share?

The General Conference doesn’t have to be something that people are approaching with angst if we look at it as a time when the Spirit of God could be leading the UMC to a future for better witness and ministry and new opportunities -- just as 50 years ago we were led to be the church we are today.

 

Diane Degnan, director of Public Relations at United Methodist Communications, conducted the interview with Dan Krause.