There is a rare electricity within a room of like-minded individuals. With the common goal of uplifting the gospel through communication, professionals and college/university students in the field were able to meet, network, learn, and worship on October 13-15, 2022.
At its inception in 1988, the Southern Society of Adventist Communicators founders could not have predicted that 11 years later it would become the Society of Adventist Communicators (SAC), let alone that 23 years, one pandemic, and countless social media platforms later, it would be the heartbeat of digital evangelism.
For three days, nearly 210 believers of all ages and demographics congregated at the North American Division Offices in Columbia, Maryland, to attend the convention in person, with even more participating online through a virtual content pass.
“After holding our convention online in a modified format for the past two years, it was exciting to be back in person,” said Kimberly Luste Maran, Adventist Journey editor, a NAD communication associate director, and SAC interim executive director. “We weren’t sure how many people would be able to attend and were encouraged to watch our registration numbers reach and then exceed our cap. It was such a blessing to see gathered this year for SAC!”
Bryant Taylor, SAC president and incoming communication director for the Southern Union Conference, opened the convention with a welcome. After speaker introductions Brandi West, vice president for AdventHealth Consumer Innovation, and Carolina Anthony, executive director for Digital Brand and Content Strategy for Advent, presented a session on reputation management, tying in brand reputation and its impact. They began by reminding attendees that “We have to be where our consumers are … rather than inviting them into our space.” After the presentation, Q&A was hosted by Garrett Caldwell, executive director of External Communications for Advent Health.
During the next session, coordinated by Celeste Ryan Blyden, executive secretary of Columbia Union Conference, and former Visitor magazine editor, communication director, and vice president of the union, sage communicators and bold innovators shared their thoughts on the history, the present, and the future of Adventist communication. Some of the guest panelists included Orlan Johnson, Melissa Reid, Rebecca Carpenter, Kaspar Haughton, Richard Castillo, Hugh Davis, and Michael Campbell.
"We are just one mark within the proud lineage of Adventist communicators. Indeed, from our inception, we found it our responsibility as believers to be vocal for change and progress," said Campbell, director of North American Divisions Archives, Statistics, and Research. He confirmed our origins with the Abolitionist movement spurring Adventist development. Attendees were encouraged to recall that “Our brand as Adventists was forged through social reform,” acting as the catalyst and the foundation upon which the Adventist brand gained its strength.
The development of this brand has always been founded on showing Christ. The series of panels allowed 11 different professional communicators on stage to discuss topics from “The Role of Communication in Telling Our Story” to “The Role of Communication Today: Challenges and Opportunities” to “The Role of Adventism in Public Affairs and Social Justice” and “The Role of Adventism in the Post-Pandemic Era of Social Communication.” Within all the discussions, led by Blyden, there was a universal dedication to breaking out of our sphere and being active disciples in the world, entering new spheres of communication as the modern mission field. Carmela Monk Crawford, editor of Message magazine, summarized it best: “[Adventists] should be a loud voice in the conversation, because all we are doing is shaped by the gospel.”
This importance of the conference cannot be overstated for its prioritization of content tailored to church communicators, however, this year was doubly special due to it being the first in-person conference since 2019. The pandemic, though disruptive, was an opportunity for communicators to do what they do best: explore new ways to create connections. More than 50 percent of constituents shared that they were attending SAC for the first time. Blyden spoke about how every convention is built around asking, “How do we shape and share the Adventist message?”
TechTalk, Keynotes, and Workshops
On Friday, attendees poured in for the 8 a.m. TechTalk hosted by Bryant Taylor and Courtney Herod. The early hour did nothing to quell the excitement nor attendance of the session with the room filled to bursting with communicators ready to get a first look at technology that can be applied to their ministries.
TechTalk has long been a favorite amongst regular attendees due to communication tech such as the Elgato box, Mevo multi-cam, insta 360 link, and several more items being debuted and yes, even given away.
The morning keynote speaker, a pastor and communications consultant Pierre Quinn gave an engaging and profound presentation on unlocking the potential of our unique abilities to acknowledge every aspect of communication. The impact of bringing every step of our movements to God was discussed in full. “We are conditioning ourselves to believe there is more power in petition than in praise,” Quinn said. His message concluded by detailing the questions we must ask ourselves as we embark on the ministry of communication.
A series of workshops was next. In total there were 12 sessions offered, each exploring the personal, professional, and spiritual aspects of communication.
Greg Dunn, a longtime public relations and crisis communication specialist, hosted a workshop on “How to Handle Media During Crisis.” Professional designer Kelly Coe, Columbia Union Conference communication director, offered expertise on “Art Theory: Fonts, Design, Trends, and More,” diving into the nitty-gritty of the contracting for each medium from photography, graphic designers, artists, and more.
Content creators and hosts of Adventist Learning Community's hit podcast How The Church Works, Heather Moor, Kaleb Eisele, and Nina Vallado paired with pastor Anslem Paul to answer Caldwell’s panel questions on “Podcasting: Why and How.” They explored how the podcasting medium allows for deeper conversations that are opened up to the public.
Tanya R. Cochran, professor of English and communication at Union College, discussed “Mindful Self Compassion,” clarifying that “Compassion isn’t self-pity or self-indulgence, it’s an observation of reality and support.” One attendee praised the workshop for providing visibility to the topic, saying, “In Christian spheres, self-compassion isn’t supported, but it’s such an important pillar to Christianity.”
With the morning workshops concluded, conference members gathered for lunch and a brief business meeting informing constituents about the current and new board members. The most notable transition was Taylor passing the mantle to new president Brenda Dickerson, Mid-America Union Conference communication director.
After lunch, workshops resumed. Pastor and content creator Kevin Wilson, affectionately known online as “The Chai Guy,” led a session on “The Role of the Christian Influencer.” Occupying social media as a Christian comes with great responsibility, calling us to understand that “they may not accept your theology, but they will stay for your integrity.”
Professional freelancer Becky St. Clair shared her expertise in her workshop “Written Word: Freelancing Bootcamp”, parsing out the details of being a freelancer, and sharing guidance on navigating the profession. In the end, she implored freelancers to “know their worth and lean into your skillset.”
Program Analyst and Government Contractor Stacia Dulan Wright spoke on “The Pivot: A Post-Pandemic Communications, Marketing, and Events Survival Guide.” This session allowed the crowd to share how they adapted their personal and public ministries during the pandemic.
The numerous students present at the conference were given attention at a panel on “Tips for Student Job Searchers: Wardrobe, Resume, Interviews and more,” with the discussion, facilitated by Victoria Joyner, professor at Southern Adventist University and longtime radio host, led by Brittney Winkfield, Kevin Krueger, and Gina S. Brown.
Those eager to learn how to have a healthy work/life balance attended licensed counselor Kim Machado’s workshop “Balancing Act: Navigating Stress in the Home, Church, & Career.” Finally, Derek Lane, pastor, Oregon Conference Outreach Ministries director, and owner of Lane Consulting Group, offered guidance in his presentation “Fundraising for Ministry: Beyond the Pews.”
With the day's workshops concluded, constituents enjoyed dinner and fellowship. Resuming in-person conferences meant that those attending got to the heart of the event: connecting with like-minded professionals, and networking with students and pros.
Maran commented, “We tried to balance presentations with time for people to connect — there was a human need for our communicators to connect and just talk. Having the students there with the pros just added to those precious moments.”
Students from many NAD colleges and universities were welcomed by offers for internships, job opportunities, and professional guidance. Miranda Delgado, a senior at Southern Adventist University (SAU) commented “It's encouraging to see all of the progress that’s being made. We’re able to move forward and see all of the new things to expand.”
Another senior from SAU, Stefanie Green, praised the opportunity to meet people in your field “I’m here to meet people you know about communications and network with professionals who can provide guidance.” SAC practiced what they preached about digital evangelism by offering an app where attendees could see the schedule, post discussions on workshops, and share social media insights regarding the event under #SACNAD22.
The Gospel Through Communication
Sabbath was welcomed by a Friday vespers service. Vocalist Tony Douce serenaded constituents before NAD president G. Alexander Bryant opened the Sabbath with his message “Tell the Story.” Mark 5:18-20 was the central focus of the sermon with Bryant explaining how everyone is a minister of the gospel. He shared, “The power of God can transform lives from the very worst human condition.”
Sabbath School began the next morning with video features of extraordinary individuals working for God’s ministry. Nicole and Victor Broushet, founders of The Vegan Nest restaurants, and Monterey Bay Academy history teacher Timothy Zytkoskee were highlighted in Adventist Journey magazine videos. The Beltsville D.C. Campus Seventh-day Adventist Church was given the platform with their worship team leading praise and their pastor, Joanne Cortes, also an SAC board member, exploring the story of Mark 6:31-44 and John 6:7-9, remembering to prioritize people and the younger generations. Cortes addressed how “sometimes we overlook people because they don’t fit our criteria.” She told congregants that “we must never miss out on our calling due to external speculation.”
On Saturday evening, constituents returned to a decorated auditorium and plated meal. Musician Felipe Paccagnella played music during dinner, then the program transitioned to a Sonscreen Film Festival showcase, which some attendees described as a delightful conclusion to the convention. Maran and Rachel Scribner, festival program director and event manager, and SAC convention manager, shared feature films from this year and previous years’ festivals, including three student films: Spark, Knock Knock, and Hamilton. In addition, trailers of past, present, and future projects were also featured.
The evening culminated with the presentation of SAC awards. Megan Yoshioka won the SAC Student Award, Makena Horton received the SAC Young Professional Award, and finally, there were two recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Rajmund Dabrowski and R. Steven Norman III. A final award, the SAC Leadership Award, was presented to Daniel Weber, former SAC executive director and NAD communication director, for his servant leadership, hard work, and mentorship throughout the years.
The weekend contained a level of dedication and focus that transcended the event, allowing for infectious enthusiasm and unified worship. Having spaces that encourage the growth and development of the gospel through communication allows older generations to share their expertise and encourages younger communicators that there is a space for them to thrive. Events such as this are the starting point for deeper connections, passing the mantle to continue the call of ministry.
— Nicole Dominguez is a freelance writer from Chicago, Illinois.