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Adventist Communicators “Build Bridges” at Annual Convention

Event highlights opportunities and challenges for church communicators.

Although a cool fall rain streamed outside for most of the event, spirits were bright, minds were eager, and conversations were lively at the 2017 Society of Adventist Communicators (SAC) convention held in Portland, Oregon, United States, on Oct. 19-21. A blend of more than 250 professionals and students, mostly from North America, attended communication workshops, expert panel discussions, area media tours, special worship services, and an Adventist film screening — all geared toward “Building Bridges” of communication with other Adventists and within the community.

“What I enjoy most about SAC are the opportunities it provides students and the variety of sessions and talks offered,” said Danica Eylenstein, a senior communication major with an emphasis in emerging media and a minor in English at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Golden Cords editor-in-chief and The Clocktower news editor. “The convention provides a learning opportunity outside of the typical classroom environment and offers a great time for networking.”

Eylenstein, who attended last year’s convention, also appreciated the Friday breakout session by keynote speaker Kem Meyer and the Sabbath morning sermon from Terry Johnsson. “Both talks were encouraging, informative, and relevant while maintaining the audience's full attention,” Eylenstein said.

“My favorite part of SAC is the people,” said SAC president Tamara Fisher, communication director for the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. “Social Media is great for keeping in touch, yet nothing beats sitting around a table and talking, looking people in the eye, and connecting over work and the Adventist faith.”

During the Sabbath morning worship service, 919 new pairs of socks were collected for Portland’s homeless as attendees filled red shopping bags and 12 baskets with their donations. In this drive, coordinated by Adventist Health, the donated socks were handed off to a representative in attendance from Portland Rescue Mission.

“So often church groups arrive in a city for a convention — we gain knowledge and insight, and then we leave without impacting the local community in a positive way,” said Dan Weber, director of Communication for the North American Division and executive director of SAC. “We are so glad for the opportunity to partner with a local organization that is providing for the underserved population of Portland.”

  • Greg Dunn, principal at Staying Power PR; Heidi Baumgartner, Washington Conference Communication director; and Celeste Ryan Blyden, vice president for Strategic Communication and Public Relations for the Columbia Union Conference, engage in the crisis communication panel discussion on Oct. 20. [Photo: Pieter Damsteegt]

  • Daniel R. Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America (NAD), answers questions from the SAC audience on Oct. 20. [Photo: Pieter Damsteegt]

  • 2017 SAC board members, Tamara Fisher, Georgia-Cumberland Conference Communication director; Brent Hardinge, General Conference Communication assistant director; and Rebecca Carpenter, Carolina Conference Communication director, serve ice cream to attendees during a workshop break on Oct. 20. [Photo: Pieter Damsteegt]

  • A total of 919 pairs of socks were collected during the 2017 SAC convention. The socks were donated to the Portland Rescue Mission. [Photo: Pieter Damsteegt]

Another highlight of the event included a panel discussion on crisis communication. The dialogue centered around the convention theme, “Building Bridges,” and addressed how several Adventist communicators have handled crises that have impacted our organizations — schools, conferences, hospitals, and local churches. The discussion provided practical tips on how to navigate the unthinkable. Case studies included how communicators dealt with institutional closings, media inquiries, and tragedy.

“When a crisis occurs, administrators should be able to look to the communicators on their team to help the organization address the situation,” said panelist Celeste Ryan Blyden, vice president for Strategic Communication and Public Relations for the Columbia Union Conference. Blyden, who is also the author of Crisis Boot Camp, emphasized the importance of knowing how to respond, what questions to ask, and what steps to take. “Our goal is to help our organizations respond empathically and effectively.”

The three-day event culminated with an awards banquet where almost 90 certificates were distributed to both professionals and students for communication projects in several disciplines: written word/print media; spoken word (radio/podcast); video (broadcast and web); design; and campaign (advertising and promotions). The Voice of Prophecy’s Discovery Mountain radio series with promotional materials garnered the Award of Excellence; “My Story” Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church’s young adult testimonial videos, filmed in Takoma Park, Maryland, received the Reger Smith Cutting Edge Award. These award recipients were chosen from the best in class from each category.

“There were so many great projects submitted this year,” said Fisher. “I’m excited for the future of Adventist communication on all our media platforms!”

Fisher, who completed her term as president at the conclusion of this year’s convention, is ready to welcome new board members. “My dad always told me to be the best you could be, whatever you are doing. He also said that you are replaceable. I know the new board is made up of fantastic people who will lead SAC to a bright future.”

SAC’s new president is Libna Stevens, assistant director of Communication for the Inter-American Division with headquarters in Miami, Florida. Next year’s event will be held on Oct. 18-20 at the new North American Division church region headquarters in Columbia, Maryland.


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