Resourcing churches in advocacy and justice communications
By The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt
While Cathedral Resource Church project plans were inevitably disrupted or necessarily shifted online due to COVID-19 last year, the St John’s Cathedral team was working somewhat quietly behind the scenes in the resourcing space. The fruits of these efforts have started emerging.
This resourcing work includes the recently launched Adapting Ministry in Complex Times initiative, coordinated by Resource Church specialist The Rev’d Daniel Hobbs. We have also continued supporting churches with developing collaborative maturity and collaborative leadership, alongside the Justice Unit, including providing access to licensed resources created by Christian organisational psychologist Dr Neil Preston.
The Cathedral has also been working with Peter Branjerdporn from the Justice Unit and Resource Church specialist Michelle McDonald to help resource parish clergy and advocates in justice and advocacy communications. It is hoped that the key principles framework, and related resources, that we have created will help improve the effectiveness of parish clergy in their:
- small group facilitation
- Bible study preparation
- opinion piece, feature and press release writing
- community forum and workshop presenting
- media liaison
- political lobbying
- homily and public lecture address crafting.
For example, since August last year, Peter, Michelle and I, in consultation with other staff and clergy across our Diocese, have been developing an alternative way to engage people in climate and creation care communications. The resource we have spent over six months developing breaks new ground in the national climate and creation care space.
The alternative way, outlined in the resource, centres around:
- shared values
- positive and constructive framing
- tangible terminology (rather than scientific or legal jargon and abstract terms)
- human agency
- greater understanding of, and sensitivity to, local contexts
- the interconnectedness of all life
- theology grounded in scripture and Christian mission and identity.
Similar principles are becoming increasingly used in advocacy communications across different sectors, as they seek to engage rather than proselytise; foster hope rather than panic; connect rather than teach dry facts; and, tailor what is shared for a local context rather than risk alienating people with messages that they may view as irrelevant.
As Christians, it is important that we are able to effectively engage other Christians, and as such, the framework we have developed emphasises our Christian identity and stewardship, particularly our belief that all of God’s creation is interconnected and that there is a special position of the human being within the created order given by God for the good of all creation.
We will be running a three-hour ‘Reframing climate and creation care communications for Christians’ online workshop on Friday 18 June. The workshop has been designed for parish clergy and volunteers and will particularly explore the key principles resource we have developed to assist church leaders in the framing of their written and verbal communications. We recently co-hosted a similar online workshop with the National Council of Churches in Australia for clergy, advocates and communications staff across different Australian denominations, and it was well received.
Peter, Michelle and I have also been exploring how we can adapt narrative and storytelling across advocacy communications more generally – both written and verbal. We will be running a follow-up workshop for parish clergy and volunteers on the use of storytelling, including an easy-to-remember and effective four-part narrative framework that helps communicators structure their writing, conversations and presentations.
Narrative is a particularly helpful tool in advocacy communications because it helps foster meaningful engagement and open dialogue, even between people who hold opposing views. Jesus was a master storyteller and we see in the Gospels how he frequently used narrative to connect, particularly in the use of parables.
Such is the significance and effectiveness of storytelling historically across cultures, some scholars, including John Niles and Kurt Ranke, aptly suggest that we should be called ‘Homo Narrans’ (‘story telling humans’) rather than ‘Homo Sapiens’ (‘wise humans’). I think this is probably a good idea.
The free online ‘Reframing climate and creation care communications for Christians’ workshop will be held on Friday 18 June between 9 am and 12 noon. Register online by 5 pm Tuesday 15 June. To find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published on the anglican focus news site on 27 April 2021.