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Comms & Ackrills

Rev Paul Hooper, CT President for 2003, welcomed all to the Annual Assembly, hosted very kindly by Bob Heathcote and the good people of West Park URC, on 12 November 2003. The evening was led by Rev John Carter on the subject of "Communication - the way forward"; our deep apologies to all who found the doors locked.

By way of introduction it was pointed out how we are always communicating something in what we say, do, through noticeboards - even by tidy verges and gardens around our churches and premises. There are various ways of putting the church on the map, though, with various different approaches. There may be ways to refine and improve how we get the message across, especially when we examine the relationship between the church and society today.

The Assembly had opportunity to work through a church communications audit, including the impact and effectiveness of church websites, publicity, posters and even parish magazines. Small groups firstly determined what the church is trying to communicate - be it simply the gospel message or more: answers included:
You're welcome to join us seeking God
The love of God transmitted through our community
Jesus is Lord
God's love in action
Jesus Christ lives and is available today
God's love through this church community, connecting with people and discovering meaning. God isn't as bad as the coffee or as uncomfortable as the pews.
God's love is real and he loves you - come and meet us to find out more

The evening progressed to see how the Press and Media helped (and possibly hindered) the way the message is put across. To help churches get the points over clearly, Jean McQuarrie (Harrogate Advertiser) described what the church should be doing and saying - a most helpful guide to getting the message across. She outlined the key points of a press release:
ut the key point at the start of your article, don't leave out the royal visitor until the end.
Beard shaving for charity is a good picture, too! (don't everyone do it at the same time!!).
Include the what, when, where and points of interest such as the guest speaker (esp if they are in the news) or the very special extra point to catch the journalists eye.

She encouraged us to include contact numbers. 'Give around four weeks warning - and a follow up two weeks later. Develop rapport with a News Editor or local correspondent. Include pictures which excite the reader - but avoid the firing squad pic!' It is worth emailing good quality pictures - as a jpg. It is worth inviting the paper to take a pic of the fund raising event, but consider also the limited resources they have - covering sports events and so on on Saturdays. Don't spend a lot of timeproducing a press release - it is possible it will be edited by the newspaper. And do use your local newspaper - more than the national press.

News sense: with TV, Radio and the Press - avoid wasting your own time but put together a story which is newsworthy from everyone else's point of view. Something unusual, out of the ordinary, something people are talking about. Be ready for the reporter's question "Anything else happen this week?". Beware, though: TV is often considered to be a medium to take care with - especially to avoid controversy. And remember that August and Christmas are usually low months for news -- ideal for anyone to get a message across.

What works: the reminder that 'actions speak louder than words' helped illustrate what works best when trying to communicate. Such things include community events, stories of real life which excite the readership and remembering to provide a text that elicits visual images in the reader.

The evening was cheered by Phil Willis' arrival after an eventful day in the House of Commons and elsewhere. He was especially glad to be here because he wanted to heartily endorse the whole idea of getting folk together to discuss how we get into our local communities. As an evangelical Christian he knows that there's no point in keeping the message to yourself.

The flower show or bazaar is good - but our MP would far prefer to hear HOW the church is getting involved. Today's news of the political/religious affairs in the Middle East are examples of how the church should speak up. The whole security of our people is tied up with these conflicts and never has the world been more threatened than today. The church has to help people understand what's going on, even if we're all coming from different angles.

Three key issues in this area: most significant is the antisocial behaviour of our children; we must address that. The elderly have great concerns; thirdly - young families. Some churches have lots of young families - but they are a small part of the world out there - and we need to help and support them - indeed all three groups. Phil Willis asked and urged us, the Church in Harrogate, to treat everyone as human beings and concentrate on these areas over the coming year.

Further group work followed a busy refreshment break - displays from CT Area and Youth groups and schools. A further exercise "Making the news" followed, looking at events we could promote in our locality. John Carter suggested that the way to write it:
The Who, What, Where, When and Why of a News release. Write a sentence on each "W".
How - explanation
Amplify with quotes and illustrations
Tie up loose ends

The delegates noted the main issues and points and put together a press release, which was followed up with feedback and comments from Jean McQuarrie. Group headlines included:
There is such a thing as a Free Lunch - on Christmas Day at Wesley!
Anti-social behaviour gets community talking. Where else would you get everyone talking in Starbeck?
Slave auction at Knaresborough: Gracious Street youngsters offering services to highest bidder to support friends in Zimbabwe…
Drop a brick - 200th anniversary of Bible Society. Buy a brick from your local church to build a new hospice. (2004 is 200th anniversary of Bible Soc. St Luke and hospice link - may need explanation)
Vicar's trial: Trail blazing vicar and son trot on their bikes up the Pennines
Donkey meets crocodile through Pannal. Walking bus will be headed by Banjo the donkey. (Apologies from the Hon Sec for the typos on the night!)
Get out of Hell free!
Holy Family on tour - in Harrogate!
Best china out for deceased 98 year old cycling bag lady

Jean McQuarrie's final encouragements included: "Please make the most of the column inches. And avoid photographer calls for Football and other sports days. Or other very busy news times".

The meeting finished with a rapid look at other forms of communication, including the internet, publications and printed material. No time to work on how a team approach can provide synergistic results, but the evening concluded with examples from the Christmas Advertising Campaign - expected to be broadcast on Stray FM during December. Further contributions to the Christian message broadcast still welcome - more money provides more air time.

Last words: Make sure community events and other exciting, interesting ideas are included on the church council agenda - be part of the community. Let the light shine! Matthew 5, 14-16.

There is opportunity to take this and other issues further - let us know how Churches Together can help your congregation.

Words for hymn sung at opening of the Annual Assembly. Source for verses 2, 3 & 4 unknown, understood to have been passed on by Cloud.

Abba, Father, let me be yours and yours alone;
May my will for ever be evermore your own;
Never let my heart grow cold, never let me go;
Abba, Father, let me be yours and yours alone

2 Abba, Father, when I look up into your face
May you see within my smile gratitude for grace;
Never let my heart forget all your mending care;
You have drawn me in your love to your holy place

3 Abba, Father, your embrace is security;
May I keep your family name high in purity;
Spirit of adoption come: cry within my soul;
Abba, Father, I'm your child for eternity

4 Abba, Father, we are yours, help us to be one,
One in body, spirit, mind, one in love for you;
Never let my patience fail, keep me strong and true;
Abba, Father, we are yours, help us to be one

Bb © Dave Bilbrough (verse 1) 1977 Thankyou Music; verses 2 - 4 possibly from Cloud.