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Communication not an option, Methodist leaders told

Communication head of British Methodist Church conducts ‘How To Connect’ seminars

 Pastors, lay leaders, editors and writers attend three different workshops

“WE ARE communicating all the time,” the head of the British Methodist Church communications office, told participants at three workshops at the Methodist Centre.

Mr Chris Kitchin, Head of Communication in the Methodist Connection Team of The Methodist Church in Britain, conducted three workshops for pastors, lay leaders, ministry staff and communications personnel from Sept 22 to 27, 2003. The theme was “How To Connect”.

“Communication is not an option,” he pointed out, adding that “we communicate not only through what we say but through the ways we say things, the tone of our voice, our gestures, our physical stance, our body language, and the clothes we wear. Even silence communicates something.”

Good communication, he emphasised, begins with listening. “In every form of communication, whether written or spoken, it is important to know to whom and to what we are addressing ourselves.

“It is also important to know when to communicate, that is, when to release the information to your target audience.”
As an example, he said that it would be useless for the communication team at The Methodist Church in Singapore to release information on the workshops way too early as people would forget about the event, or too close the workshops as would-be participants would most probably not be able to find time to attend.

‘No conflicting statements once Church makes a stand’

Speaking to a group of 45 pastors and ministry staff on the morning of Sept 26, Mr Kitchin addressed various issues in “Making the Connection Work”. While the Methodist connection in England has taken a different shape from that in Singapore, the principles remain the same, he said.

He pointed out the value of speaking with one voice, from his experience in England. When foul play occurred in one town, the media spotlight was on the local church. He said it was greatly appreciated when his office intervened to manage the media relations.

On more routine matters, he said that it was very important for someone to manage the constant communication between headquarters and local churches, to guard against information overload.

That evening, Mr Kitchin addressed a group of editors and other communications people from local churches on the topic “Plain Speaking, Plain Writing”. He recommended a number of tips on writing, magazine layout, media relations and use of logos, as well as some caveats about copyright laws.

“Always get permission,” he said about using other people’s material for publication. In one exercise participants gathered in teams to write the “lead” or first paragraph for a news article about the day’s event.

The popular seminar attracted not only Methodists, but also communications people from several non-Methodist churches and organisations. About 60 people came.

On Sept 27, Mr Kitchin spoke to some 50 Lay Leaders and Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC) Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen at the regular Bishop’s Tea Fellowship on the topic “Sharing Information and Vision, and Managing Relationships”.

During all the sessions he used a variety of interactive teaching methods. Participants gathered in small groups and drew pictures of “The ideal communicator” or “The ideal Methodist”. One group drew a picture of a mobile phone that was plugged in to Jesus.

Participants found the seminars “beneficial”, “useful”, “informative”, “refreshing”, “different”, “unusual”, “out of the box”.

Said Mr T. Jeevanantham, LCEC Chairman of Pasir Panjang Tamil Methodist Church: “This workshop is an eye-opener to me. Communication plays an important part in our work to reach out, especially to the young people.

“We cannot lose our young people and we must keep communicating with them. And so it is important that we must know how best to communicate with them. I found this workshop very useful.”

Mr Wong Tien Poh, an Associate Lay Leader of Wesley Methodist Church, said he liked the informal setting of the seminar. “Because of the way the chairs were arranged in clusters, we all felt at ease and we could very quickly interact very well with one another. It was a very good session, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Underlining the importance of good and effective communication, Mr Benjamin Tan, LCEC Chairman of Barker Road Methodist Church, said that whatever issues the Church might face should be clearly spelt out.

And once the Church has made a stand, “we cannot give conflicting statements”.

Mr Charles Loh, Chairman of the English Worship Committee of Charis Methodist Church, stressed the importance of the Church and Methodist Message to take into consideration the different age groups when discussing issues of common interest. “It is important that we must be able to respond and cater to the different age groups,” he said.

While all the leaders agreed that the Bishop’s Fellowship-seminar was “very useful”, a few, like Dr Stephen Yeo, felt that it was better for the Bishop to raise issues and matters of importance at the beginning of the session as some people might not be able to stay right to the end of the evening.

“And if these leaders leave earlier, they would miss out on discussions on important matters,” said Dr Yeo, who is the Lay Leader of Bukit Panjang Chinese Methodist Church.

“Besides,” he added, “the beginning of the session would also be a good time for the leaders to ask the Bishop about matters of concern, and for the Bishop to seek feedback from them.”

Mr Kitchin communicating not just with words but also with gestures and body language. — MM picture.
A group of lay leaders in discussion. — MM picture.