By Cate Monaghan
Director of Communications
ARLINGTON, Va. | Oct. 17, 2012 —In the first day of their 2012 annual meeting, Oct. 17-20 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, members of the United Methodist Association of Communicators (UMAC) toured the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. and got a lesson in intercultural competence from Erin Hawkins, general secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).
Hawkins was keynote speaker at the opening luncheon of the four-day meeting. Stating, "There is no 'nirvana' of competence; it is always a process of growing," she advocated the use of multiple forms of media as "a perfect way of bridging cultures." She extolled social media, especially, for enabling the church to be effective across cultures "and tell a richer story."
Hawkins noted that social media use is not the province of the young. In fact, it crosses all age, gender, education, and socio-economic lines, she said.
Intercultural competence is defined by Janet M. Bennett, Ph.D., as "a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts," that require (1) A Mindset: Knowledge; (2) A Skillset: Skills; and (3) A Heartset: Attitudes.
Explaining the outline, Hawkins said it's necessary to make an assessment of "who we are" and recognize our own cultural biases, and that must be combined with development of relationship-building, information-gathering, and behavioral skills, along with empathy. Curiosity, cognitive flexibility, motivation and open mindedness are key, she said.
Hawkins observed that that any time there's a disagreement there's a cultural component – and encouraged her audience to monitor how the way in which we communicate can create a sense of other-ness.
Hawkins told the group she likes the play on words of one theorist, who says we need "border crossers" – people able to engage cultural boundaries and borders in ways not done previously. "You, serving as border crossing communicators, is central" to the mission and ministry of the Church, she said.
Following a tour of the United Methodist Building – the only non-government building on Capitol Hill – the communicators visited Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, which has partnered with nearby Asbury UMC and Wesley Theological Seminary to develop an effective urban ministry that has attracted participants from the private sector – including the construction company building a hotel skyscraper across the street from the church.
It was 1850 when "God planted this church in this mission field," said the Rev. Donna Claycomb Sokol, pastor. Now, she said, "every time I see a crane going up toward the sky, that's an opportunity to pray."
On the Thursday schedule: workshops, two round table discussions – one with author Diana Butler Bass (@dianabutlerbass) and another with Mike McCurry, formerly press secretary to President Clinton and now co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates. A mission event – meal packing for the organization "Stop Hunger Now" – will close out the day.
A Friday highlight will be a roundtable with the Rev. David Hansen (retired), an expert on the time John and Charles Wesley spent in Georgia. Hansen served a seven-year appointment as senior pastor of St. Simons Island UMC, Georgia and now is a guest lecturer at the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum and Archives on the island. Recordings of his versions of John Wesley's sermons are in the UM National Archives and the Old Rectory Museum in Epworth, England, along with the libraries of UM seminaries.
The gathering wraps up Saturday morning with a business meeting, followed by a closing worship service.