By Maureen Smith
I love stories. I love hearing and telling them. We, as Christians, are a people with some pretty powerful stories. After all, Jesus was pretty fond of them as were Paul and the Apostles. When we catechize our children, we start with stories – creation, the fall, the mess, salvation, the vision of the kingdom.
Stories teach us where we came from and can point us in the direction we should go from here. A huge part of my job is to hear and tell your stories. They are the history of the diocese and our hope for the future.
February is traditionally Catholic Press Month. Newspapers in dioceses across America used to use this month to renew subscriptions and update their mailing lists. The adveart of on-line databases has made this process more efficient, so I can spend my time continuing to improve what we are offering.
The staff in the Department of Communications spent a year working with a consultant from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops writing a strategic communications plan. It includes some ambitious goals, such as expanding our reach to all registered parishioners, producing a best-practice guide for digital communications, publishing a diocesan directory, and delivering the Mississippi Catholic by email to those who would prefer a digital edition. All of these things will take time – probably more than I would like – but I think we have the tools, team and process to make it happen.
The big takeaway from our year of work was that we had become passive communicators and were a little isolated from the work of the pastors and people. This meant that we needed to get out of the office more and, at the same time, utilize the digital tools that could help us streamline the job of sharing resources and information.
Our new mission for the department: Communicate the life and mission of Jesus Christ by encountering others in joy. It dovetails perfectly with the new mission for the diocese and drives all our new efforts.
We set about creating and utilizing networks of collaborators to hear from and respond to the people in the pulpits and the pews.
Boy, have you responded. We used to get a handful of Sunday bulletins mailed to us the week after they were produced. Now, thanks to email, Flocknote, Edlio and a couple other programs, I get dozens and dozens of bulletins and hope to get ever more.
I invited people to submit their photos and stories and made an effort to get to know my loyal contributors. I now have scores of friends all across the diocese who help me keep up with the wonderful things you are doing in your communities. It’s not a complete network yet, but the outpouring of support I have received has been amazing and affirming and I hope has made our product better.
Every year, Pope Francis announces a theme for World Communications Day. Although the day itself is in May, the theme is announced January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists. This year’s theme is “’Fear not, for I am with you.’ Communicating Hope and Trust in Our Time.” These are powerful words for me this year. As the staff in this office moves from writing a plan to working on our goals we will also assist in communicating the new mission, vision and priorities for the Diocese of Jackson. This is a time of great hope and excitement.
In the pope’s letter announcing the theme, he pointed out that many media outlets are feeding a “vicious cycle of anxiety.” His cure: “constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice toward others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.”
What is important is not just what we cover, but how we cover it. Values such as transparency, honesty and courage are critical in today’s atmosphere. We need to communicate with one another, not speak at one another.
The first time I saw the new vision statement for the diocese, my heart jumped. Serve Others, embrace diversity, inspire disciples. Those are powerful words. I can’t wait to bring them and their accompanying mission and priorities out into the diocese. The way the Envisioning team has chosen to do that indicates just how important this new vision is. In March, the bishop and his team will host a new set of public gatherings to present the new material and kick off the work. (See schedele on page 7)
Each community will have a unique way to embrace the mission, vision and priorities. Get creative – and then tell me the story of what happens.
(Maureen Smith is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Jackson. You can contact her at