Communication priorities takes personal touch

Editor’s corner
By Maureen Smith  

Maureen Smith is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Jackson

What does it mean to communicate? It’s a broad question with almost endless answers. We spent months in this department writing a Communications Plan – talking about forms of communication, passive, conversational, print, digital, paid, earned – all very technical stuff.  
Then, I spent a couple months writing and executing a new plan for communicating the new mission, vision and pastoral priorities. I thought about ‘touchpoints,’ repetition, delivery mechanisms and follow-up. Again, all technical and strategic concepts.
Then, the pastoral priority team hit the road. At the end of all the planning and strategy, the proofreading, coding, printing and populating, we knew the best way to communicate was person-to-person. What Pope Francis has referred to again and again as creating the culture of encounter.
Emails have no ‘tone of voice,’ texts can be misinterpreted (especially if you suffer with an autocorrect with a sense of humor), social media allows people to be anonymous and mean, but when you sit down with another person in the same space, you have an opportunity to enter into relationship. I believe real communication takes place when we are present to one another. As the meetings unfolded, I was delighted to encounter people who were excited about the new priorities. Others were apprehensive about their role or about the future for their faith communities. Being together allowed us to share our excitement, fears and questions. It’s hard to comfort a frustrated person in an email, but when you can look them in the eye and really listen, you can get to the heart of the matter.
I love when I can pack up and hit the road. Yes, I can, and do, interview people by phone. I gather photos and facts from afar, but the stories are always better when I can attend an event or gathering. I always end the day with a new friend and some little tidbit of joy to inspire me.
I was delighted to go on what I jokingly called the “Pastoral Priority Tour.” I felt like I could reconnect with the people who help me keep Mississippi Catholic rolling along smoothly. Yes, I can call and thank them or send a quick email, but I would rather give them a hug in person.
Every year, Pope Francis releases a theme for World Communications Day. This theme carries through the year for those of us who work in church communication. This year’s theme is “Fear not, for I am with you: (Is 43:5): Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time.” In his message, Pope Francis cautions against the tendency to report only ‘bad’ news, reminding communicators that how we choose to tell our stories influences how people react to them.
“Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?
“For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God’ (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.” (Pope Francis’ message for World Communication Day, 2017).
Thank you for your support of Mississippi Catholic and the Department of Communications. Whether you are an occasional reader or regular contributor, I appreciate your “presence” as I write, travel, post, call and try to find new ways to communicate the Good News.
(Maureen Smith is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Jackson.)