Communication is an ecumenical priority, says WACC chief

By Stephen Brown
2 Apr 2011

Reconfiguring communication in the ecumenical movement means discovering, seeking and implementing new forms of communication, the General Secretary of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) has told a gathering in Frankfurt, Germany.

"As communicators we have become pilgrims in space - and sometimes in cyberspace - who have embarked on a long journey, by no means complete, from the old concept of uni-dimensional, one-way communication to the current multi-dimensional, multi-way approach that emphasises reciprocity and equality," said the WACC General Secretary, the Rev Karin Achtelstetter, in her 31 March 2011 address.

Achtelstetter was giving the opening presentation - on "reconfiguring communication in the ecumenical movement" - at a seminar organised by the WACC Europe Region as part of its one-every-three-years general assembly.

WACC is a Toronto-headquartered global organisation that promotes communication for social change. The Frankfurt seminar - from 31 March to 1 April - has had as its theme, "Communication and Reconfiguration in Faith, Media, Society and Economy".

The aim of the seminar is to take stock of recent changes in the media, church, societal and economic landscape in Europe, and focus on the implications of these changes for WACC’s principles of communication as well as the communication tasks for churches and Christian organisations and the coverage of religion in the media.

In her address, Achtelstetter noted that the word configuration is often used in astrophysics and she compared the ecumenical movement to the Milky Way.

"Despite its diversity and its vastness the elements are held together by a large-scale magnetic field," she stated. "The galaxy is in constant movement and in rotation - doesn't this description remind you of the ecumenical movement?"

With this image in mind, she continued, reconfiguring communication in the ecumenical movement suggests "discovering, seeking and implementing new forms of communication with an openness to new shapes and constellations".

She said, "If we want to reflect about how to reconfigure communication in the ecumenical movement, then the first thing to do is to identify our communication barriers and then in a second step to dismantle them."

Illustrating this, Achtelstetter drew on the experiences of Robert Geisendörfer from Germany, and Farajah Zawadi, from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Born in 1910, Geisendörfer was a key figure in rebuilding Protestant church media in West Germany after the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War. He founded the Frankfurt-based Association for Protestant Media (GEP), was a WACC treasurer, and a founder of WACC Europe.

One of his key statements was, "Communication in the sense of participation and inclusion is a part of life … If you cannot communicate, you are disenfranchised, manipulated by the other, you are turned into an instrument instead of a creative being."

Zawadi works for SAMWAKI, an association of rural women in the DRC that runs a WACC-funded community radio station - Radio Bubusa FM - focusing on key issues around rural women's rights and community development, including discrimination, reproductive health, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. The radio station operates from South Kivu, an area described in 2007 by a United Nations rapporteur as having the worst situation ever seen for violence against women.

Achtelstetter recounted how she met Zawadi two weeks earlier at the WACC Africa region assembly in Kigali, Rwanda. Zawadi had travelled 19 hours by bus from the DRC to attend the assembly.

The WACC General Secretary said that if Geisendörfer lived today, "he would see how Farajah Zawadi and her colleagues ensure that rural women are empowered by access to information, training and communication in a country that has seen a great amount of violence".

Women from Radio Bubusa - the name describes a cry used by women to wake each other up to work in the fields - "are living," Achtelstetter said, what Robert Geisendörfer preached - with every word they broadcast, they demonstrate that communication is about participation and inclusion and that it is an essential part of life".

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(c) Stephen Brown is a long-standing religion and current affairs journalist, and a member of the steering committee of the WACC Europe region.

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