URI members attend Religion Communicators Council in Chicago

Two United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles members recently received scholarships to attend the annual Religion Communicators Council Convention in Chicago.  Blake Meller is an undergraduate studying communications and a member of Sun Devils Are Better Together, a URI Cooperation Circle and university campus club dedicated to interfaith work and dialogue. Patrick Horn, a friend of the Unity-and-Diversity World Council, a URI Cooperation Circle in southern California, and former graduate student in Interfaith Action at Claremont Lincoln University. Both were introduced to the opportunity by URI North America Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich.

The Religion Communicators Council is an organization of interfaith public relations professionals founded in 1929. They annually present the DeRose Hinkhouse Memorial Awards to members who demonstrate excellence in communications and the prestigious Wilbur Award of excellence for secular journalism on religious issues.

The 2017 convention featured films and discussions on faith response to gun violence, workshops on avoiding bias in religion journalism, crisis response strategies, and best practices for podcasting and blogging. The panel on religious reporting in an era of fake news and media bubbles, held at St. James Cathedral, featured Manya Brachear Pashman of the Chicago Tribune, Mariam Sobh of CBS Radio, Jessica Mesman Griffith of Sick Pilgrim, and Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service. A keynote luncheon sponsored by the Foundation for Religious Literacy featured David Saperstein, former US State Dept Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The convention also included plenary comedy by Wajahar Ali and an “after hours” improv playtime that nurtured strong bonds among colleagues across the interfaith spectrum. 

L to R: URI Cooperation Circle members Blake Meller and Patrick Horn at the Bahai House of Worship for North America

Blake’s Experience:

“The RCC members were warm and welcoming. As a young undergraduate student, who has never attended a convention, the convention provided an opportunity to see the compelling work in communication from religious and secular organizations. This experience opened my eyes to the diverse landscape of what communication entails, as well as who is participating in religious and secular communications and their accomplishments and challenges. I encountered many individuals who were in public relations, writers, bloggers, journalists, and editors, a majority of them involved in interfaith. I learned about their personal stories, the work they were doing, as well as why and how they became involved in the work they were doing. Although the majority of the people I encountered were a part of some denomination of Christianity, I was able to connect with people from the Bahá’í faith, Soka Gakki Buddhism, ISKCON (also known as the Hare Krishna movement), Judaism, and Islam.”

Blake Meller at the Religion Communicators Council convention in Chicago.

“The workshops, films and keynote speakers presented many dimensions of the realities that faith organizations and communities face. The first film I saw on Violence in Chicago: Responding with Faith, by Katy Scrogin, began the whole convention with the look into how a few Christian communities have taken to the streets and neighborhoods to keep the youth away from the gangs and violence, and create a more harmonious community through various programs. It was concrete action in facing the violence that had consumed neighborhoods around Chicago. One of the many workshops I attended included ‘Re-Writing the Script: Analyzing Gender and Religion in Media,’ with Dr. Glory Dharmaraj and Kerri Whipple, which went into detail about the lack of representation of female reporters both locally and globally for religion, as well as a six stage model in correcting and equalizing the representation in media.”


 “I was also able to meet people from the Parliament of World’s Religions and learn what happens behind-the-scenes and the rich history of the interfaith movement. I was introduced to The Interfaith Observer, an interreligious relations and interfaith online journal. It was an excellent experience.”

Patrick’s Experience

To read more about Patrick’s experience, follow these links:

L to R: Patrick Horn (@VedantaCollege) ; Larry Greenfield, Executive Director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions; Bud Heckman, President of the Religion Communicators Council and Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA; and Paul Chaffee, publisher of The Interfaith Observer.

Patrick wrote an article about the crisis communications workshop and promoted his recent reviews of religious literacy and religious freedom for the American Academy of Religions publication Reading Religion. He also curated a Twitter “moment” from the conference hashtag #RCC2017Chicago.