At the 2023 Society of Adventist Communicators convention opening day on Oct. 19, panelists Bryant Taylor, Ernesto Hernandez, and Heidi Baumgartner discuss how they use AI for their creative projects. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

North America

A Gathering of God’s Messengers: Society of Adventist Communicators Conference 2023

Annual event unites hundreds of professionals devoted to employing communications and media to spread the three angels’ messages

United States | Nicole Dominguez

“Many are to believe on Christ through the communication of truth by His servants. As they see the beauty of the Word of God, and as they see Jesus revealed in the lives of His children, they will praise Him with heart and soul and voice” (Ellen G. White, The Signs of the Times, "A New Commandment," December 9, 1903, emphasis added).

Communication has never been a one-and-done process. To reject the evolution of communication would be to place the method over the message, pledging loyalty to leaflets over the great commission. The North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists acknowledges communication is more than a method—a sacred connection process designed to redirect our attention to Christ. This ethos was upheld at the 2023 Society of Adventist Communicators Convention in Springfield, Massachusetts, where 248 people attended the three-day event on October 19–21, gathering to fulfill the convention’s annual theme, “Purpose. Passion. Partnership.”

After a morning in which some church communication leaders attended meetings while other SAC attendees enjoyed pre-registered tours of a local radio station and television station, the convention began in earnest on Thursday afternoon. The general session began with Rachel Scribner and Courtney Herod welcoming conference-goers through a prayerful and playful overview of what to expect in the days to come. The session then transitioned to “Ask the Experts” segments consisting of discussions on topics ranging from photography to podcasting to AI (artificial intelligence), allowing the audience to ask the panel about the nuances of their respective fields. For many, this segment offered an open dialogue concerning unfamiliar practices they might want to pursue within a personal ministry or their communication department.

The topics from the panel transitioned well to the 15 breakout sessions, where some of the same panelists could elaborate on their subjects of expertise from PR (public relations) and crisis communication to publishing, design, and AI. The latter topic was a pervasive presence throughout the event. AI represents an avenue into the unknown, with some viewing it as a potential threat to job security and others who are adept with technology, eager to explore unbridled opportunities for modernization and development. The conference provided a space for fears to be confronted and education on how AI is helpful for communication. The panel on AI, as well as the breakout session “AI: Your New Superpower!” led by panelist Ernesto Hernandez, unpacked the basics of the tool. Hernandez explained that technologies such as AI are not designed to replace but to aid and expand, and just as the bloom of the internet opened doors for greater ease and broader connection, engines like ChatGPT have the possibility of aiding one’s work with effortless quality.

The NAD advocates for such advancements by soft-launching certain programs and tech to help creatives and communicators. TechTalk, which became a beloved portion of the convention, was led by its regular emcee and prior SAC president, Bryant Taylor, with Herod. During TechTalk, Taylor gave away a subscription to programs such as Adobe Firefly and Midjourney, as well as AirTags and personal soundboards. The giveaway allowed communicators to have access to tools previously unknown or unused, with a few students walking away with some of the prizes.

The SAC Convention has always been a golden opportunity for students to network with future employers and become inspired for future projects. Student attendance hit a record high with more than 50 from Adventist colleges, universities, and two high schools. This number included several students on the NAD Productions Services media crew, which helped run the audio/visual portion of the general sessions. For students such as Annaliese Jacobs, a senior at Union College, the 2023 convention wasn’t their first time, finding comfort in familiar faces. “This is my last year of college, and I would love to be able to work in the church,” Jacobs admits. “By networking and meeting people here, I’m hoping to be able to connect with people who will be able to recommend [to] me job opportunities.”

Other students, such as Southern Adventist University junior Hannah Johnson, entered the convention with fresh eyes and high hopes: “I’m hoping to learn and gain experience from SAC. This is my first year, and I’m so excited to see what’s in store. I want to find some sense of direction for my future and how to get there.”

The NAD makes a conscious effort to tailor certain programs and networking opportunities toward university and college representatives, including an entire breakout session dedicated to student job seekers. “We strive to provide programming that will appeal first to our professional communication attendees, but also with an eye on what our student attendees can learn the most from that will help in their future careers,” explained Kimberly Luste Maran, executive director of SAC. “And we make sure that we have some presentations that are geared directly toward the student experience.”

All 15 breakouts were held in three timeblocks on Friday, with time in between for members to explore the exhibit hall, which housed booths from sponsors such as AdventHealth, Hope Channel, Sonscreen Film Festival, Adventist HealthCare, herbspice, Faith For Today, and a union conference-led job opportunities booth. Each booth displayed its projects, products, and programs as well as small trinkets for attendees to take.

The rest of the conference was punctuated by equal parts of work and worship. On Friday, a business meeting was hosted through lunch, where outgoing SAC board members were recognized for their service and incoming board members were voted in, allowing members to familiarize themselves with the new board. Erin Byrne, CEO of ThinkSisu, gave a keynote address where she encouraged curiosity in communicators and offered guidance on crisis management by sharing foundations on how to control the narrative. For worship, vespers included a vibrant song service to open the Sabbath and a presentation by the president and founder of Journey Films, Martin Doblmeier. The use of storytelling as a profound communication tool was the central thesis of Doblmeier’s talk, referencing his recent film SABBATH as an example of educating the public through a creative lens.

Sabbath morning opened with the Atlantic Union’s praise team, RCC, followed by marketing expert and domestic engineer Felecia Lee, who asked the audience to sit in complete stillness for 60 seconds. Lee confronted the misconception that productivity was a sign of greater spiritual value, advocating the value of rest and realigning our relationship with work. Afterward, Lee was joined by her husband and business partner, Stephen, for a Q&A. For the main worship service, Pastor Amanda N. Hawley explored Jeremiah’s difficult message and how “he wasn’t wrestling [with] whether God’s message was true, he was wrestling with whether he wanted to continue as God’s messenger.” Her words addressed the conflict many writers, designers, and creatives experience when facing the struggle of communication within the church.

The conference concluded on Saturday evening at the awards banquet, where the Society of Adventist Communicators, after a presentation by author David Weiss, awarded nominees for their contributions to the field, such as Best in Photojournalism, Best Long-Form Writing, Best Podcast, Best Design, and similar categories. SAC also offered the Reger Smith Cutting Edge Award, granted to those who were making waves in church communication, to Mitchell Kessler and Kaleb Eisele for their Oregon Conference podcast Bridges Over Walls. The final awards went to the corporate campaign “Living God's Love: The Story of Adventist Health” for the overall Award of Excellence; Annika Cambigue for student of the year; Kristina Penny Daley with the Young Professional Award; and Ednor A. P. Davison, with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her 30 years working as Communication director and Gleaner magazine editor for the Atlantic Union.

Brenda J. Dickerson, current SAC president, shared, “Our SAC board worked especially hard this year to bring in high-quality presenters and also to provide ample time and space for people to network and share ideas and resources. I hope everyone who attended took away at least one thing of value that will positively impact their lives and their work in the coming year.”

SAC Award Categories and Winners

  • Best print design: Living God’s Love: The Story of Adventist Health, by Kim Strobel and Leah Bailey.
  • Best website design: Texas Conference website, by Nathanael De Canal, Kenn Dixon, Tamara Michalenko Terry, Andy Esqueche, Jannet Diaz, Heber Sorto, and Teymi Townsend.
  • Best journalistic photography: “Gun Law Restriction: A Photo Essay,” by Xander Ordinola
Spoken Word
  • Best podcast: Bridges Over Walls, by Kaleb Eisele, Mitchell Kessler, and Jonathan Russell, Oregon Conference
Written Word
  • Best news writing: “Bathrooms and Showers in Progress at Lake Whitney Ranch,” by Tamara Michalenko Terry, Texas Conference.
  • Best long-form feature writing: “A Series of Firsts” and “An Unexpected Awakening,” from Adventist World Radio’s Winter 2023 Transmissions magazine, by Michele Stotz, Nancy Costa, Duane McKey, Cami Oetman, and Clayton Kinney.
  • Best short-form feature writing: “Educating the Whole Student,” by Tamara Michalenko Terry, Texas Conference.
  • Best microcopy: “Invitation to Support Eastern Kentucky,” by Paola Mora Zepeda, Kentucky-Tennessee Conference.
  • Best broadcast special feature video: Martin’s Story, by Robert Stotz, Duane McKey, Cami Oetman, and Daniel Hosford, Adventist World Radio. 
  • Best short film video: When Life Gives You Lemons, by Ewerton Obadoski and Evaldo Vicente, Canadian Adventist Messenger.
  • Best web video: From Bitterness to Forgiveness, by Robert Stotz, Cami Oetman, Duane McKey, and Caleb Rayne, Adventist World Radio.
  • Best marketing/promotional campaign: “Determined,” Kenn Dixon, Tamara Michalenko Terry, Jannet Diaz, Miguel Gomez, Bo Gendke, Madelein Terreros Batiste, Sora Yanez, Villardy Alce, Andy Esqueche, Heber Sorto, and Teymi Townsend, Texas Conference.
Student Awards
  • Best student broadcast (radio, TV, podcast): Temperature Check, by Pax Fordham, McKenna Cameron, Hannah Browning, Jordan Braithwaite, Jaydon Mabena, and Khari Person, Oakwood University.
  • Best student newspaper: Southern Accent, by editor-in-chief Alana Crosby and staff, Southern Adventist University.
  • Best student feature award: “Crisis on Georgian Bay,” by Sarah-Marie Scale (pen name B.J. Jordan), published in Guide magazine.
  • Best student video: Media Minutes, by Kenneth Salmon, Victor O’Dala, Nathan Zinner, Cameron Reel, Cindy Hernandez, Aaron Patterson, Maria Hernandez, Gillian Wong, Brandon Bell, and Jorge Alvarado, Southern Adventist University.
  • Best student/PR/marketing and social media: West Word: Spring 2023, by Nia Aiolupotea, Summer Boulais, Megan Carreon, Joshua Peinado, Caeden Rodgers, Samantha Wawondatu, Trinity Yunk, Grace Morales, Cascadia Schneider, and Jacob Meyers, Walla Walla University.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division website.