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Conference will teach ministers how to deal with crisis communication

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A gunman entered Wedgwood Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1999 and killed seven people within minutes. Pastor Al Meredith was then thrust in front of the national spotlight and asked why God allowed the tragedy to occur. He also was asked how his church would respond.

All ministers should be prepared to deal with tragedies like the one that affected his church, Meredith said. “Crisis in ministry is like the Second Coming. When it happens you’d better be ready because you won’t have time to get ready.”

Meredith will offer insights into his experiences with the media in the wake of the shooting at a “Crisis Communication for Ministers Conference” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 20-21.

Gary Morey, a former Air Force public relations officer and part-time announcer at KCBI Christian radio, organized the conference. Morey is a student at the seminary.

“All corporations hire public relations people and place a lot of importance on it, but it seems like our churches never did, whether they be Protestant or Catholic,” Morey said. “I want to educate pastors on simple things — how to appear on television and how to respond when a reporter shows up at your door.”

The conference, he said, may be the only one of its kind because it is Christian-oriented and inexpensive.

“I haven’t seen anyone else doing this anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I haven’t seen anyone taking pastors aside and teaching them what corporations are teaching their spokesmen everyday. …You could always go to a public relations agency and get this kind of training, but they will charge you thousands of dollars for it.”

The conference is part of the seminary’s effort to provide continuing education for ministers, according to David Porter, Southwestern’s director of public relations.

“Southwestern wants to be the source of continuing education for ministers, especially in a day and age when ministers might be confronted with crisis,” Porter said. “Crises like those that took place at Wedgwood and the recent Metro Church bus tragedy have the potential to harm churches. We hope that the training we provide will lead churches in the opposite direction — working through the tragedy, praising God in the midst of suffering and sharing our hope with the media and the world.”

Other guest speakers will include Larry Ross of Larry Ross and Associates; Rick Ericson of the Lemaster Group; Gary Ledbetter of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Becky Bridges of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; and Carolyn Stevens of the United Methodist Church. Porter, who teaches public relations in the local church in Southwestern’s communication degree program, also will speak. The conference will feature a panel discussion with local media personalities.

Conference participants will examine potential crisis points in the local church, crisis management do’s and don’ts, managing bad news, media training, and how to use holidays and days of remembrance, such as Sept. 11, to increase the visibility of the ministries in the local church.

“We are going to show them how they can take advantage of all types of holidays from Easter to Halloween, but Easter especially,” Morey said. “Because pastors don’t have relationships with the media, the media will cover the local Easter egg hunt but they won’t cover the great things at the local church. And Sept. 11 is another day that from now on will be remembered — perhaps even with church services. The church isn’t approaching the media about days like that and we want to change that.”

For more information or to register, contact the Center for Leadership Development at (877) 474-4769.

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  • Gregory Tomlin