I have always loved reading and talking. Whether the genre is story, poetry, non-fiction or novels—if it’s on a printed page or catalogued in a library– then I’m likely to be interested in it.
With my love for reading, writing and talking it’s no wonder I’ve come to use those skills daily in my work as the Manager of the Regional Media Center (RMC). The RMC is part of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and we serve churches in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska by providing Media for Ministry. The RMC covers three UMC annual conferences (regions) and is open to churches ecumenically. Although most of our member churches are United Methodist, we also serve Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Disciples of Christ and non-denominational churches. Approximately 642 churches comprise our database; about 16%–slightly over 100 of them–are denominations other than United Methodist.
Our Media for Ministry program is comprised of two major activities: operating a lending library of curricula, videos and publications for use in churches and producing our own video stories of ministry happening in our local churches. We also support the technical and media needs of our Annual Conference when all our churches gather for Holy Conferencing, worship, fellowship and administrative decision-making.
Churches are not required to be members of the Regional Media Center, but it is more cost-effective and beneficial to everyone if they choose to pay annual membership dues. Membership dues are based on the congregation’s size and usually range from $40-$90 yearly. Member churches receive discounted rates on Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI) licenses and on shipping/handling rates when borrowing resources. Additionally, membership income is used to purchase more resources for the RMC. Since many small churches can’t afford to buy and retain material in their own libraries and since the United Methodist polity is a connectional system, this ministry tends to be well-utilized.
We currently have two full-time employees although this hasn’t always been so. The Pacific Northwest Conference Media Center began in 1990 with a part-time employee, some 16mm films, filmstrips, slides, and 300 videotapes housed in a distribution center in Los Angeles! The Media Center communicated with local churches via a monthly bulk mailing and items were shipped from the Los Angeles warehouse to churches in Washington and northern Idaho.
Eventually as technology changed the Media Center adapted and added on responsibilities for website development, video production and editing. The possibilities for audio-visual production generated a good deal of interest such as making “video brochures” of local churches that could be distributed to church visitors, filming stories of local church ministries, and projecting video reports of board and agency activities at Annual Conference. One of the first projects involved taping a Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build during Annual Conference 1997.
In 2006 the Media Center established its own website. Introducing a website also led to the inevitable desire for more communication via the internet and less emphasis on mailing printed catalogs. Now people had the extra convenience and advantage of reserving resources online and viewing the online catalog 7 days a week, at any time of the day, all year long.
In January 2007 the Oregon-Idaho and the Pacific Northwest Media Centers merged to form the Regional Media Center, headquartered in the Pacific Northwest Conference Office. Combining these two centers resulted in cost-savings for the Oregon-Idaho Conference, increased the number of churches served, and the number of resources available. What had originally been a resource center with several hundred resources now was a center with more than 3,000 titles!
Most recently, on the production side we have been supporting local churches engaged in Missional Ministry within their communities. Some of our more recent video topics include Discipleship, Creation Care and Mission Engagement such as Hope Thrives at Edmonds UMC, caring for God’s Creation at Leavenworth UMC, and discipleship ministry at Central United Protestant Church.
Challenges facing the RMC continue to be adapting to the ever-changing technological world, balancing the number of physical resources with the space available to house those resources, maintaining adequate funding and servicing such a large, diverse geographical area. What appeals to a church in Seattle may be very different than what appeals to a rural church in Alaska. This allows us to purchase resources covering a broad spectrum of topics and theological perspectives.
Operating a media center is one concrete way that local churches can connect with Conference (regional church) staff. It is both a privilege and important responsibility to be at the side of local churches helping them discover resources and network with each other. Attending the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences each June is an important way of meeting people with whom I usually communicate via phone or email, getting to know the many church communities with whom I partner and helping them to understand how the ministry of the Regional Media Center can support them in their ministry.
One anecdote shared with me sums up the unique and creative touch of media ministry. A man in Florida had found the RMC through the internet and had requested the video Wrestling with Angels to be used in a home bible study. During the course of the study the man who borrowed the video was killed by a drunk driver and the small group that had been meeting in his home decided to continue meeting and to finish the study. They had two sessions left: one on why bad things happen to good people and one on grace. When the video was returned to the RMC, there was a letter enclosed apologizing for their delay in returning it. The letter said “thank you for sharing this wonderful resource with us” and identified the video as a tool that had allowed them to process their feelings about their loss and to begin healing.
This story reaffirms that what we do in media ministry makes differences in people’s lives in ways that we may never know. The Holy Spirit can use media to touch people in powerful ways.
Ellen Johanson has more than 30 years of experience in sales, marketing and customer service in faith-based non-profits, corporations and governmental agencies. Since 2009 she has been employed as the manager of the Regional Media Center. In addition to her interest in faith-based social justice programs, she also enjoys swimming, walking, traveling, spending time with family and friends, music, Italian food and cats.