by Kay DeMoss

February 22, 2019 | ST. LOUIS—At their annual gathering here, the United Methodist Association of Communicators named two seasoned journalists as Communicator of the Year for 2019.

Mark Doyal, chairperson of UMAC’s leadership team, began his remarks, “We are breaking new ground tonight. This is always the most difficult decision your leadership team makes, and this year it was so difficult that we decided to honor two individuals.”

The honorees are Tim Tanton, chief news officer for United Methodist Communication, and Mary Catherine Phillips, director of communications for the Alabama-West Florida Conference.

Doyal called Bishop David Graves to the platform. Episcopal leader for Alabama-West Florida, Graves said, “When I was elected bishop, a communicator came up to me and said, ‘I need your cell number.’ She didn’t need my cell number—but I sure needed hers.” Graves praised Phillips for her integrity. “She is one who doesn’t mind challenging the bishop,” he said with gratitude. “She loves the Lord, the annual conference and The United Methodist Church,” he concluded, “and always strives to communicate with excellence.”

Phillips then came to the microphone confessing that she was overwhelmed. “The bishop tricked me when he told me why he was here,” she said. She told the story of the note she received from her predecessor. “It said, ‘Welcome to your ministry.’ I thought, ‘Ministry? This is a job.’ But looking back, she was so right.”

Putting the evening in context, Phillips spoke of the General Conference looming within hours “We have been marking the days since May 2016, counting them down.” She then recalled a low point in her life when she and her husband spent their first anniversary at the unemployment office. Phillips added words of encouragement. “I never would have dreamed then that I would someday be here,” she said. “I am here to tell you that you have to cross the river. There will be storms but you won’t die.” Looking ahead, she concluded, “I hope we are here a year from now, all together again. If we are not, I don’t believe God is through with us.”

Doyal returned to the podium and announced, “The next person is an individual you all know, one who has poured himself into his work and has the back of every communicator in this room.” A video featuring Dan Krause, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications, introduced Tim Tanton as a 2019 Communicator of the Year.

“Tim recognizes the importance of on the ground, localized reporting,” Krause said. “We are blessed that he proudly claims his calling and lives it out with United Methodist News. Tim firmly believes that it takes faithful, unbiased and objective reporting to effectively serve the worldwide church.”

Krause praised Tanton’s efforts in launching the new as well as expanding the team of global correspondents. “One third of our stories now come from Africa, the Philippines and Europe,” he explained. “Tim’s passion for ensuring people’s voices are heard has bled into the news platform to allow for different points of view to be reported,” Krause said. With much-needed detail and clarity, “Tim leans into the role to lead the charge,” Krause concluded.

“I am a person of faith, so I believe it is only going to get better,” Tanton remarked upon acceptance of the award. He expressed gratitude for Krause’s leadership and support of communication ministry. He praised, too, the rest of the team saying, “It is a privilege for all of us to be in this moment serving The United Methodist Church. God put a call on our hearts to use the gifts we have in the service of Jesus Christ.”

Like others speaking throughout the day, Tanton addressed the developments that brought United Methodists to St. Louis in February of 2019. “This is an unprecedented time in our careers,” he said. “We have a call to not shrink away from the responsibility we have to communicate faithfully and courageously … to give the best counsel while continuing to inspire the church.” He added his words of assurance to those of others. “We don’t know what the future brings, but we do know that God goes into the future and holds us in God’s hands. We know that God is already ahead of us, and it will be well.” Tanton concluded his remarks with an invitation to continued partnership. “Let’s journey together with our arms linked and our hands joined.”

Phillips graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 1998, where she majored in marketing. As director of communication of Alabama-West Florida, she has worked closely with two bishops—Paul Leeland and David Graves—in communication training, hurricane recovery and growing the conference’s digital outlets. Phillips is an active leader of First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Tanton graduated from the University of Tennessee with a major in journalism. He worked in newspaper for a time, then joined UMCom in December 1997 as a news editor for Tom McAnally. Tanton now serves as chief news officer for UMCom. He heads the News and Information Team, comprised of Ask The UMC (former InfoServ) and United Methodist News Service. The team serves The United Methodist Church’s “world parish” in five languages. Tanton is a longtime member of East End United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

The criteria for nomination as Communicator of the Year include recent striking achievements in communication, broad impact of the communicator’s contribution and vision-thinking beyond the demands of the job. For her outstanding, tireless work in disaster reporting and for his generous embrace of a global constituency, Mary Catherine Phillips and Tim Tanton bring those criteria to life.

Kay DeMoss is senior content editor for the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church.