The United Methodist Association of Communicators hosted a virtual annual awards gala March 10, announcing a 2021 Communicator of the Year and honoring the work of talented, passionate United Methodist communicators across the globe.

Broadcast live from the UMAC Facebook page, the gala celebrated the hard work and innovative storytelling of Derek Leek, director of communications for the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Leek, who calls himself “an ordinary guy who loves Jesus, people, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in graphic communications. His passion for Jesus and web design led him to the North Carolina Conference in 2008, and he has served as director of communications since 2015. In his tenure, he’s worked to foster unified, crisp communication among the conference’s churches, leaders, teams and staff.

North Carolina Resident Bishop Hope Morgan Ward called Leek “an extraordinary communicator in an extraordinary season” and said his deep discipleship “overflows in his capacity to listen, support, lead and create in our midst.”

Leek and his wife, Erica, have three children.

In addition to honoring Leek as Communicator of the Year, UMAC recognized the work of communicators with awards for writing, photography, videography, podcasting, social media campaigns and more. Judges considered 208 entries submitted by communicators across the denomination from local churches, annual conferences, and agencies.

“Communicators are a crucial part of facilitating the connection and telling the story of The United Methodist Church,” said Rick Wolcott, UMAC chair. “We celebrate our winners.”

There are 10 classes of awards, each with several categories and each with two divisions: Annual Conference or Local Church, and General Church or Agency.

The 10 Best of Class winners were as follows:

  • Best in Class 1, Print Publications: The Robert F. Storey Award of Excellence—response magazine, Tara Barnes, Tanya Krawciw, Debbie Smalley, United Methodist Women
  • Best in Class 2, Digital Publications—Weekly News eNewsletter, staff, Indiana United Methodist Conference
  • Best in Class 3, Writing: The Donn Doten Award of Excellence—Facing Up to a Grotesque Book at Iliff, Jim Patterson, United Methodist News Service
  • Best in Class 4, Internet Communications—The Call to Cook, Annette Spence, Holston Conference
  • Best in Class 5, Video: The Hilly Hicks Award of Excellence—Worldwide Easter Choir: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” Member Communications, United Methodist Communications
  • Best of Class 6, Audio—Louisiana NOW Podcast: Jewels in Your Crown, Todd Rossnagel and Mary Burleigh, Louisiana Annual Conference
  • Best in Class 7, Photography: The Donald B. Moyer Award of Excellence—The Spirit and Courage of Annual Conference, Shari DeAngelo, United Methodists of Greater New Jersey
  • Best of Class 8, Visual Design—IGNITE Watch Parties, Brittney Reilly, United Methodists of Greater New Jersey
  • Best of Class 9, Publicity & Advertising: The Leonard M. Perryman Award of Excellence—Ending Racism; A Series of Webinars in Louisiana, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Van Stinson, Todd Rossnagel and Juan Huertas, Louisiana Annual Conference
  • Best of Class 10, Media Presentation—Upper New York COVID-19 Response, Upper New York Conference Communications Team, Upper New York Conference

See the full list of winners, including links to many of the entries, at

Hosts for the evening were Emily Allen from the California-Nevada Annual Conference and Rev. Héctor A. Burgos, director of communications for MARCHA and a district superintendent of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

For more on UMAC, visit