UMAC’s Communicator of the Year

Each year, our organization recognizes a communicator who has completed outstanding work in ministry within his or her role with an annual conference, agency, local church, extension ministry or affiliated organization. Some criteria we use:

  • Active professional, currently serving in a communications role.
  • UMAC member (nominations are made by UMAC members for UMAC members)
  • Recent striking achievements in communication (i.e., previous/current year)
  • Broad impact of the contribution
  • Vision-thinking beyond the present/immediate demands of the job, breaking new ground.


Nominate a communicator for this award by filling out this form.


2018 · Deborah Coble

The United Methodist Association of Communicators named Deborah Coble, director of communications for the West Virginia Conference, as Communicator of the Year for 2018 at their annual gathering on March 9 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

UMAC chair Mark Doyal welcomed Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball to the podium to introduce the communicator, who has served her episcopal area since July 2016.

“West Virginia was devastated by floods in June 2016 in areas where people already lived below the poverty level with few resources.” Ten days before Deborah Coble was officially hired to the communicator’s position, she was already on the scene. “Our new communicator came in and gave people hope,” the bishop recalled. “She took pictures. She wrapped her arms around people. She gave a smile.” And she helped tell stories that “resulted in over $2 million in contributions from across the connection.”

While response to natural disaster filled the opening months of her job, Coble went on to develop creative projects that touched many lives around the state. “With Deborah leading we reached 2,400 plus new disciples,” Steiner Ball reported. There were new initiatives that connected people, in meeting and online, in moving from membership to discipleship and a Lenten campaign that addressed the opioid epidemic.

“Congregations are coming to the Day of Resurrection seeking to determine how they can break the cycle addiction,” the bishop concluded.

Coble’s team members joined her on the stage as she accepted the honor saying, “This is yours, too.” She began, “I was a TV marketing and promo gal until God took a 2 x 4 and said, ‘I want you as a pastor.’ I believed there was a way to merge those two together.” She came to the job of the West Virginia Conference Communications Director from Iowa. There she was serving as a pastor while offering expertise in communication to the Iowa Conference and districts.

“It is working because of these guys,” she said, turning to her team members. Coble has organized conference communications around a gifted core group of volunteers in covenant with one another. UMAC members had an opportunity on Thursday afternoon to attend an Innovation Session during which Coble and her team explained their group life and ministry.

Coble credits United Methodist Communications for supporting and resourcing her as she handled crisis communications around the 2016 flood. “I was in shock. I called UMCOM. When they asked, ‘What do you need?’ I answered, ‘I don’t know what I need!’ Then I got in my car and hit the road.” She exited the stage saying, “We have work to do! Let’s go!”

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. From her leadership in reporting an epic flood to her pastoral approach to team building, Deborah Coble is indeed breaking new ground as the 2018 Communicator of the Year.

2017 · Carolyn Conover

The United Methodist Association of Communicators (UMAC) named Carolyn Conover, director of communications for the Greater New Jersey Conference, as Communicator of the Year for 2017 at their annual gathering on March 23 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“Carolyn has been a gift to our conference,” said Greater New Jersey Bishop John Schol, who nominated Carolyn for the award. “She has helped us move forward and accomplish things we would never have been able to without her leadership.”

Bishop Schol says Conover, a lifelong United Methodist who never had worked for the church, left a higher paying job in Manhattan to come work for the conference in June 2013, shortly after Super Storm Sandy and at a critical time.

“It was the second largest storm in the history of the United States; 1.7 million people were without power, thousands of people were without homes and the Greater New Jersey Conference was without a communications director,” said Bishop Schol. “We needed to hire someone immediately to help with communications and fundraising.”

Bishop Schol says Conover helped the conference raise nearly $18 million dollars in disaster relief, which helped rebuild and repair 250 homes and restore many lives after the hurricane. He said her leadership helped put the Greater New Jersey Conference on the map for recovery efforts in the state of New Jersey.

“The United Methodist Church was a key player in helping restore homes and lives after Super Storm Sandy, largely because of Carolyn’s work with foundations, corporations and the government,” said Bishop Schol.

Some of the other work Conover is credited with includes: developing a new website—saving the conference $6,000 a year, upgrading the paper—saving close to $10,000 and effectively growing the communications team from two to six people.

Co-workers called Conover “a passionate, fearless leader who sets the bar high for quality of work.” Others called her “an innovator who thinks outside the box and inspires team members to be creative.”

Conover thanked everyone for the recognition but said the work of communications is a collaborative effort.

“The only reason I’m standing here is because I work with a bishop who supports communications and I have a talented team,” said Carolyn after accepting the award.

“I am privileged to just help them do their work.”

2016 · Mark Doyal

Mark Doyal is the director of communications in the Michigan Area, which encompasses the soon-to-merge Detroit and West Michigan conferences. He comes to communications ministry after years of running an advertising agency.

He “brings a non-anxious presence, wisdom and guidance that has been described as invaluable,” said the Rev. Arthur McClanahan, Iowa Conference’s director of communications and 2013 Communicator of the Year.

He is someone who makes the extra effort to tell the church’s story, McClanahan said, recalling how his friend once stuck his neck and head out of a moving car to capture important video.

Doyal has guided church leaders in communicating about crises, whether they are the church’s response to environmental disaster or all-too-human controversy. He also has helped conferences move toward unification and helped Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey make the difficult announcement that she planned to retire because of health concerns.

“I can’t recount all the many ways he has helped this area,” Kiesey said. “He is a great gift to me personally, to the area, and to The United Methodist Church.”

2014 · Phileas Jusu and Julu Swen

Phileas Jusu, communicator for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, and Julu Swen, editor and publisher of West African Writers, an online publication about United Methodist happenings in West Africa, were named Communicators of the Year by the United Methodist Association of Communicators Oct. 25, 2014, in Savannah, Ga.

Swen also assists the denomination in Liberia with coverage for United Methodist Communications.

Vicki Brown, news editor for United Methodist News Service, praised their coverage of the outbreak that claimed nearly 5,000 lives, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“Phileas and Julu are brave men,” Brown told UMAC members. “When they travel to cover the church’s anti-Ebola efforts, they increase their chances of being exposed to a virus that claims the lives of 7 out of 10 people who get it.”

Jusu’s writing career began in 1996 after rebel soldiers invaded the campus of Njala University College during the 1991-2002 civil war. Jusu, who had been writing for a tabloid, said he stayed on to report on the war, the economy and politics because, “practically speaking, I did not have many options.”

Swen worked for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia as an inquiry officer, conducting interviews with victims and perpetrators of Liberia’s civil war, which involved two conflicts that ended in 2003. He also researched issues related to the war, including controversial issues addressed by the commission.

Read the full story.

2013 · the Rev. Arthur McClanahan

Rev. Arthur McClanahan, communications director for the Iowa Annual Conference, was named Communicator of the Year.

McClanahan has served as the director of communications in the Iowa Annual (regional) Conference since 2005. He is a frequent collaborator with United Methodist Communications, working with the agency team to cover eight General Conferences.

Read the story here.





2012 · Lisa Elliott Diehl and Kathryn Witte

Lisa Elliott Diehl, director of marketing and communications for the Kansas East and Kansas West Annual Conferences, and Kathryn Witte, director of communications, marketing and camping for the Nebraska Annual Conference, were named co-communicators of the year for 2012.

Read the story here.




2011 · the Rev. Larry Hollon

The Rev. Larry Hollon, General Secretary, United Methodist Communications was named the 2011 UMAC Communicator of the Year.

(Read Oct. 21 UMNS story, Hollon named top communicator, by Kathy Noble.)






2010 · Mark Barden

At an Awards Gala on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010, the United Methodist Association of Communicators named Mark Barden, Director of Communications from the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, as its 2010 Communicator of the Year.

“The sheer quantity of work he produces, his creativity, his amazing array of skill sets – everything from finance and computer skills to photography, writing, video production and teaching – is nothing less than inspiring,” said Marty Folsom, who nominated Barden. “Mark finds a way to use his entire being in his work and in his life.”

Read the full story from United Methodist News Service.


2009 · Robin Russell

The United Methodist Association of Communicators has named Robin Russell, Managing Editor of the United Methodist Reporter, as its 2009 Communicator of the Year. The award was announced at a gala on Thursday, Oct. 22, as part of UMAC’s annual gathering, held in Nashville this year.

Read the full story from the United Methodist Reporter.



2008 · Mike DuBose

We are proud to announce Mike DuBose as 2008 Communicator of the Year. He is a photographer for United Methodist Communications, and has spent many years in ministry photographing the denomination at work in the world. He joined United Methodist Communications in 1995 after working for The Tennessean newspaper.



Previous Winners

2007 Jane Dennis
2006 The Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston
2005 Dana E. Jones
2004 Dawn Hand
2003 Jacqueline E. Vaughan
2002 The Rev. Alvin J. Horton
2001 The Rev. Robert Robertson
2000 Alice Smith
1999 The Rev. Boyce Bowdon
1998 The Rev. James (Jim) Skillington
1997 Shirley Struchen
1996 The Rev. Dan Gangler
1995 M. Garlinda Burton
1994 Betty Thompson
1993 Bettie W. Story
1992 Robert Lear
1991 Laura Okumu
1990 The Rev. Elizabeth Beams
1989 Tom McAnally
1988 Rich Peck
1987 The Rev. Judith L. Weidman
1986 Chester Vanderbilt
1985 Roger Burgess
1984 The Rev. Spurgeon Dunnam
1983 The Rev. Donald R. Wood