Epikoinonía is a word you might not have heard before. It’s a Greek word that quite simply means ‘communication.’ Many of the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek.
“This Greek word in the Christian context implies a connection to community that is deep, intimate, near, before and after,” said the Rev. Gary Henderson, Chief Relationship Officer for United Methodist Communications. “Where there is no communication, there is no community.”
A few years ago, Henderson had the idea of creating an award to recognize and celebrate excellence in communication ministry, the equivalent of an Oscar award for church communicators.
“The award is called an Epi – a shortened form of epikoinonía – and it is rooted in the faithful call to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Henderson.
Since 2019, United Methodist Communications has honored annual conference communicators who embody the spirit of Christian communication with excellence – usually several awards each year.
Henderson has personally presented many of the awards and says the recognition has been well received. “I believe people always appreciate being noticed and appreciated,” he said. “The presentation is often accompanied by tears from the recipients.”
The presentations occur during annual conference sessions, which Cathy Bruce of the Kentucky Annual Conference, one of the inaugural recipients of the award, found particularly meaningful.
“I was shocked, honored and a little awestruck to be granted such an award at our annual conference gathering in front of Bishop Leonard Fairley and the entire body of our annual conference,” said Bruce. “It is always an honor to be recognized by a body of your peers and I will cherish the award and the memory of receiving it.”
“I joked that United Methodist Communications simply chose a person with a hard-to-pronounce name for a hard-to-pronounce award,” said 2022 recipient Todd Rossnagel of the Louisiana Annual Conference. “But I know a lot of discernment went into this, and for that, I am deeply honored and incredibly thankful.”
The honorees for 2023 include Kay Panovec, West Ohio Annual Conference; Christina Dillabough, Desert Southwest Annual Conference; Regine Dominique Thalmas Tayoro, Côte d’Ivoire Annual Conference; Jasmine Haynes, Mississippi Annual Conference and Danette Clifton, North Alabama Conference.
Clifton said the recognition was both a shock and an honor. “The standing ovations from so many people were both humbling and affirming … Early in my career, I realized that the opportunity to help share other people’s faith stories is a sacred trust to never take for granted. I will cherish this recognition and Rev. Henderson’s words knowing I am indeed blessed to be called to help create Christian community.”
Royya James, Senior Manager of U.S. Conference Relations at United Methodist Communications, works behind the scenes to coordinate the awards with the annual conferences, sharing with them the most important aspect: it’s a surprise!
"It is one of my favorite parts of the job," said James. "I get an opportunity to coordinate the presentation with the full support of the respective bishop and other conference leadership … the conference works really hard to keep it a surprise. It is a blessing to be able to share with the entire annual conference our appreciation for the great work our communicators do."
Keeping the awards secret from the honorees is a difficult feat since communicators play a critical role in keeping the meetings on schedule, but Kay Panovec was indeed caught off guard. She knew minute-by-minute what was supposed to be on the agenda for West Ohio’s three-day meeting, so finding herself in the limelight was a bit of a curve ball.
“I’m humbled to be a recipient of an Epi Award from UMCom for excellence in communications ministry,” said Panovec. “They were all so proud they kept a secret from me!”
Panovec said she couldn’t do it without other members of her communication team. Other award recipients were quick to share credit as well.
“This doesn’t happen alone,” said 2022 recipient Todd Seifert of the Great Plains Conference. “This is a great team effort.”
*Diane Degnan is a freelance public relations professional in Nashville, Tenn.
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