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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

"The Writing on the Wall" WRITERS WORKSHOP REPORT (UBS | November 26 - 28, 2015)


A Writers Workshop, “The Writing on the Wall”, jointly organized by The Commission on Communication and Relations (COCR) of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), Board of Theological Text Book Program of South Asia (BTTBPSA) and Union Biblical Seminary (UBS), was held at UBS, Pune from November 26 – 28, 2015. Participants at the workshop included Pastors, theology students and theology professors from various denominations and colleges around India. The Program theme was conceived based on the fundamental premise that Prophetic writing is not only about being able to read the signs of times to come but to respond to it in boldness with a passion for truth and justice that itself becomes a force for transformation in society. The Program was purported to encourage a culture of writing to yield greater contribution to Theological text books in regional languages in India and also to produce the kind of writing that causes change and triumph of truth using not only traditional paradigms of writing but also effectively employing the tools available in emerging information and communication technology.

The Program started with words of welcome by Rev. Dr. Mohan Larbeer (Secretary, BTTBPSA). He expressed his wish for a greater impetus to the writing of theological material in regional languages to enable the message to truly reach the grassroots in our country. Rev. Dr. T. M. Emmanuel (President, BTTBPSA) led the devotion in which he spoke about the methodology, perspectives and challenges of writing. He explained the need for more writing that are reflections and responses to the various issues in Church and Society. Rev. Caesar J. David (Executive Secretary, NCCI – COCR) then introduced the scope and purpose of the program.


Rev. Dr. Shekhar Singh (Principal, UBS) delivered the keynote address in which he gave a sketch of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule’s life to illustrate the profound influence of writing. He then brought out several characteristics of a prophet from Daniel’s life: fearlessness, truthfulness, integrity, honesty, unequivocal stand, uncompromised values, desire for justice, etc. Dr. Shekhar showed the prophetic characteristics as crucially needed today by holding these values in juxtaposition with the complex social construct in India marked by issues such as moral policing, ghar wapsi, intolerance, poverty, ecology, caste, gender bias, use of religion to fan communalism, etc. He ended the address with a challenge to write for effective transformation and change.



In the session on “Theological perspectives on the role of communication media and its implications for Christianity in India), Dr. Muthuraj Swamy (Professor of Theology and Ethics, UBS) explained the theological bases for prophetic engagement and elaborated on many practical aspects of writing including the challenges for a writer, needed knowledge and skills, motivation and perspective.

In the session on “Types of Writing”, Mr. Samuel Jonathan (Principal Correspondent of "The Hindu", A.P.) listed the various types of writing in categories of scholarly research and functional literature. He spoke about the differences between various types of writing like interview, feature writing, opinion, news, story and so on. He taught several skills that are essential for a writer including the inverted pyramid model (Lead, Body, Tail) for reporting events, effectiveness through layouts, styles and so on. He gave examples from the process line of newspaper publishing to reveal best practices in writing for all genres. He prepared the way for the next session on the importance of emerging technology by describing the future of journalism as needing to integrate with consumer-level technology.

In the workshop following this session, participants were given assignments to write a news item or feature according to the principles, styles and pointers learned in the input session. It would be analyzed the next day. Several participants wrote short pieces that were displayed on the screen, and in a live demonstration were edited to reveal how the content can be made more gripping and effective with some basic alterations. It was a very helpful and practical workshop for the participants.

In the session on “Advantages and challenges for Prophetic Writing in light of emerging Information and Communications Technology (ICT)”, Rev. Anilal Jose (Presbyter, Church of South India) gave the highlights of emerging technology with special reference to social media networking that is becoming the norm of functional communication in this age. He sketched the possibilities rendered by technology and the scope for creativity that is limited only by imagination. He also pointed to some of the challenges for Prophetic Writing such as the requirement for greater tenacity today in light of  a super active and omni-directional media environment. It was found that the reality of emerging ICT is unavoidable and must be adapted to, which reality extends also to reveal the need for writing ministries to break out of some of the confines of its traditional orientations, and be upscaled to harness the potential available through technological breakthroughs.



The session on “dynamic of opinion-shaping and opinion-building”, taken by Mr. Samuel Jonathan focused on how public opinion is formed or altered. The dynamics of this in terms of content, style and context-positioning were explained with primary reference to newspaper publishing processes. It was also explained that when disagreeable rhetoric is developing in the public forums, the counter-narrative cannot be effective if it is limited to private domains of Churches and organizations. The prophetic writer must contend with issues in the public domain using every tool including mainstream media and alternative media that is available. Some time of this session was also devoted to understanding the way for Churches to maintain relationship with the media whereby Church-based organizations can effectively use mainstream media, to the extent possible, for pertinent debate on a wider level.

In the session on “The future of writing / Essential skills for writers of the future”, Rev. Anilal Jose traced the history of writing from its earliest form to the present showing how some of the concepts have reemerged in the package of current technology, for example pictograms seen coming back as emoticons and other icons being used profusely in most applications. The Prophetic Writer today must be media literate in order to access information, analyze and evaluate it, and finally communicate the message/content in a variety of forms and formats.

In the session on “Prophetic Writing and Communication rights”, Rev. Dr. Samuel Meshack (President, World Association for Christian Communication – WACC global), gave an overview of the primacy of Communication rights as they are fundamental in the pursuit of justice in all areas of life. He explained that it is the Christian’s prophetic calling to challenge injustice wherever it exists. He brought the focus to bear on basic questions such as “Whose news?”, and “Who makes the news?” and so on,  to reveal that oftentimes decisions and policies are made by secondary stakeholders thereby denying the rights of people to communicate their own stories. He expanded the understanding of “Poverty” to include “Communication Poverty” and “Information Poverty”. He stressed on the need for developing and using alternative media in order to fill the gaps between the rhetoric of the rich and the needs of the poor. The Prophetic writer must take sides with the poor, afflicted, marginalized and the denied by evoking a critical consciousness towards reconfiguring balances.



Rev. Dr. Samuel Meshack facilitated the last session to extract practical points for follow-up and action ensuing from the learnings of this workshop. The participants shared their observations which included acknowledgement of new insights and awareness about writing, particularly Prophetic Writing. The following points were drawn up as an outcome / Action points of the workshop:
  1. Creating a group-administered “Theological Writers Forum” for theological reflections, responses to current affairs/issues, and other functional literature for wider sharing and networking.
  2.  Theological Text Book writing in regional languages.
  3.  Adopting a culture of Writing as individual commitment and contributing articles, features and news in newspapers and other publications in Church circles as well as public domains.

 The Workshop concluded with vote of thanks by Rev. Caesar J. David, closing prayer offered by Rev. Dr. Samuel Meshack, and Benediction pronounced by Rev. Dr. Mohan Larbeer.

It was a most engaging, instructive and inspiring Writers Workshop that has broken new grounds of awareness and responsibility in cognition of our context of new and emerging technology. It is hoped that Christian Writers will equip themselves with the required skills, perspectives, passion and dedication to address issues in Church and society by relevantly using writing as an instrument of change to reflect and restore Life-values.


Caesar J. David
Executive Secretary,

Commission on Communications and Relations