By Kaelanne Jordan
As Lauren Branker tells it, her work as Communications Officer at the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) is for the good of God. “He has put me here…. I’m glad that it came to my doorstep because it really helped me grow and it really helped me to see things from a different perspective and it also helped me to improve my work ethic and it gave me an opportunity to give back in a way, I did not see myself giving back.”
Branker also retains the post of Associate Member of SIGNIS Caribbean, a group of Caribbean Catholic communicators, and administrator to the Communication for the Antilles Specialist Training (CAST) programme.
Here’s what Branker told Catholic News’ Writer Kaelanne Jordan in this Getting to Know series as she shares on her passion for communications and technology, how she feels working alongside the 19 arch/bishops of the AEC and how the AEC executes its function as the bridge between the Catholic Church.
Q: How long have you been affiliated with the AEC?
I have been affiliated with the AEC since 2017 through working with the AEC Vocations Conference. At that time, they had asked me to come on and do the marketing for the vocations conference so that’s how I got involved. Then Fr John Persaud, now a bishop, saw how I worked on that committee and asked me to be part-time communications officer for the AEC, and now I’m full-time in this office.
Q: What exactly is the work of the AEC?
The work of the AEC Secretariat is to manage the affairs of the bishops and these bishops represent the various dioceses located in the Antilles. For example, managing the affairs would be distributing press releases they have issued, scheduling meetings for them, for their commissions as well as meeting with them monthly to ensure that they are up to date with everything that is going on in the region. They plan, they execute, they project, and that is done on a monthly basis.
The work of the AEC is to ensure that the bishops, in my mind, stay connected to the Caribbean community and that is done through constantly communicating with them via video, news articles, virtual conversations, radio programmes etc.
Staying connected to the people, ensuring that we as Caribbean Church know that our bishops are available to them and that we see what is happening and we are doing different things.
The work of the AEC is just a wide area. People feel it’s just bishops-oriented but it’s not. The AEC is not just made up of bishops, it’s made up of bishops and laity. A lot of the work being done is by laity through commissions and liaison offices.
Q: What exactly do you do at this office?
I have two core functions at this time. I’m the office administrator as well as the communications officer.
The office administrator takes direct instructions from the General Secretary [Fr Don Chambers]. What he requests in relation to the activities of the AEC, I will complete.
That could be ensuring particular emails go out, particular correspondences, phone requests are fulfilled, schedule any type of meetings. I will manage his calendar and I will manage his day-to-day activities so that there are no clashes, and he is present for his activities. My office duties really are about supporting the General Secretary.
With regard to communications, I would ensure that all our platforms are maintained and are organised on a daily basis. For example, I would ensure the website is up to date and our social media platforms are up to date, I would check our Zoom schedules, schedule meetings, host meetings for different bishops, commissions, and liaison officers.
I would also prepare press releases upon request by Fr Chambers, prepare PowerPoint presentations for either the General Secretary or bishops or commissions if requested. I will also do research for particular projects that are ongoing, or I will do research for future projects that may come on board.
Q: You spent some time at the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission. Tell us about your involvement with this commission.
I went to St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain then The University of West Indies (UWI) Mona to do a Bachelor’s in Management Studies with a specialisation in marketing. I started working in the Church as soon as I came out of school and the Family Life Commission is where I planted my feet.
As soon as I came out of school, Bishop Robert Llanos said, “I want you to work in the Family Life Commission and I want you to meet Tricia [Syms]…. And that was how it started.
I was the Executive Coordinator for finance and operations, and I spent five years there, from 2012 to 2017. However, I still volunteer at the Commission.
I always tell people family life is my vocation. I do not have kids, but I really want kids and I know as they say, ‘In God’s timing’. But family life is my vocation and I have Bishop Robert Llanos and Tricia Syms and Crystal Johnson to thank for that because when I started to work in the Family Life Commission, they really supported me in so many different ways and I’m so grateful for that.
Q: How did you get involved with the AEC?
When I started working in the AEC, I have to admit I did not know what the entity is about but when I realised the entity had so much potential for growth and so much potential for image, I started to take my skills and put it to the test.
And my goal for the AEC was for the Caribbean Church, for laity to see this office, to see the bishops as just ordinary people like you and me and they are totally in touch with what is happening, and they are not just there to exist.
They want to be connected as well and that is why I spend so much time trying to make sure our platforms are available and maintained because I know that is one-way Caribbean Church stays connected to our shepherds.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing the AEC in fulfilling its mandate?
Definitely the lack of human and financial resources. I know that is a challenge that goes across the board, but it is very real. And these times are some very difficult times…, there are so many things we want to develop for our region, and we would like to launch and offer our Caribbean Church. However, we don’t have the human resources to execute it adequately, and of course the financial resources to do so as well.
Q: Can you share some of your learnings during your time at the AEC?
I’ve definitely learnt how to network efficiently, about the different cultures of each of the islands I have to work with. How to communicate more effectively, giving feedback and getting feedback as well is something that is extremely constructive for myself.
I have learnt how to listen to the needs of others and really try to work to satisfy those needs. And this might be funny, I’ve learnt how to work with men, because I’ve worked in an organisation where myself and Cherry [her co-worker] are the
only females and we are up against 19 males and I have really learnt how to work with men, understand how they communicate, understand their emotional presence as well.
I’m able to be confident in this post because when you’re up against men, you feel intimidated by it but, I’m very, very lucky to work with a group of men that are very open and receptive to certain things.
Q: What do you consider some of your milestones/contributions while working at the AEC?
Some of the milestones and contributions was launching the website (aecbishops.org). The AEC had a website before, but it was not as robust and interactive as it is now. Creating an online presence for the bishops I would say has changed the game for us.
The virtual conversations have made a big difference because a lot of times people would see these bishops in pictures and pulpits but now, they get to chat with them virtually and having those virtual conversations allow people to connect with their bishop or other bishops.
Another milestone I would say would be really helping the commissions and liaison officers learn how to use the Zoom platform effectively. Sometimes they might see it as a limitation but honestly, through training and development and exposing them to the Zoom platform, they have really taken advantage of it.
Now they have their own Zoom accounts and they themselves are training their own diocese. Another contribution I would have to say is the CAST programme.
Seeing them [participants] learn the material, use the material, and produce something, wow. Honestly, I could not believe that we at the AEC and SIGNIS Caribbean are able to develop a programme like that…that was a huge contribution for our region.
Q: What are your thoughts on the synodal journey that the archdiocese is part of and what role do you see the AEC has in journeying together?
Well, the synodal journey continues. Right now, we are in the process of completing the synod synthesis. I think that the responses and the feedback we’ve gotten from the different dioceses honestly has made things so tangible for us.
Yes, we understand that it was happening before but to see the responses before us and to see the needs in real time has reminded us that journeying together is not temperamental, but it is something that is continuous.
And the responses and feedback has helped us to zero in on what journeying together means and the different areas of journeying together that we the AEC can do.
And also, as we have commissions in the AEC, it helps us to target particular areas using the commissions that we have to encourage journeying together. So, the synodal journey I think was extremely beneficial for our Antilles.