Former World Council of Churches (WCC) communications director Mark E. Beach was honoured at a commemorative prayer service on 22 September.
Beach, who died 17 September in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA, served the WCC from 2007 through its 10th Assembly in 2013 and to the end of 2014. He then returned to the USA to work with the Mennonites as director of communications for Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS).
The virtual prayer service gathered former colleagues and friends online for moments of prayer, recollection, and appreciation for the former WCC staffer.
Beach was an award-winning photographer, videographer and feature writer who spent his whole career in church-related media, news writing and international reporting. Prior to joining the WCC, in his work for the Mennonite Central Committee (2000–2007), he received an Associated Church Press award for his development of the MCC’s magazine, A Common Place, and his DVD portraying post-war Iraq earned a prestigious CINE Award. With colleague Julie Kauffman he co-authored a very popular children’s cookbook, Simply in Season.
“It was with sorrow that we received the news about the passing of Mark Beach,” said Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary of the WCC. “Through his tireless ministry for communication, justice and peace, Beach leaves behind an inspiring legacy of material for the global ecumenical movement.”
Said WCC’s present director of communications, Marianne Ejdersten, “We are deeply saddened by the news of Mark’s passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. The ecumenical movement has lost one important global peace journalist with a special passion for photo journalism and audio visual production. “
Beach’s time at the WCC overlapped the general secretariats of Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia and the Most Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. His tenure brought increased attention to news and social media, as well as video production and a new visual identity, and he negotiated a successful publishing arrangement with journals giant Wiley Blackwell. Financial pressures also entailed inventive yet sometimes painful revamping of WCC communications functions, including overhauling distribution of WCC Publications, closing Ecumenical News International, consolidation of the WCC Library to the Bossey Institute, reworking of translation services, closing the onsite bookstore, and moving toward external technical maintenance of the WCC website.
A highlight of Beach’s communications era was the communications operation he led at the WCC’s 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, in late 2013. The pastel assembly symbol was omnipresent there in banners and signage. He brought several dozen journalists to Busan, joined by an equal number of Korean journalists. Alongside an intense news-writing schedule, the team published a daily newspaper, issued frequent video reports and features and interviews, issued a stream of social media posts, made arrangements for the dozens of media attending and reporting on the assembly, and mounted an onsite bookstore with hundreds of titles from WCC Publications and the Christian Literature Society of Korea.
Personable in manner, and an inveterate traveler and photographer, Beach’s work took him around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, where he documented people, churches, and cultures for relief agencies and international organizations. As director of communications for MDS, he travelled frequently to sites of disaster and recovery in the US, spotlighting the difficult work of MDS’s dedicated volunteers.
Mark Beach was the fourth of seven children, and he is survived by his family, including his wife Naomi Vlok Beach and their children Audrey and Wesley Beach, along with his siblings and their families.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made in Mark's honour to Hospice and Community Care, 4705 Old Harrisburg Pike, Mount Joy, PA 17552 or the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, 2102 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster, PA 17601.
To send a condolence, please visit Mark's Memorial Page at www.CremationPA.com.
Additional tributes to Mark Beach:
“Mark was always a staunch supporter of the concept of ‘communication for all,’ recognizing that WACC acted as a bridge between the ecumenical movement and civil society. He supported WACC's efforts to draw young people into the ambit of genuine communication and dialogue for peace and he collaborated with WACC on the ‘Busan Statement’ on communication that preceded the WCC Assembly in South Korea where WACC and WCC encouraged participation by radio journalists from the global South. Most recently, Mark accepted involvement with WACC North America as a member of its standing committee. WACC will always be grateful for Mark's sharp eye and ear for detail and his generosity of spirit.”—Philip Lee, general secretary, World Association for Christian Communication
“Mark’s integrity and care for others made us see the crucial value of healthy and mutually supportive communication team dynamics. His skills in communication, with a unique approach to the use of images to promote churches’ work for justice and peace, and his vision about the importance of bringing younger and more international communicators to contribute with WCC are some of the highlights of the legacy he leaves behind. Besides professional collaboration, we built a solid friendship. I already miss him very much.”—Marcelo Schneider, WCC communications officer
“Among Mark's major contributions to the ecumenical movement were hiring decisions he made while at the WCC. And his strategy to create a much younger-than-customary newsroom staff at the Busan assembly is helping to shape the future of the council."—Theodore A. Gill Jr., former senior editor, WCC Publications
“When a dear friend passes away, the first instinct is to mourn. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do. In the case of Mark Beach, mourning would not suffice. Mark lived. Mark loved. Mark forgave. Mark laughed. Mark packed a lot of living into a relatively short life. When he found out his time here was limited, his top priority was to make sure his family would be taken care of. He reached out to friends and family and made them part of his final journey. In his dying moments, so I was told, he had time for a funny remark. I won’t mourn my friend, I choose to celebrate a life that was fully lived. Mark, I learned this lesson from you – Get on with living.”—South African videographer Coetzee Zietsman, longtime friend and collaborator
“A fluid writer with a journalist’s standards and a photographer’s appreciation for the telling detail, Mark Beach also saw the bigger picture. Many of his initiatives positioned WCC Communications well for the emerging media landscape and for its present flowering. I have especially appreciated his vision for publications.”—J. Michael West, former publisher, WCC Publications