How the nuns use Twitter
June 23, 2014
St. Teresa of Avila set down exacting rules for the Order of Discalced Carmelites: Continuous prayer, a cloistered life protected from the temptations of the world, abstinence, fasting and charity.
So when it became time for the order to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa, the order turned to a team of Reno advertising professionals skilled with Twitter and public relations, video and YouTube.
The Estipona Group was hired to publicize a celebration in San Jose August 21-23, an event that will be highlighted by virtual choir performances that knit together the voices of more than 300 Carmelites who submitted videos from abbeys and monasteries around the world.
Among them are nuns from the Carmel of Reno monastery, which overlooks the city from a hillside near Plumb Lane on the west side of town.
Although the order has its roots deep in history and Christian humility — "discalced" means "shoeless" — the Carmelites are no strangers to technology.
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The Reno monastery is tied together with a sophisticated computer network. It provides instantaneous communication among Carmelites around the world and helps the northern Nevada community manage online orders for the all-occasion cards published in its print shop.
It's not unusual for members of the order to arrive at meetings with iPhone and laptops in hand, says Edward Espinosa, president of the advertising agency.
And in a church led by a Pope who regularly posts to his Twitter account, the Carmelite order is comfortable with social media.
But the message the Carmelites have asked The Estipona Group to deliver is as old as Christianity itself, says Jackie Shelton, the agency's vice president of public relations.
"The overall message is that goodness and kindness are within you," says Shelton. "God is for everyone."
"This is not like any other client we're working with."
Mikalee Byerman, The Estipona Group's director of audience engagement, spends a couple of hours a week at the Reno monastery. She listens carefully, learning to keep the message on track as she prepares a story rich in spirituality, music and history for delivery through social-media platforms.
Traditional media, too, have been drawn to the story.
KNPB Channel 5 Broadcasting, the PBS station in Reno, has begun work on a documentary tentatively scheduled to air in December about the celebration of the fifth centenary international celebration in San Jose.
"How many opportunities do we get to see art, technology and faith merge in one project?" asks Brent Boynton, the station's vice president for news and production.
Boynton says KNPB will make the documentary available for airing on other PBS stations around the nation and also will make it available for airing on the Carmelite's own network.
Along with performances of virtual choirs, the celebration will include the world premier of an opera scene composed and performed by New York Metropolitan mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick. (She's a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, and began her career in the chorus of the Nevada Opera.)
In fact, music created the thread that led to the work that The Estipona Group has under way for the Carmelites.
The Mary Bremer Foundation in Incline Village is among the charitable supporters of the Carmelite event. Lynn Bremer, a trustee of the foundation, had worked with Estipona several times since they met on a project for the Reno Chamber Orchestra and invited him to meet with the Carmelites.
Even though the celebration of the anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa still is nearly two months away, the peace of the Carmelites already is touching the lives of participants.
The advertising agency's staff, for starters.
The Estipona Group team has learned that it needs to schedule meetings at the monastery at the end of the workday, never in the middle of a frenetic day, because they'll never get their mojo back after visiting with the spiritual community.
"I am more peaceful," says Shelton. "Our lives have changed because of this."