Cecile S. Holmes named 2016 Lifetime Achievement recipient
By Ken Chitwood, RNA Treasurer
Thirty years ago Cecile Holmes started working on a beat that some find downright strange.
Starting as the religion and food writer at the Greensboro News and Record in Greensboro, N.C., Holmes was quickly captivated by the beat.
“I learned some odd things,” on the beat Holmes said. Like, “how to write quasi-interesting stories about the peripatetic John Paul II when I had had no sleep and way too much caffeine.”
On a more serious note, she also found herself sticking up for stories her editors wanted to shut down or keeping her sense of humor when she interviewed the holier-than-thou. Through it all Holmes said, “I still think religion is the best reporting beat.”
Holmes eventually stuck with the religion beat for three decades. She served as a long-time correspondent for Religion News Service and is the former award-winning religion editor at the Houston Chronicle. Her work was featured in publications as diverse as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Los Angeles Times, the Orlando Sentinel, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and The Washington Post. After garnering such diverse experience she took responsibility for the beat itself and served as the president of the Religion News Association from 1996–98. Today, Holmes teaches the next generation of religion journalists at the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications in her hometown of Columbia.
For her long-time dedication on the beat, Holmes is being rewarded with the William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to individuals who demonstrate exceptional long-term commitment and service to the Religion News Association and its members, and to the field of religion reporting.
She said, “I am honored to receive this award from the Religion News Association because of the caliber of its membership and the quality of its outreach and service to the profession.”
Reflecting further on her many years of reporting on religion, Holmes said, “Being a religion writer gave me deep respect for beliefs and belief systems. It taught me to never stop asking questions, to not be afraid to ask other reporters for help — so many guided me and encouraged me early on.”
Recognizing the need for mentorship on what can sometimes prove a challenging beat, Holmes now focuses on training would-be journalists at USC. Holmes specializes in teaching advanced writing courses and has developed new courses including one in faith, values and the mass media.
Traveling around the world to report on religion — from Italy to Israel, Jordan and Mexico to the Caribbean — she said, “I was passionate about religion writing and the need for informed, comprehensive religion reporting when I worked the beat full-time.”
Now, she brings that perspective to the classroom as she instructs student journalists in what is often an environment fraught with tension. Per her website, Holmes shares her personal teaching philosophy, “noting that Parker J. Palmer in ‘The Courage to Teach’ describes teaching as an occupation and a calling that must be undergirded by spiritual practice and a deep understanding of one's self.”
“Today as an educator and occasional religion writer, I see an increased need for the perspective we can provide in a world wracked by violence and too often bereft of compassion,” said Holmes.
Holmes' general research revolves around religion and media, especially in reporting and retelling personal stories related to spirituality. In addition, she conducts research on writing, international communications, race and religion, civil rights and interfaith understanding.
Beyond teaching Holmes has been heavily involved in cross-cultural efforts in interfaith and race relations. In that vein, she assisted in founding Women of Many Faiths in Columbia.
Inspired by her work in many arenas of religion reporting and civically-minded interfaith efforts, Holmes is the author of two books: “Witnesses to the Horror: North Carolinians Remember the Holocaust,” and “Four Women, Three Faiths: Inspiring Spiritual Journeys.”
Through the surprising and the surreal, the mundane and the meaningful, Holmes has evinced the best in religion reporting and inspired others along the way. To that end, she is more than deserving of the William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award.
Holmes will receive her award on Sept. 24 in Silver Spring, Md., at the 2016 RNA Annual Conference Awards Banquet.