Take 3 Reply

BuchananAn interview with John Buchanan

John Buchanan, who received the David Steele Distinguished Writer award for his contributions as a church writer, is a former moderator of the General Assembly and is widely known in church circles for his work as editor of The Christian Century. He is the former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He responds to 3 questions asked by the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

  1. Whose writing has most influenced your work?

John Updike, more than any other. Over the years, I have read a lot of what he wrote. I was going to say everything, but he wrote voluminously and I doubt that anyone read it all. His novels caught me first. The Rabbit series will, I think, be read for years as a thoughtful portrait of American culture in the late 20th century. I used to wait eagerly for Updike’s newest book and have two shelves of them. Roger’s Version became a rich source of material and eloquent quotations for sermons and lectures and produced knowing laughter every time I used them to speak to clergy. Running throughout Updike’s writing is a strong current of orthodox Christian doctrine. It’s really quite close to the surface: creation as expression of God’s goodness, original sin, repentance, forgiveness, redemption. It’s all there, including the church. I loved his poetry as well, and his books of essays and criticism make for simply good reading. His influence was in teaching me to compose sermons carefully, choosing words intentionally, editing and rewriting right up to preaching time, even editing, scratching out, rewording between services. His selection of words is perfection.

Frederick Buechner has also been my literary companion and teacher along the way. I watched carefully as he crafted sentences, sometimes extending just a phrase or two beyond the natural stop. He did it in his preaching as well, very effectively.

  1. How has your work at the Christian Century affected your faith?

Working at the Christian Century for 12 years has been a wonderful reminder of several things a busy parish pastor is inclined to forget: the global community of Christian scholarship, for instance–the theological education, research, writing, translating, exegesis, arguing, contending that has gone on for 20 centuries and continues today. Augustine, I believe, attributed Christianity’s  success to out-thinking everyone else in the ancient world. There is still nothing quite like the sustained scholarly inquiry and work that continues in institutions of theological education all over the world. And working at the Century has reminded me of the depth and diversity of Christianity in our own contemporary culture.

  1. What Scripture passages do you think the PC(USA) most needs to listen to today?

Kurt Vonnegut said that the meek inheriting the earth was the best idea anybody ever had. I agree. So, Matthew 5:1-10 for starters. Then Mathew 25, when Jesus clearly says that we are judged on the basis of the love we extend to those who need us. Finally, the Last Supper discourses in the Gospel of John, when Jesus tells his friends that their love for one another will be the way the world will know God. I think about that a lot as we keep finding reasons to separate from one another. Every time it happens I wonder what the world sees of the gospel.

Take 3 Reply

An interview with Eugene Peterson

Peterson3Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor, scholar, author, and poet, has written more than 30 books. He is perhaps best known for The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, written to make the original meaning of the Scriptures more accessible for today’s readers.

  1. Whose writing has most influenced your work?

Dostoevsky. I observed and immersed myself in his writings in my early years of formation as a pastor; he gave me the imagination to discern the complexities of the spiritual life in a culture that does not affirm it.

Karl Barth. He gave me a theology that was both simple and profound, gathering Scripture into a cohesive interaction with the life of faith. He has seemed to me a well that never goes dry.

Both writers have been companions with me for 50 years.

  1. In what ways did your work on The Message impact your faith?

In the 20 years that I was doing the work of translating, it both confirmed and clarified my relation with the Scriptures. The clarification came through finding an American equivalent that kept the original Hebrew and Greek alive in my culture. The confirmation came as I recognized how congruent my life had become with what I had been reading and living for 40 years.

3. Which of Jesus’ parables do you think the Presbyterian Church most needs to listen to today?

As I was translating the parables, with a kind of shock of recognition, I recognized the fig tree parable (Luke 13:6–9) as my favorite. I renamed it “Manure.” Mostly, I think, because so much of the Presbyterian Church’s conversation has become so cantankerous, combative, and schismatic. And manure seemed the most effective and least contentious way to build up the soil and return civility to our church. (My reflections on this parable are in Tell It Slant, pages 65–74.)

Here’s what your DUES can do Reply

By Bill Lancaster

Small amounts add up to a lot for your Presbyterian Writers Guild. Your $25 annual dues payments make it possible for the Guild to carry on all its work.

With the help of your dues, the Guild publishes The Writer (this electronic newsletter), supports a website, offers a biennial General Assembly Luncheon, sponsors webinars, and gives prestigious awards. Two of these awards, the David W. Steele Distinguished Writer Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award, are funded by dues. The PPC First Book Award is now funded by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

The General Assembly Luncheon brings many members together, gives us an opportunity to draw others into the fold, and provides a setting for hearing world-class writers speak about their work.

The webinars bring experts in electronic publishing, marketing, and writing to your computer to assist you in your writing endeavors. These can be life-changing events in our fast-changing publishing world.

The Distinguished Writer Award allows us to recognize outstanding authors such as Eugene Peterson in 2009-2010, John Buchanan in 2011-2012, and Kathleen Bostrom in 2013-2014. This award carries a monetary grant of $1,000, plus travel and expenses to General Assembly.

The Lifetime Achievement Award allows us to honor singular writers who have shown greatness over a lifetime of work.

The PPC First Book Award allows us to lift up emerging authors and showcase their first book.

The Writer supplies guidance for effective writing and gives members a place to share news about their latest publications and accomplishments.

Through your $25 annual dues, you belong to this group of distinguished Presbyterian writers, receive support for the art and craft of writing, and CONTRIBUTE to the awards the Guild is able to give.

Your dues allow the Guild to support writers as they seek to express beauty, truth, and faith through writing.

You will receive an email soon with a way to pay your 2015 dues electronically through PayPal.

If you prefer to pay by check, please send $25, payable to the Presbyterian Writers Guild, to Emily Enders Odom, Vice President, 308 N. Chapman St., Greensboro, NC 27403. And while you are at it, share with other members news of your writing by including a note with your check, and do send us any new email or other address changes.

Thank you for your continuing support of the Guild!

Bill Lancaster is treasurer of the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

New board members elected Reply

The Presbyterian Writers Guild board met by conference call October 24 and elected two new board members and a corporate agent.

New board member Anita Coleman is a writer and former university professor living in Southern California. She maintains several blogs, including Eyes on Christ, and is the author of numerous books and devotional materials. She also has written articles for The Writer about social media and the church.

Todd Jenkins, another new board member, is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Tennessee. His book Tuesday’s Muse was a runner up for this year’s Best First Book award, presented by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

The new corporate agent for PWG is Ann Rehfeldt, who has been doing writing and communications full-time for Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago for 15 years. She replaces Kathy Bostrom, who will be unable to continue in the post because she is moving to California. The corporate agent is required to be a resident of Illinois. Bostrom will continue as a member of the PWG board.

An amazing experience Reply

Rachel Shussett

Rachel Shussett

By Rachel Shussett

Summer internship opens doors to possible career in church communications

Editor’s note: Rachel Shussett was the recipient of a Jameson-Hines Scholarship from the Presbyterian Writers Guild to fund her work as summer intern for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Communications in Louisville, where she divided her time between Presbyterian News Service, Presbyterians Today, and the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study. Shussett wrote these reflections just before leaving Louisville in August to return to Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, where she is a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in journalism.

Summer is coming to an end, and it is time to move back up to Pennsylvania to see my family and then head off to start my junior year of college. How did that happen?!

This summer has truly flown–and when I say that it’s because I was having fun, I really mean it. Having this internship with Presbyterians Today, the Mission Yearbook, and the Presbyterian News Service was an amazing experience, one that I am so grateful to have had.

I learned a lot about myself this summer. You don’t truly know what you are capable of until you are tossed into a real work environment and have to hit the ground running. It could have been scary, or stressful, or a total nightmare. But for me, it was a huge blessing. I accomplished so much in my three months in Louisville, and much of that is thanks to those that I worked with.

Over the past three months, I have written and edited more stories than I can remember, posted a gazillion tweets, Facebook statuses, and Instagram photos, and traveled to two conferences. Not too shabby, if I say so myself!

I loved every minute of this summer. It truly solidified my drive to work hard, finish school, and then get a job as a journalist. It isn’t an easy path, but if you work hard enough, you can make it. And, as Philippians 4:13 so aptly states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This summer was a wild ride, and I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to be an intern with communications at the national office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I’m also grateful for the doors already being opened as a result. A very special thanks is in order for the Presbyterian Writers Guild, which funded my internship this summer and helped to make it happen.

And with that, I bid you all adieu–until next time!

Into the whirlwind Reply

PWG-funded summer intern reflects on her experience at the 221st General Assembly (2014)

By Rachel Shussett

Being a cradle Presbyterian, I have been to my fair share of General Assemblies. My father is a Presbyterian pastor, now executive presbyter, and my mom is always heavily involved with whichever church the family is attending, so going to GA has always served as our vacation for the summer.

However, this GA was remarkably different from any that I have attended previously.

When I was younger, I served as an observer: I ran freely in the exhibit hall, getting lots of Frisbees, pens, highlighters, and laughs. At the 2012 General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I served as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate, helping to make major decisions for the church within the Immigration Committee and plenary.

But this year, as one of the reporters on the staff of the Communication Center, I wrote articles for the General Assembly newspaper, which was published daily for those attending the Assembly in Detroit. The articles were also published online for those tracking the events from afar.

This GA was a whirlwind experience for me. I was all over the place, serving multiple purposes at the same time, as I ran around COBO, the convention center of Detroit.

Initially, my main duty was to write for the daily newspaper. I wrote stories about breakfasts, worship services, the translation and interpreter teams, and the number of people attending GA virtually this year. It was quite the gig and resulted in my meeting a lot of really cool people who have important roles both within the PC(USA) and other denominations.

My other role was to handle social media for Presbyterian Today. On a normal day, this would mean posting a link or picture or two on the Facebook and Twitter accounts and maybe posting a relevant picture on Instagram.

At GA, this drastically changed. I was doing live posting from all three accounts, particularly during plenary sessions, to keep those following the action from afar in the loop. Sometimes it meant posting a quote from the sermon at a daily worship service, and other times it meant reporting the results of an important vote in plenary session.

I learned a lot in the 10 days that I spent in Detroit. Prior to GA, I had never written for a daily newspaper–talk about riding by the seat of your pants! It was a crazy adrenaline rush, getting my assignments for the day and then running around chasing the stories before sitting down and writing the actual text in time for deadline. I was forced to really pay attention to the proceedings so that all the information being posted was correct. The work was hard, but so worthwhile.

Overall, I can definitely say that working in the Communication Center at GA 221 (or maybe I should say #GA221) was probably the best way to experience GA. I loved being able to experience so many aspects of the meeting, from the exhibit hall, worship, meals, committees, and plenary.

I am so blessed to be having this opportunity–not only to serve at General Assembly but to be able to work in communications with the Presbyterian Mission Agency as an intern for the summer. Stay tuned for more tales of the Floor 5 Intern!

Editor’s note: Rachel Shussett is the recipient of a Jameson-Hines Scholarship from the Presbyterian Writers Guild. Her General Assembly assignment was part of her work as summer intern for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Communication in Louisville, where she is dividing her time between Presbyterian News Service, Presbyterians Today, and the
Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study.

This fall Shussett will be a junior at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. She is majoring in public relations and minoring in journalism.

“These boots were made for writing” Reply

Kathy Bostrom is congratulated by J. Barrie Shepherd at the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch

Kathy Bostrom is congratulated by J. Barrie Shepherd at the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch

2014 Distinguished writer talks shoes

By Eva Stimson

Kathleen Bostrom sees parallels between shoes and writing.

“Sometimes we writers have to try on a lot of shoes until we find the ones that fit,” she said June 19 at the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly. She said it took some years for her to find her niche as a writer. Bostrom, whose works have been translated into 17 languages around the world, received the Guild’s 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.

Bostrom said she first tried on “the soft leather shoes of a poet.” She tried the running shoes of a short story writer, then the hiking boots of a novelist, and then the “sensible sturdy shoes of a nonfiction writer.” None of these felt right.

“The shoes I ended up going back to time and time again were the playful shoes of a children’s book writer,” she said. After four-and-a-half years and hundreds of rejection letters, Bostrom finally had her first children’s book accepted for publication.

“Once I found the shoes that fit best, I poured my energy into writing for children.” When writing for children, she said, “I become like a child myself.”

Bostrom confessed that at various times in her career she had the audacity to wish she could be the next Frederick Buechner or the next Katherine Paterson or some other writer she admired. But a woman in her congregation gave her some advice: “You don’t have to worry about filling someone else’s shoes. Your own fit just fine.”

Bostrom challenged listeners: “Go out and do a little shoe shopping. Experiment with a variety of styles. But remember, your shoes fit just fine.”

The distinguished writer award is named for the late David Steele, Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in The Presbyterian Outlook. The award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.

Previous winners include Katherine Paterson, Fredrick Buechner, Ann Weems, Eugene H. Peterson, Gustav Niebuhr, Marj Carpenter, Gayraud Wilmore, Eva Stimson, Kathleen Norris, Bill Tammeus, the late Vic Jameson, John Buchanan and Doris Betts.

Bostrom, who served as co-pastor of Wildwood (Ill.) Presbyterian Church for 22 years, has published numerous articles and more than three dozen books, most for children. Her book Who is Jesus? was a finalist for the 2000 Gold Medallion Award and What About Heaven? was nominated for the People’s Choice Award.

Bostrom’s books have sold several million copies in the 16 years since her first book was published. Sales of her “Little Blessings” series total more than 3 million in the U.S. alone and have been printed in 17 languages, the most recent of which is Indonesian. Italian translations of her books can be found in the Vatican bookstore in Rome.

Robert John Andrews accepting his award for Best First Book

Robert John Andrews accepting his award for Best First Book. Photos by Jerry L. Van Marter.

At its luncheon, the Presbyterian Writers Guild also honored Robert John Andrews, a pastor in Danville, Pennsylvania, as recipient of this year’s Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) First Book Award for Nathaniel’s Call, his novel set during the Civil War. The award honors the best first book by a Presbyterian author published during the calendar years of 2012–2013.

Andrews’ book, self-published in 2012, was selected from among 17 entries in a variety of genres to receive the biennial award. His novel is told from the point of view of a Presbyterian chaplain and a physician attached to a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War.

Andrews has been the pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville since 1989. He has been moderator of Northumberland Presbytery and writes a weekly column for the Danville News.

Accepting the award, Andrews said, “I love fiction—could be because I’m a preacher.” He said what he enjoys about fiction writing is “the power of truth being conveyed and getting into the minds and hearts of characters and influencing their motives.” He added, “My aim in fiction is to have readers put the book down and exclaim, ‘That was religious!’”

 

Introducing Rachel Shussett Reply

RachelShussett

Presbyterian Writers Guild-funded summer intern begins work in PC(USA) communications office
By Jerry L. Van Marter

Rachel Shussett, recipient of a Jameson-Hines Scholarship from the Presbyterian Writers Guild, has begun work as summer intern for the Office of Communication in Louisville. Shussett will be dividing her time between Presbyterian News Service, Presbyterians Today, and the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study.

Shussett will be a junior at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. She is majoring in public relations and minoring in journalism. This past year she was a staff writer for Westminster’s weekly newspaper, Holcad (Shussett says the name has something to do with ships). Next year she will be News Editor and is in line to be Editor-In-Chief her senior year.

Shussett currently officially resides in Allentown, Pa., where her father, Steve, is executive for Lehigh Presbytery.

During her May 15-August 15 internship, Shussett will be writing for Presbyterians Today, writing and editing for Presbyterian News Service, and helping prepare the 2015 Mission Yearbook for publication later this summer. Her “bosses” will be Patrick Heery of PT, Billie Healy of MYB and Bethany Furkin of PNS, who will serve as Shussett’s day-to-day supervisor.

Her first BIG assignment will be traveling to Detroit in June to serve on the news reporting staff for the 221st General Assembly. In July, she will cover the New Wilmington Mission Conference for PNS. In August, she will help cover the annual Evangelism and Church Growth Conference.

Of her internship, Shussett says, “I am looking forward to learning from people who have been in communications ministry for a long time and learning how to integrate my ideas into theirs.”

Look for reflections written by Shussett on her summer internship in future editions of The Writer.

Join us in Detroit! Reply

If you will be in Detroit next month for the 221st General Assembly, please plan on attending the Presbyterian Writers Guild luncheon on Thursday, June 19. Highlights of the luncheon include:

  • Presentation of the 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award to Kathy Bostrom, author of more than three dozen books, most for children
  • Presentation of the Best First Book Award to Robert John Andrews for his Civil War novel Nathaniel’s Call
  • Brief addresses by the award-winners
  • Information about new membership benefits
  • Election of Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) officers
  • Opportunity to purchase signed copies of PWG-award-winning books

A much-anticipated ritual at the luncheon is the singing of the PWG hymn written by late member Vic Jameson. The luncheon also is an excellent opportunity to meet other PWG members and board members and to network with other writers and aspiring writers.

Tickets for the luncheon may be purchased online for $38 each by anyone registering for General Assembly. Tickets will also be available for $40 each at the COBO Center (convention center) in Detroit prior to the June 19 event.

Novel set during Civil War wins First Book Award Reply

Presbyterian Writers Guild selects Robert John Andrews for prize

By Jerry L. Van Marter

ImageThe Presbyterian Writers Guild has selected Robert John Andrews, a pastor in Danville, Pennsylvania, to receive this year’s Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) First Book Award for his novel set during the Civil War, Nathaniel’s Call. The award honors the best first book by a Presbyterian author published during the calendar years of 2012–2013.

Andrews’ book, self-published in 2012, was selected from among 17 entries in a variety of genres to receive the biennial award. The PPC First Book Award winner is recognized at the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s General Assembly luncheon, which this year will be Thursday, June 19, in Detroit.

Announcing the award, Jane Hines of Nashville, retired director of communications for the Synod of Living Waters and chair of the PPC First Book Award Committee, said, “Several genres are represented in the 17 books we received (teen science fiction, memoirs, poetry, young adult fiction, novels, journals, dissertation re-writes). We were just looking for the best writing in any category and found it in Nathaniel’s Call.

Andrews’ novel is told from the point of view of a Presbyterian chaplain and a physician attached to a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War. “From the first page to the last page,” Hines said, “we were captivated by the vivid descriptions, the characterizations, the historical research, the love stories, the flow of words.

“As a Nashville-based committee comprised of Southerners,” Hines added, “we don’t think it will be a best-seller in Vicksburg and Richmond, but we see Nathaniel’s Call as a splendid example of the art of writing.”

Andrews has been the pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville since 1989. He has theology degrees from Princeton and Pittsburgh Theological Seminaries and was ordained in 1978. He and his wife, Elaine, have three children. He has been moderator of Northumberland Presbytery and writes a weekly column for the Danville News.

Other notable entries in the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s PPC First Book Award competition:

  • Second place: Tuesday’s Muse, a book of poetry illustrated with black-and-white photographs, written by J. Todd Jenkins, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Fayetteville, Tennessee, self-published in 2013.
  • Third place (tie): Something Greater: Culture, Family and Community as Living Story, by Jeanne Choy Tate, published by Pickwick Publications in 2013; and Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, by Ruth Everhart, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans in 2012.
  • Fourth place (tie): Take My Hand, a Theological Memoir, by Andrew Taylor-Troutman, published by Resource Publications in 2012; and Learning from My Father, by David Lawther Johnson, published by Wm.B. Eerdmans in 2012.
  • Honorable mention: Matthew A. Rich for A Week from Next Tuesday, published in 2013 by Wipf and Stock; Neal D. Presa for Here I Am, Lord, Send Me: Ritual and Narrative for a Theology of Presbyterial Ordination in the Reformed Tradition,published in 2012 by Wipf and Stock; and MaryAnn McKibben Dana for Sabbath in the Suburbs, published in 2012 by Chalice Press.

All those who entered the First Book Award competition will be given a chance to stand and be recognized at the Presbyterian Writers Guild luncheon at General Assembly. Those who entered, and especially those who placed in the competition, are encouraged to bring a copy of their book to the luncheon.