Coming Nov. 15: ‘Poetry Slam and Other Jazz’ Reply

By Jerry L. Van Marter

On Sunday, November 15, 5:00-6:00 p.m. (Eastern), the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) will present an hour of poetry and music entitled “Poetry Slam and Other Jazz.” The program will feature renowned Presbyterian poets J. Barrie Shepherd, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Cláudio Carvalhaes and Susan Baller-Shepard. Providing musical entertainment will be Presbyterian musician and jazz pianist Bill McConnell.

The free concert will be available at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86137308761?pwd=QnBnS3pGZVV5UDZHMmh2LzlVTnhldz09

“Like so many groups during this unrelenting crisis, the members of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, having missed our opportunity to gather at the General Assembly this year, long to be together,” says Emily Enders Odom, president of the Presbyterian Writers Guild and a mission interpretation strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“Because the program for which the Guild is perhaps best known other than our biennial awards luncheon at GA was a ‘poetry jam’ we offered at the 2013 Big Tent,” Odom added, “we couldn’t think of a more appropriate time to reprise that event with both familiar and fresh voices.”

The slam will be emceed by Mike Ferguson, director of Presbyterian News Service and a member of the PWG board of directors. It will also include a brief “open mic” for attendees who wish to share their poetry. “In encouraging attendees to take advantage of the open mic time,” Odom noted, “we hope to hear what and how people have been thinking and writing during the pandemic.”

Featured participants:

J. Barrie Shepherd, retired pastor and former PWG board member, whose poems are published frequently in the Presbyterian Outlook, the Christian Century, and other venues, has been called by some the poet laureate of the PC(USA).

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is a pastor and prolific writer of contemporary hymns that are sung in churches around the world. Several of her hymns are in Glory to God, the new Presbyterian hymnal.

Cláudio Carvalhaes is a renowned poet, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York,  and author of the new book, Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World.

Susan Baller-Shepard was runner-up in this year’s Best First Book Award — given by Presbyterian Writers Guild and funded by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation — for her poetry collection titled Doe. She lives and writes in Bloomington, Illinois, where she is a pastor.

Bill McConnell is widely known in Presbyterian circles for his musical accompaniment and jazz stylings. Former director of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, McConnell currently serves in the Mission Engagement and Support office of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Kurtz sisters say Presbyterian Writers Guild awards are ‘extra special’ Reply

Jane and me with awards

Caroline and Jane Kurtz

When a worldwide pandemic upended plans for an in-person General Assembly, the Presbyterian Writers Guild had to postpone its biennial awards luncheon until 2022. But the two award-winners, Jane and Caroline Kurtz, were able to receive their awards this year, thanks to the U.S. postal service.

The sisters, who grew up in Ethiopia and are spending the COVID-19 lockdown together in Portland, Oregon, took a picture of themselves proudly holding their award plaques.

Jane Kurtz is winner of winner of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s David Steele Distinguished Writer Award for her cumulative body of work. She has published more than 35 children’s books, many of them about Ethiopian folklore and culture.

Caroline Kurtz, is winner of the Guild’s Best First Book Award for the best first book by a Presbyterian author written during 2018-2019. Her book is a memoir titled A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing Up in Ethiopia and America. The First Book Award is jointly sponsored by PWG and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

The Kurtz sisters are daughters of former Presbyterian mission workers Harold and Polly Kurtz, who served in Ethiopia from 1955 to 1977. This is the first time the Writers Guild’s two biennial awards have been given to siblings.

Caroline and Jane Kurtz’s awards will be presented formally and in person at a luncheon in their honor at the 2022 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. But the two did not want to wait two years to express their gratitude for the awards. Here are excerpts from the statements they sent to the Presbyterian Writers Guild:

From Jane Kurtz:

“My books have won a lot of awards over the years, but this one is extra special to me because I don’t know that I would ever have become an author if it weren’t for my Presbyterian heritage. When my mom and dad made the decision to serve the Presbyterian Church in Ethiopia, I was only two years old, but their response to the call meant I grew up surrounded by stories, experiences that have made great story material, and rich language diversity. Some of my published books have an Ethiopia connection. I also published a novel for young readers, Anna Was Here (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), where the protagonist is a preacher’s kid. (To be fair, many of the details for that book are a result of also marrying a Presbyterian minister.) Recently, my books have focused on what ordinary humans can do to try to serve God’s gorgeous Earth, a passion that was planted in me during my childhood spent outside in Maji, Ethiopia. I’m still writing and also (with Caroline) volunteering my time to create Ready Set Go Books to give Ethiopians creative books to read. Thank you for celebrating this amazing artistic and global life I’ve been lucky enough to have.”

From Caroline Kurtz:

“What an extra honor it is to be recognized in the same year as my sister! I kept my writing dream secret for many years, and Jane was a generous mentor, encouraging me to dare.

I grew up with my parents and siblings in remote Ethiopia, outside the town of Maji. It was a lush, mountainous area, and we children enjoyed nine years of isolated but idyllic childhood there. Jane and I learned to read and write in Maji and became bookworms, as our mother taught us at home in early childhood.

I went back to Ethiopia to teach young Ethiopian girls English in my 40s, with my husband and three children. The deeper reason I went back was to continue my education in how to live in conditions of great diversity, how to find the oneness of our humanity under our Creator.

I have now started a nonprofit, the Maji Development Coalition, to bring development and electricity to Maji (solar is the lowest-cost option for this district, lying beyond the end of the national electric grid). Now that the pandemic has stopped my quarterly trips to Ethiopia, I am watching with delight as local leaders step up to make crucial decisions for their own future.

I am working on a sequel to my memoir, this one set in Kenya and South Sudan, where I worked for four years during the Sudanese civil war.

The Presbyterian Writers Guild award will help me promote my books to audiences newly aware of the need to do what I have dedicated my life to learning: to work in warm collaboration with people who are different from myself. It also adds credibility to my status as the leader of a nonprofit attempting to right some of the global inequities that countries like Ethiopia struggle against. This is in addition to the delight I feel at having been recognized by the church that has been home to three generations of my family. I do not expect to find fame or fortune in my writing life, but the rewards of the writing come first in the act itself, and then in finding warm readers like you, who resonate with the stories I tell.”

 

 

Nominees sought for 2020 distinguished writer award Reply

By Emily Enders Odom

The Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) is accepting nominations for its 2020 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award. Deadline for nominations is December 16.

The award is given biennially in even-numbered years to recognize the cumulative work and influence–regardless of genre or subject matter–of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) writer. The award will be presented at the PWG luncheon on Thursday, June 25, 2020, during the 224th General Assembly (2020) in Baltimore.

Previous winners include the late Eugene H. Peterson, translator of The MessageThe Christian Century editor/publisher John M. Buchanan; former Presbyterian News Service director Marj Carpenter; former Presbyterians Today editor Eva Stimson; children’s author Kathleen Bostrom; Sabbath in the Suburbs author MaryAnn McKibben Dana; novelists Doris Betts and Katherine Paterson; the late poet Ann Weems; Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus; African-American religious historian Gayraud Wilmore; Jim Atwood, author and nationally recognized voice on the subject of gun violence prevention; essayists Kathleen Norris and Frederick Buechner; and journalists Gustav Niebuhr and the late Vic Jameson.

The award is named for R. David Steele, a Presbyterian pastor best known for his whimsical books of poetry and thought-provoking column, “Tuesday Morning,” in The Presbyterian Outlook.

Nominations for the award should include the writer’s PC(USA) affiliation, list of published work, and a 100-word essay describing why the nominee is deserving of the award. Contact information for both the nominator and the nominee must be included with each submission.

Send nominations to Emily Odom, PWG president and chair of the DSDW Award Selection Committee–which includes PWG board members Jill Duffield and Matt Matthews–by email or by mail to 2336 Strathmoor Blvd., Louisville, KY 40205.

All nominations must be emailed or postmarked by December 16.

Writers Guild to engage with seminary students in March 20 panel discussion at Columbia Theological Seminary Reply

March 20, 2019, is the date of an exciting joint endeavor by the Presbyterian Writers Guild and seminary students interested in writing as a ministry. Five members of the PWG board will participate in a panel discussion about writing for publication at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The panel is part of a seminary-sponsored community forum from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

Panelists will be Emily Enders Odom, president of PWG and director of alumni/ae relations for Union Theological Seminary in New York; Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook; Jerry Van Marter, former director of Presbyterian News Service; Eva Stimson, former editor of Presbyterians Today; and Bill Lancaster, a retired minister and former communicator for Foothills Presbytery.

One of the organizers of the event, Michael Gable, is a senior at Columbia who is interested in helping other students explore the role of writing and journalism in their ministry. The panel will be accessible via Zoom, and questions for the panelists may be submitted during the event via the Twitter hashtag #CTSForum.

All members of the Writers Guild are invited to attend, online or in person. Please save the date and look for details about logging in via Zoom coming soon.

Distinguished Writer Atwood calls gun violence ‘the greatest moral issue’ Reply

By Eva Stimson

JimAtwood.byDella.Orr-Harter-214x400 (1)Accepting “on behalf of the one million Americans who have died at the barrel of a gun since 1979,” James E. “Jim” Atwood, an author, pastor and nationally recognized voice on the subject of gun violence prevention, received the 2018 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award at the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) luncheon at the 223rd General Assembly.

Atwood, 83, is pastor emeritus of Trinity Presbyterian Church, in Arlington, Virginia, and the author of Gundamentalism and Where It Is Taking America (Cascade Books, 2017), America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé (Cascade, 2012), The Leaven of Laughter for Advent and Christmas (Trafford Publishing, 2006), and other books.

Calling gun violence “the greatest moral, ethical issue,” Atwood said, “In the ’70s and ’80s, so many thought I was crazy to talk about gun violence when nobody cared.” He said he was more hopeful today, as more people, including young survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are speaking out and taking action on the issue.

“We’ve never had a real sustained movement, but we’ve got one now,” Atwood said.

He also dedicated his award to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, which has developed resources on gun violence, and to GA commissioners who have been “a consistent voice” for sane regulation of firearms for more than 60 years. Those commissioners “took risks for the gospel when they returned home,” Atwood said.

“It’s tough holding your biblical and theological ground when gun-lovers threaten to leave your church and take their wallets with them.”

Atwood continued, “I thank God for those who refuse to be cowed by those who say the only way to stop gun violence is with more guns.” And to those who say the church has no business speaking out on gun violence because it’s a political issue, not a faith issue, Atwood had this response:

“Each of the 39,000 gun victims last year was born in the image of God and is a neighbor that God commands us to love. Can you think of anything more spiritual than that?”

Atwood joined the board of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence after a member of a congregation he was serving was shot and killed by a robber with a Saturday Night Special. Since then, he has served as interfaith coordinator of the Million Mom March, chair of the Greater Washington chapter of the anti-gun-violence group Heeding God’s Call, and a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, which in 2014 selected him unanimously to receive its 2014 Peaceseeker Award.

Atwood told those at the Writers Guild luncheon, “The most effective thing you can do about gun violence is talk about it, from the pulpit, in the classroom … and when you’re in line at the grocery store.”

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. It is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.

Presbyterian Writers Guild publishes second book 1

Book

By Stephen McCutchan

The Presbyterian Writers Guild announces the publication of its second collection of short stories by Presbyterian writers. Titled A Progressive Feast in Parabolic Story, the book is available from Amazon in both print and electronic versions.

The book contains “contemporary parables” by 15 writers from 13 states who followed a multi-phase process to develop their stories. Over a period of about nine months, participants in the project gave and received feedback from each other as they worked on theme, setting, plot, character development, and other aspects of their short stories.

The Bible takes on the whole issue of nationalism, bigotry, and religious narrowness in around 1,500 words in the book of Jonah. Jesus used fictional tales (parables) to challenge people to probe their understanding of faith. In less than 320 words, Jesus engaged his listeners in probing our response to violence, bigotry, and hypocrisy in the parable of the good Samaritan. The value of parables is that they linger with you even after you have left the conversation.

The Guild offered a challenge to writers across the country to develop contemporary parables that would enrich our dialogue around significant issues such as peacemaking, church controversy, God’s call in a contentious society, and racial and sexual diversity. Contemporary parables can promote discussions that offer an alternative to the divisive debates that often occur around such issues.

Here’s how you can make the most of these stories:

Reflect deeply on the issues addressed, and allow the Spirit to inspire you to new understandings.

Invite a church school class or some friends to read and discuss these stories together as a part of deepening your journey of faith.

Share with your presbytery (perhaps in an article in the presbytery newsletter) how you have used these stories for healthy conversation.

Share your reviews on Amazon and comments on Facebook and other social media in support of healthy conversation in the greater church.

As a bonus, the book contains guidelines for how those who engage in discussing these stories might develop their own contemporary parables that assist the church in exploring other issues. In the words of the hymn, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” A Progressive Feast in Parabolic Story offers a model for creative storytelling.

Best First Book 2014-2015 announced Reply

By Jerry L. Van Marter

Change of Heart coverChange of Heart: Justice, Mercy and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer by Jeanne Bishop has been named winner of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s 2014-2015 Best First Book Award.

The award–with a $500 cash prize funded by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation–is given at each General Assembly to the best first book by a Presbyterian writer during the previous two years. Bishop will receive her award at the Writers Guild’s General Assembly Luncheon June 23 in Portland, Oregon.

Bishop’s story begins on the night before Palm Sunday in 1990 when, after returning home from dinner with family, her sister, Nancy, and husband, Richard, and their unborn child were all brutally murdered by an intruder. The book then takes the reader through a gut-wrenching but ultimately heart-warming journey as Jeanne Bishop’s life is transformed from revenge seeking to restorative justice.

The Best First Book Award judges noted: “Many of us see a violent news story and if it doesn¹t impact us personally, we move on, not considering the long-term impact that violence has on the community and the family. The author is honest about the awful actions of the man who murdered her family members, her own struggles, and the ways in which her faith pushed her beyond the usual platitudes and commitments into advocating for a new way to see and seek justice, personally as well as legally. Transformation is hard, and this story disturbs and challenges every reader’s belief systems and commitments as a Christian.”

Bishop, who still lives in Winnetka, Illinois, in suburban Chicago, where her sister and family were murdered, is a member of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

year without a purchaseThe Writers Guild’s Best First Book Award committee also awarded an Honorable Mention to Scott Dannemiller, a former PC(USA) missionary in Guatemala who now lives with his family in Franklin, Tennessee, for his first book, The Year Without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting.

 While acknowledging that money is important, Dannemiller writes that “preoccupation with money is a symptom of something larger lurking just beneath the surface.” Through often hilarious anecdotes, he chronicles his family’s exploration of what’s wrong with a life overly influenced by consumerism.

One judge noted: “This book is fun, funny, and faithful–sharing both the moral quandaries of consumerism in the U.S. and practical stumbling blocks for those of us seeking to live differently. I found myself laughing at the stories, finding great meaning in the insightful observations made by the author’s children, and thinking of ways I could get out of the frantic cycle of buying stuff.”

 

 

Writing contest concludes Reply

Winning entries to be published in a book

The winners of the final phase of the Presbyterian Writers Guild three-phase writing contest have been selected.

In the first phase of the contest–inspired by Jesus’ practice of teaching with parables–authors were invited to submit an opening hook for a story. In the second phase, they were asked to compose a flash fiction piece of about 1,000 words. The third phase called for a short story of under 4,000 words.

For the short story phase, the winners are:

  • First Place–Melissa Bane Sevier (Versailles, Kentucky), “Awareness”
  • Second Place–Lori Herter (Santa Ana, California), “The Outsider”
  • Third Place–Henry Brinton (Fairfax, Virginia), “Resolution”
  • Fourth Place–Lara MacGregor (Old Mill Creek, Illinois), “The River”

“These modern-day parables addressed a variety of concerns and, like the parables of Jesus, force the reader to think more deeply about the issues,” says PWG board member, Stephen McCutchan, who coordinated the contest on behalf of the Guild. “Issues like spouse abuse, hunger, hospitality to strangers, vampires, and the wisdom of children are fleshed out in these stories.”

Book CoverThe top eight opening hooks, four flash fiction stories, and eight short stories, plus a children’s story and a poem, are being published by the Guild in the book An Experiment in Modern Parables, which will be available for sale at the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, and on Amazon. The Guild will celebrate the winners at its GA luncheon on June 23.

“We celebrate the creativity within the Presbyterian community,” McCutchan says.

 

Lifetime Achievement Awards announced Reply

By Cathy Chisholm

Two veteran church communicators have been named recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG). Houston Hodges and Jerry Van Marter will be recognized for “distinguished service to the church through writing/communication” at the Guild’s General Assembly luncheon June 23 in Portland, Oregon.

Jerry

Jerry Van Marter

Van Marter, who currently serves as stated clerk of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery and alumni relations advisor for San Francisco Theological Seminary, retired in 2014 from the Presbyterian News Service (PNS) after more than 26 years of reporting and editing. His byline has appeared on stories covering the work of the various councils, committees, and task forces of the church and its ecumenical partners, including 39 General Assemblies. Van Marter says that during his career, he traveled to almost every state and all over the world to “see first-hand the life-changing mission and ministry being done in the name of our beloved denomination.”

Ordained by Olympia Presbytery in 1971, Van Marter served as pastor of several congregations in California prior to his ministry with PNS.

Van Marter credits Hodges with giving him his start as a church journalist in San Francisco Presbytery. “Without his encouragement, I never would have even considered a career in church journalism.”

HHCollar

Houston Hodges

Hodges also cited his friendship with Van Marter in his response to news of the award. “The communicator is short on words,” said Hodges. “Oh, my. The thing that just keeps flooding over me is that I get to share it with Van Marter, and we’ve done so much of it together.”

Hodges’ first experience in journalism was helping his parents publish a semi-weekly newspaper in West Texas. Ordained in 1954, he has served in campus ministry and as a pastor in Texas and California, as well as in Winnipeg with the United Church of Canada. Prior to retirement in 1995, he served as executive presbyter of North Alabama Presbytery.

His writing career has included serving as a volunteer in the General Assembly newsroom, editor of Monday Morning magazine, and author of Circle of Years: a Caretaker’s Journal, the story of his mother’s battle against dementia. With Matt Cooney, he co-authored Faith Alive, describing the development of a congregation’s interactive and intergenerational worship.

A pioneer in the use of computers and the internet for church communications, Hodges recognized early the potential to “be in touch anytime, anywhere.” For the last decade, he has been heard on WLRH Huntsville Public Radio as a contributor to The Sundial Writers’ Corner.

Previous Lifetime Achievement Award winners include the renowned poets Ann Weems and J. Barrie Shepherd.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana named recipient of Distinguished Writer Award Reply

By Emily Enders Odom

MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a writer, pastor, conference leader, and highly sought-after speaker, has been named the recipient of the 2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award byMaryAnn McKibben Dana the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

Dana—author of Sabbath in the Suburbs, a Chalice Press bestseller for two years running—has a robust presence on social media, and has been commenting on life, ministry, theology, and culture on her blog, The Blue Room, for more than 12 years. She will receive the prestigious award at the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s General Assembly luncheon June 23 in Portland, Oregon.

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

“[MaryAnn] is a voice that speaks to our modern situation and does so with grace and dignity, a love for the church and its people, and a prophetic word for those with ears to hear,” wrote Rebecca Page Lesley, pastor of Green Acres Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, in nominating her for the honor.

Dana, who most recently served as pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, Virginia, was featured on PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly for her work on Sabbath. Her writing has appeared in TIME.com, The Washington Post, Religion Dispatches, Journal for Preachers, and The Christian Century, and for three years in a monthly column for Presbyterians Today. Her next book, tentatively titled Improvising with God, is under contract with Eerdmans and will be published in 2017.

“We are especially thrilled to honor MaryAnn with this award named for the late David Steele, who also delighted in experimenting with new forms of writing and modes of communication,” said William Lancaster, who, with Emily Enders Odom, co-chaired the selection committee.

Dana, who lives with her family in Reston, Virginia, also served as co-chair of NEXT Church for two years, a movement within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that “seeks to call forth vital ministry for our changing cultural context.” She is a mother of three, a “haphazard knitter,” and an occasional marathoner.

“For once, the writer is at a loss for words,” said Dana upon being informed of the honor. “I couldn’t be more honored and humbled to be in the company of other Distinguished Writer Award recipients—people whose work I’ve read and admired for much of my adult life. I am especially touched that my colleague and fellow Columbia Seminary alum, Becca Page Lesley, took time out of her busy life and ministry to nominate me for this honor. I’m surprised, touched and grateful.”

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