Nominations sought for 2018 Distinguished Writer Award Reply

The Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) is accepting nominations for its 2018 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award. All nominations must be emailed or postmarked by December 15, 2017.

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 21, at the 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis.

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.

Previous winners include The Message author Eugene H. Peterson, The 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, 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.

Send nominations to Emily Odom, chair of the DSDW Award Selection Committee, which includes PWG board members, Rebekah Hutto and Bill Lancaster, by email (rev.emily.jane@gmail.com) or by postal mail to 2336 Strathmoor Blvd., Louisville, KY 40205.

Best First Book 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.

 

Nominees sought for best Presbyterian writer 1

By Emily Enders Odom

The Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) is accepting nominations for its 2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award. Deadline for nominations is February 1, 2016.

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 at this summer’s 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland, Oregon.

Previous winners include The Message author Eugene H. Peterson, The 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, novelists Doris Betts and Katherine Paterson, poet Ann Weems, Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus, African-American religious historian Gayraud Wilmore, 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 by February 1 to Bill Lancaster, co-chair of the selection committee, by email or by mail to 105 Rapid River Trail, Greenville, SC 29615.

 

 

Take 3 Reply

An interview with Kathy Bostrom

62Kathy Bostrom, recipient of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award and other prestigious writing awards, has published numerous articles and more than three dozen books, most for children. Her books have sold several million copies and have been translated into 17 languages. Bostrom served as pastor of Wildwood Presbyterian Church in Chicago Presbytery for 22 years and now lives and writes full-time in Carlsbad, California. She responds to 3 questions asked by the Presbyterian Writers Guild:

  1. Whose writing has most influenced your work?

Frederick Buechner’s elegant and eloquent storytelling and his imaginative way of sharing biblical stories and concepts captivates me. I’ve read nearly everything he’s written, attended his lectures, and even had the audacity to hand him one of my early essays and ask him to read it. He sent it back to me with comments. I cringe to think how nervy I was, but he was so gracious and kind that I have resolved to always treat writers who approach me for help with the same spirit.

Barbara Brown Taylor was a later addition to my repertoire, but I poured through her sermons when I served as a pastor. As I now focus on my vocation as a writer, I’ve been drawn to the honesty and depth of her memoirs. I read Leaving Church for the second time when I found myself struggling with leaving ministry to devote myself to writing.

Katherine Paterson, as a writer and a person, has been my muse for writing children’s books. I interviewed her for a book I wrote on Newbery Medal authors and will never forget her willingness to give her time to a newbie author. We’ve kept in touch sporadically over the years and she is consistently gracious. Her love for children and for writing about tough and painful issues, even in the face of criticism, inspires me and makes me proud to be an author of children’s books, too.

Even though I’ve given up the dream of being The Next Frederick Buechner or Barbara Brown Taylor or Katherine Paterson, they have all inspired me to be Kathleen Long Bostrom, writer in her own right.

  1. In what ways has writing for children inspired your own faith?

I love the spiritual depth of children. They have an awareness of the divine that leaves me in awe. They aren’t yet jaded by the world, nor are they afraid to ask questions. My Little Blessings series with Tyndale began with a question a little girl at church asked me one Sunday morning: “Is God a boy or a girl?” I put a lot of thought into that answer, which became my first accepted book, What Is God Like? It’s been a great exercise for me as a pastor and writer to try to convey theological and spiritual truths for 6-year-olds. It’s made me think through my own understanding of faith.

We have much to learn from children. They are so resilient! They accept the traumas of the world far better than adults. They recognize death as part of life. They ask questions. They embrace the moment. Children embrace God, and the world, with open arms. They are my greatest inspiration in writing and in my faith journey.

  1. Do you have a vision for the Presbyterian Writers Guild?

The Guild has been a major part of my life as a writer, from introducing me to my first editor and my current agent, to encouraging me along the way, to honoring me with the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award in 2014. I count many of the Guild board members as my friends.

Vic Jameson, one of our deeply beloved Guild members, honored us with a bequest in his will that truly saved us as an organization. We are in a healthy place now. Our work continues to unfold as society changes and we are trying to stay current and viable. We seek ways to connect with new writers and encourage those who seek publication. Conferences are valuable but expensive to run and to attend, so we are trying to discover other ways to be a visible presence. We need to keep coloring outside the lines and trying new ventures. My vision is that in decades to come, the PWG will be strong and vital and visible. It’s up to all of us who are members to make this happen for future generations of writers.

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.

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!

“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!’”