“I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”~ Isaiah 43:19
I have been consumed with the planning of the next Faith & Culture Writers Conference the past month of my life. Well, actually almost two months as I have been emailing potential speakers probably since November! Okay, so I am excited about organizing the second Faith & Culture Writers Conference, set for April 5 and 6, 2013 at Multnomah. It’s really good to be at Multnomah University where I serve as the faculty advisor for MUSE student publication, which I helped launch in 2011. As an an adjunct professor at Multnomah since 2010, I have taught American Lit, Media, Newspaper Workshop, Article Writing, and Persuasion. It’s an honor to be on staff and to bring the conference to Multnomah. I find it really gratifying to help connect and network and engage fellow people of faith in the conversation around embracing your creative calling.
I have been a freelance journalist for The Oregonian since 1996, specializing in faith, culture, family and community stories. Bottom line is I like to pen positive stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Over the years, people have asked me how I got started writing and how am I able to share so many stories of faith. I believe that our culture is hungry for stories that share hope and faith and community. We need to be looking for those stories and be willing to share them. Creativity and the literary arts — indeed, all the arts — are a gift from the Creator. I have always viewed my writing as a ministry, as a calling, as a way to share truth. Quoting Martin Luther on my Twitter account and my website, I believe that, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
The roots for the idea to organize a faith-based writers conference go back to when I started a writers group at the church I attend, Rolling Hills Community. I had put out a call for writers to meet for a time of connection fellowship between church services in 2007. We had 50 people show up in a space for 25. It became clear to me at that point that other people of faith are interested in this creative calling, and they want to gather in community to encourage one another. Fellow believers are looking for a place to bond around their mutual love for creativity and the Word and Words and Story.
A few years later, I was involved with the Network for Women in Leadership at Western Seminary, where they used to host a women’s writers conference every other year under the direction of my friend Bev Hislop, who decided to cease that conference as there were other events already in existence that were similar to hers. She, however, was open to something new. She invited me to meet with her to talk about ideas I may have regarding writing events. I shared with her the growing interest I found in my Rolling Hills group, and my vision for a potential larger event to gather creative people of faith together for a day to engage, encourage, challenge, and inspire one another in this mutual creative calling on our lives. We wanted to do something different than other conferences, and Bev asked me to lead the way, and help bring such an event to Western, and serve as conference director. Those were the seeds of conversations that helped sprout Portland’s First Faith & Culture Writers Conference — Taking Our Writing to the Streets, the Coffee Shops and yes, the Church in 2011.
April 2, 2011 was such a wonderful, overwhelmingly positive day filled with creative energy. My friend and colleague at Multnomah University, Paul Louis Metzger, caught the vision for the event, and became one of our two keynote speakers. He shared from our theme verse (which came from him), that we write because we have to write-”If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.I am weary of holding it in, indeed I cannot.” -Jeremiah 20: 9
I also invited Gina Ochsner to be our other keynote speaker, neither of whom had been asked to speak at writers conferences before. Their deep, rich, literary talks made you think about life, your calling, the creative arts, faith, culture. Others shared during breakout sessions on a wide variety of topics. One message we gave to each of the speakers who were asked to lead breakout sessions, was the importance of being positive with attendees. I have attended and spoken at my fair share of writing events, and I was getting tired of the depressing news of how things are changing and the percentage of people actually getting published is like nil, and culture is going downhill, etc. I say, yes, our culture is changing and yes it’s hard to get published, and yes fewer newspapers are being printed, but we are here to say let’s think outside the box and embrace the change in culture and medium. If you feel called to write, write. We are here to validate that creative calling on your life. Ask God to pave the way with all the rest. That is the message I wanted to hammer home at our first conference, and that is the message we will continue to share.
We are back in 2013, this time at Multnomah University, with another fantastic lineup of speakers, authors, theologians, activists, bloggers, literary agents, filmmakers, journalists, editors, and everyday writers.
The Faith & Culture Writers Conference is different than any other Christian writing conference experience. Some who have been asked to speak at our event have never been asked to speak at a writers conference before, and some will say they are not writers at all, but they write out of necessity and calling and conviction, as it is through the written word that they are able to communicate their message in a changing world. I love that about our conference as I feel God has allowed us to introduce wonderful new voices to the conversation around word and story.
I had people come up to me towards the end of the 2011 event and say they’ve never been to anything like it. It gave people hope. The survey afterwards echoed the positive sentiment. Something about the event struck a cord. . . . People asked if we would return in 2012, but my daughter Rachel was getting married that year and so I knew I could not plan it. But, 2013 was on my radar.
And as the time got closer to think about another conference, Western Seminary decided they were going in another direction (plus, we had outgrown that venue our first year), so I approached Multnomah University, specifically Dave Groom, Dean of Campus Life, whom I report to regarding my work as faculty advisor for MUSE student publication. He loved the idea right away.
Then, the question became, who to help plan it. God laid on my heart those who could help this year. Bethany Jackson, who served as the facility coordinator for our 2011 event, was so excited to return, this year doing Mary Jensen’s administrative assistant extraordinaire job. Bethany is incredibly organized, incredibly encouraging, incredibly talented, and keeps me on track, filling the blanks and helping me dot my i’s. Bethany is always saying such positive affirming words to me regarding the vision for the Faith & Culture Writers Conference and Connection-she truly lifts my spirits, and has already put in countless hours helping with this year’s conference. Kari Patterson was another one that came to mind right away as another potential planning team member. I met Kari at our 2011 conference when she introduced herself to me after the breakout session I led on Freelance Writing. Kari, who used to also live in West Linn has a sweet spirit and incredible drive to write and get her writing out there, and she too was eager to join our core leadership conference planning team, serving as the communications coordinator. Then, there is Ashley Larkin, this year’s literary agent and mentor coordinator, whom I met two years ago through her writing on her blog (thanks to a fellow Center for the Theology of Cultural Engagement Board member). Ashley and I had so much in common, including both of us having graduated from the University of Portland and working on the student newspaper staff there. We also have shared West Linn connections. She came to my Writers Connection at Rolling Hills, and I have enjoyed her fellowship. Her soft heart and get-it-done attitude are exemplary. Ana Brors, our Social Media strategist and web designer,http://faithandculturewriters.com rounds out our core planning team. Ana reached out to me this year on our Faith & Culture Writers Connection Facebook page. After attending our 2011 conference, she was eager to help this round. We are thrilled as her social media/website/blog/twitter expertise are priceless. Others are helping us as well in a variety of ways, such as Julia Steuart, who has been a prayer zealot for us and really supportive in other ways.
As our website is launching and registration begins, we are getting really excited. Our theme verse this year is “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”~ Isaiah 43:19 (thanks to Ashley Larkin) . We have big name speakers — William Paul Young, author of the Shack, Ken Wytsma, The Justice Conference Founder, Paul Louis Metzger, theologian and prolific author, Brian Doyle, author of 13 books, Dan Merchant, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers filmmaker and producer — and we also have some lesser known names whom I am excited to introduce — Keith Turley, author, publisher and marketer from Seattle, Tyler Braun, 20-something pastor, blogger, and author, and Christal Jenkins, speaker and author of three books. All of our 20 speakers have a wonderful message they are preparing! And, Martin French, an exquisite artist, illustrator and art professor, once again designed our classy WORDS logo, incorporating our “new” theme. (And, thanks to Ashley for
One of the things noted on the survey we took after the conference in 2011 was that people wanted more fellowship during the conference. More time to fellowship and talk to other attendees and speakers. So we have added Friday night this year, and an after the event social hour on Saturday.