Ministry of Writing Colloquium

"I don't do new," joked speaker Robert Wicks; "it's what I do with what's important, I think."

Wicks' keynote address was one of the highlights of the 17th annual Ministry of Writing Colloquium held at Earlham School of Religion, October 24-25. His remarks focused on the major themes of his published work: maintaining perspective centered in faith and spirituality; offering a circle of grace formed by love and freedom to those around us; and promoting self-care, especially for those in the helping professions to avoid secondary stress.

A prolific and gifted author, Wicks' books embrace a commitment to writing as a ministry, especially in his works for the general reader. He takes Mt 22: 34-40 as the inspiration for his writings. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus first puts his audience at ease, then shocks them. Jesus' response calls us to love God not just "vertically," but also "horizontally" with others.

Punctuated with many examples and stories, Wicks' address concentrated on the qualities and actions ministers, including those who write as a ministry, need to take to be present to self, to others, and to God. An important action, he said, is to adopt a rule of prayer; otherwise we cannot maintain proper perspective, falling into arrogance, ignorance, or discouragement.

During the question and answer session, he advised writers to read deeply, concentrating on the works of a few key authors, and broadly, surveying the works of a variety of authors. As for planning writing projects and drafting, he encouraged them to have both their theme and audience clearly in mind. Once he decides upon a theme for a project, he spends a year using that theme as a lens through which to examine his work and researchâ - before writing the draft.

Besides the keynote address, the Colloquium offered a variety of perspectives on writing through the workshops. Don Aycock, who has published 21 books, provided keys to getting published in the Christian market. David Ebenbach, fiction writer and poet, focused on the biblical Garden of Eden to see what it reveals about human creativity and art. Narrative strategies and techniques dominated two workshops: one by creative non-fiction writer and film director Jean Harper and another by novelist and essayist Valerie Sayers. Tom Mullen, whose books often link humor with religious topics, discussed how writers develop a humorous perspective on life that can not only enliven their prose but also open the way for readers to reflect on faith. Thom Satterlee, author of a collection of persona poems himself, guided participants through the making of their own persona poems.

Two public readings framed the Colloquium's events. On Friday evening, the workshop presenters read from their works: Sayers from her short story, "A Freak of Nature" (first published in Image), and Harper from Rose City, her memoir on work and the Richmond rose industry. Satterlee and Ebenbach both read poetry: Satterlee from his collection about John Wyclif and Wyclif's times (Burning Wyclif), and Ebenbach, a series of poems about the Jewish holy days in autumn. Mullen read a humorous piece on political partisanship that, although he published it 35 years ago, was still very pertinent to our current situation.

During the Saturday evening open mic session, twelve Colloquium participants shared their work before an audience enjoying the informal coffee house atmosphere.