2018 ESR Ministry of Writing Colloquium

From Inside Out:

Healing Ourselves, Building Our Communities


Incarnation and Provocation: Toward New Languages of Fai


Featuring Keynote Speaker Carol Howard Merritt

November 2-3, 2018

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Keynote: Our Art is Breath

We often consider writing to be a solitary practice, but our art calls us into deeper community. Just as we breathe, in and out, when our words toll deeply within us, they resonate with those around us.  How do we balance our creative life, so that it moves inward and outward?


Keynote Bio:

Rev. Carol Howard Merritt (@CarolHoward) is a Presbyterian (USA) minister whose writing, speaking, and teaching are anchored in theological and sociological insight. She is the award-winning author of Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church (HarperOne); Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (Alban); and Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (Alban). She is a frequent contributor to books, websites, magazines, and journals, as well as a founder and host of UNCO, an open-space “unconference” that attracts church leaders across denominations. Carol also hosts God Complex Radio, a podcast, with Rev. Derrick Weston. 



Becky Birtha: Children's Book Authorship 101

How do you turn the children’s book you’ve got in your heart into a reality?  This workshop introduces you to essential considerations in writing for children:  what age are you writing for, and what do they need?  What are the conventions of different children’s genres?  What’s the role of illustrations, and what are your options for publishing?  In this workshop, we’ll begin to answer these questions, and more. 

Becky Birtha has written poetry and fiction for both adults and children. She has taught writing at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a bachelor’s in Children’s Studies and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has earned fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pew Foundation. Her children’s books are Grandmama’s Pride, Lucky Beans, and Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One Is Incarcerated. A member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of Friends, she strives to advocate for social justice in all of her writing. She and her partner are the parents of two young adults.

Angela Jackson-Brown: Writing Through Grief

On the day Angela Jackson-Brown’s mother died, she immediately started writing. Every time she felt like she might explode, she scribbled until the moment passed. Writing had always been her balm, the thing that soothed her when nothing else would; it was her only way through the grieving process. This workshop will teach you how to channel your grief into a poem or story that frees your heart and mind from some part of the pain of loss. We will discuss the importance of acknowledging our grief, owning it, and then releasing it. The goal for this workshop is for you to identify one thing you have been carrying and then begin the process of releasing it through the written word.

Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet, and playwright who teaches creative writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is the author of the novel Drinking From A Bitter Cup and has published in numerous literary journals. Her play, Anna’s Wings, was recently selected to be part of the IndyFringe DivaFest.  Her other plays include Flossie Bailey Takes a Stand (performed for the Indiana Bicentennial Celebration at the Indiana Repertory Theatre); It is Well (which she also produced); and Black Lives Matter (Too) (which she co-wrote).  Jackson-Brown also co-wrote Dear Bobby: the Musical, which appeared in the 2018 OnyxFest in Indianapolis. She is also the author of a new poetry collection entitled House Repairs, published by Negative Capability Press.

Joe Davis: Spoken Word Poetry as a Spiritual Practice

Join poet and teaching artist Joe Davis to explore ways you can engage in contemplative practices, critical conversations, and transformative action through creative writing and performance – regardless of whether you identify as an artist. Davis has served artist residencies in New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, and he tours nationally as a poet, musician, and storyteller. Sharing his skills and experiences, he will invite participants to explore how their stories intersect with the poetics of everyday life and to cultivate practices of inner healing and community building

Joe Davis is a nationally touring writer, speaker, and performer based in Minneapolis, MN. He is the frontman of The Poetic Diaspora, a soul, funk, and spoken word ensemble, as well as the co-founder and artistic director of H-Cubed: Harrison, Healing, and Harmony, a monthly event series centered on healing through the arts. As a student and educator, he has served as teaching artist at dozens of high schools and universities, most recently serving as artist in residence at Luther Seminary – where he also earned a master’s in theology of the arts. Find out more at JoeDavisPoetry.com.

Carol Howard Merritt: Writing as a Healing Practice

As we write, we claim our stories as our own, taking hold of our narrative in situations where we felt out of control. We have an excuse to ask questions, to listen deeply, and to exercise empathy. And we can practice compassion toward ourselves and toward our loved ones. All of these things help us along our path toward wholeness.  This workshop will help you take a few new steps on that path. 


C. Christopher Smith: Reading for the Writing Life

It is commonly accepted that writers are readers, but how do we read in ways that deepen the roots of our writing, sustain it through difficult seasons, and help it to bear succulent fruit? How do we read in ways that immerse us deeper in the life of the communities to which we belong – communities that will undoubtedly season our writing?  Reading well can teach us to listen carefully to others' stories and to pay attention to the sort of details that enrich our lives – and jump off the page.  Join us to explore how to turn your reading into fuel for your writing.

C. Christopher Smith is senior editor of The Englewood Review of Books, a print and online magazine that reviews a wide range of books for an ecumenical Christian audience. Chris lives and writes on the urban near Eastside of Indianapolis, where he, his wife, and his family are part of the Englewood Christian Church community. He is the co-author of the award-winning book Slow Church (2014), author of Reading for the Common Good (2016), and is eagerly awaiting the spring 2019 release of his newest title, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church.

Margot Starbuck: Writing Really Awesome Book Proposals

Want to discover what delights the hearts of agents and publishers when they’re reading a book proposal? Come find out! Learn the most effective ways to communicate that you will deliver: a project that’s unique, sentences that are beautifully written, a book that clearly meets readers’ felt needs, and a strategy to promote this masterpiece from your burgeoning platform. We’ll cover the nuts and bolts of what every proposal needs as well creative ways to make yours shine. Plenty of time for Q&A.

Margot Starbuck, a graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Seminary, is a speaker, writer, editor, and New York Times-bestselling collaborator. Passionate about effective communication, Starbuck loves sharing stories that matter and delights in helping others tell theirs. She is the author and collaborative writer of over a dozen books and ghostwriter on others. She lives in Durham, NC, with her three fabulous teenagers, in a community built around friends with disabilities. Learn more at www.MargotStarbuck.com

Panel Presentations:

Morning Panel:  Writing and Healing

  • Carol Howard Merritt: "How Creativity Heals"

  • Margot Starbuck:  “Writing Your Wounds Without Bleeding on Your Reader”

  • Joe Davis:  “Radical Joy and Healing Through the Arts”

Afternoon Panel: Stories of Us 

  • Chris Smith: Writing the Conversation of Our Lives"

  • Becky Birtha: "Inclusion, Diversity, Intersection, and Our Own Voices in Children's Literature"

  • Angela Jackson-Brown: "Literary Activism: Paying My Rent"



Friday, November 2nd  
6:00 pm Registration & Check-in
6:30 pm Keynote Presentation - Our Art is Breath - Carol Howard Merritt
8:15 pm  Open Mic
Saturday, November 3rd  
8:00 am Registration & Breakfast
8:40 am Optional silent worship
9:00 am Welcome & Introduction
9:15 am Morning Panel Reading: Writing and Healing
10:45 am Break
11:00 am Workshop Session I
12:30 pm Lunch
1:45 pm Afternoon Panel Reading: Stories of Us
3:15 pm Break
3:30 pm Workshop Session II
5:10 pm Mullen Award Presentation & Closing

Watch past videos - ESR Video Archive page