Tag Archives: Q&A

Q&A with Author Furman Buchanan

In his new book, Gifts of God for the People of God, Episcopal priest and author Furman L. Buchanan uses stories and reflections to explore each element of Holy Eucharist. Accessible to both newcomers and longtime members wishing to gain a deeper understanding of this gift of God.


How did the idea for the book Gifts of God for the People of God develop?
The idea for Gifts of God for the People of God came when I recognized similarly bewildered expressions on the faces of visitors to my congregation that I had when first entering the Episcopal Church years ago. For people unfamiliar with liturgical worship, it can be a confusing experience.

I began writing this book to lead newcomers to liturgical worship step-by-step through the whole service—from the opening sentences to the final dismissal. Yet, in the course of writing it, I recognized an opportunity to use a narrative approach which would make this book just as meaningful for “cradle Episcopalians.”

Using personal as well as biblical stories helps readers relate more personally to the words and actions of the Holy Eucharist. The title sums up the central idea of the book—that the gifts of God are for the people of God to open up, treasure, and share with others.

Gifts of God bookWhat was your favorite part of writing this book?
My favorite part of writing Gifts of God for the People of God was the opportunity to be still and remember some very tender (and also funny) stories from all stages of my life, and then find ways to relate those stories to the words and actions of the Holy Eucharist.

I enjoy making narrative connections that are not always obvious at first. Part of the power of story—from Jesus’ parables to our present day stories—is bringing together ideas in ways that are meaningful and memorable.

What was the most challenging part?
The most challenging part of writing Gifts of God for the People of God was the patience and perseverance it required. I am a writer who is most lucid in the morning hours. However, as the rector of a growing congregation, most of my morning hours are devoted to other important and urgent work. As a result, this book became a labor of love that spanned years, not weeks or months.

What would you do if you felt stuck?
When I felt stuck I would call upon my dear friend who is a Presbyterian pastor and a published author.  We would meet for coffee to discuss my latest challenge.  He was the kind of person every writer needs—a confessor who is tough enough to push us when we get stuck and yet gentle and encouraging enough to fan the flame inside of us that wants to share a meaningful story with the world.

How do you see this book being utilized?
Recognizing how difficult it is to find time to sit and read, I decided to compose short and accessible chapters—portion sizes that are easily digestible for a bedside table-type book. In fact, I believe this book will be most profitable for readers who are willing take it slow and savor the gifts of God they have experienced in their own lives.

Each chapter concludes with two simple invitations: “Reflecting on our story with God” and then “Celebrating our story with God.” The first invitation includes two or three questions to ponder, and the second invitation includes two or three suggested practices a reader might engage as a way of celebrating the gifts and call of God in their life.

By organizing this book with reflection questions and activities, I believe we also have designed a resource that lends itself to being used in small groups and classes. There is an easy-to-follow, 6-week outline on the Forward Movement web site to show potential facilitators a way to organize conversation about Gifts of God for the People of God.

Laptop on deskWhere did you do most of your writing?
Ten years ago, a gifted artist and woodworker in my former congregation invited me to apprentice with him in designing and creating a prayer desk from solid cherry. Sensing I was nearing the end of my first call, he wanted me to have a gifted place to pray and write at my next congregation.

This small, shaker-style desk does not have a single piece of metallic hardware. The construction is elegantly simple. The desk fits perfectly beneath my bedroom window, and it turns out to be the only place I seem able to write a sermon or a book.

Tortoise What would you do or where would you go for inspiration?
One of the passions my wife and I share is travel. We particularly like to research and visit places that require a little more persistence and creativity to navigate. We typically stay in small guest houses and eat at local restaurants where we can attempt to know the local population a little better.

Near the end of my writing Gifts of God for the People of God, we visited two of the Galapagos Islands off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. This was a particularly inspirational journey as we discovered a miraculous abundance and diversity of topography, as well as bird, reptile, mammal, and marine life.

One afternoon we visited a small farm in the central highlands of Santa Cruz that is also home to enormous tortoises. Here is a picture of us next to the symbol of my slow and steady writing life!

What else would you like readers to know?
I suppose the most important thing I want readers to know is that the biblical story of life with God is continually unfolding around us and within us. We don’t have to literally have our narrative added to the original collection of Holy Scripture in order for it to be authentic and meaningful.

Your story with God is every bit as precious as the stories of those who lived with God when the biblical narrative was being written. So, please value your stories and share them with others.

Newcomers to my congregation receive a welcome letter in which I describe our congregation as a place where we celebrate the gifts of God in worship, discover the gifts of God in learning, and share the gifts of God in service.

For me, this sums up the comprehensive experience of a faithful life—celebrating, discovering, and sharing the Gifts of God for the People of God!


Gifts of God for the People of God is available here.

Discussion with Father José in Mérida, Mexico

MéridaThis past fall, a Forward Movement team member took a trip to Mérida, Mexico, the capital of the Yucatán. While there, she met up with José Vieira Arruda, the priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Here is what José has to say about himself and his ministry in Mérida.

Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is José Vieira Arruda and I am a Portuguese-Canadian living in Mérida, already for seven years. My family immigrated to Canada, from the islands of the Azores, Portugal, when I was fourteen years old. We settled in Toronto, Ontario, and I studied philosophy and theology at Saint Michael’s College of the University of Toronto. After being ordained to the priesthood, in 1987, I went to Fordham University, New York for graduate studies in ecclesiology. Then, I went on to parish ministry and teaching in the cities of Montreal and Laval, Québec, Canada. At the age of fifty-two, I decided to leave North America and come to Latin America to experience ministry in a different socio-cultural setting.

St. Luke's EpiscopalCould you tell us more about St. Luke’s? What kind of things are they doing in Mérida?
Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church of Mérida is kind of a “miracle Church”.  After coming to know so many Episcopal sisters and brothers living here in Mérida—some permanently, while others only during a few months of the year—and having been made unwelcome at another local church, we decided to form community and plant our own Episcopal Church here in Mérida. At first, we started to meet for the celebration of the Eucharist at the home of one of our friends, Mr. Frank Kriegel, and then, as we began to grow, we moved to the home of another of our friends, Mr. Greg Casini. Still, as we continued to grow, we saw the need to have a place of our own and so we rented a larger home and transformed it into our church building. This is where we are located at the present moment, here at the corner of Calles 76 with 55, Santiago, Mérida. Every Sunday, we gather at 10:00 am for the Eucharist—in English, and at 11:15 am for the Eucharist—in Spanish. During major feasts throughout the year, we celebrate together as a community of English and Spanish speaking congregants. It is indeed a beautiful community, very inclusive and enthusiastic about our faith in the Lord. As the only Episcopal Church of Mérida, we are present in the wider community through our social justice ministries, advocating for inclusivity in all areas of life and the integral care of all human beings and creation, especially the poor and the socially excluded. Apart from being present at the local women’s jail with a program for human formation, we are also present at a local hospital, making and delivering over three-hundred sandwiches each Saturday morning, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Frank Kriegel. We are also trying to reach out in a more permanent way to families of the poorest area of Mérida, the Colonia Guadalupana. Hopefully, with the grace of God and the financial help of sisters and brothers, we will be able to open a socio-pastoral center in this area and, thus, create a community space for all those who would like to come and make it theirs, through social and spiritual activities.

We are also present in very specific celebrations held throughout the year here in the city of Mérida, such as Sexual Diversity Week, Women’s Day Conferences, etc. We are working very hard (and succeeding!) to become a Church that thinks, prays, celebrates, and shares the faith. We are a Church that dares to think differently in terms of justice and inclusivity, of compassion and love. Our vision statement says it all: “We believe we are a Church that is scripturally faithful, an inclusive church—a church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, ethnicity, language, or sexuality. For this reason, we welcome all people in the name of Jesus Christ. Together and with our witnessing, we strive to proclaim the Gospel afresh to all of our sisters and brothers, here in the city of Mérida.”

What is the primary mission of St. Luke’s?
Our primary mission as the first Episcopal Church of Mérida is that we continue to create safe and wholistic spaces of hospitality, acceptance, liberation, and life. Our mission is to build community through bonds of communion and service—communion with the Lord and each other and service to the poorest and most humble among us. This is our way of proclaiming the Good News of the Lord—Good News of inclusivity, of justice, of compassion, of life! As we worship together, we want our worship to be alive and to renew in us the sense of companionship—becoming Jesus-centered companions to each other and to all who need an open heart and a helping hand.

What are your hopes for St. Luke’s?
My hopes for Saint Luke’s are that we continue to be centered in the Lord Jesus as the anointed one from the Father, who came to preach Good News to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and liberation to all those oppressed (Luke 4:18). I sincerely hope that we continue this liberating process of moving into a Church literally obsessed with the liberation of the poor and the excluded, the suffering and the forgotten—a Church that is not afraid to become poor and walk with the poor, paying the price, if need be, of being persecuted and crucified.

UxmalIs there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Wherever you are and whoever you are, we want you to know that you are welcomed at Saint Luke’s. It is your home as well and you will find here sisters and brothers with open hearts and opens arms ready to embrace you ever so gently and ever so lovingly. When in Mérida, come and visit us. Welcome to Saint Luke’s!

Q&A: Acts to Action Editors

Acts to ActionSusan Brown Snook and Adam Trambley are the editors of Acts to Action, a Forward Movement publication focusing on Acts Chapter 8 and evangelism in a changing world. Susan serves as canon to the ordinary for church growth and development in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma and Adam is the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Contributors include Joseph Alsay, Carrie Boren Headington, Frank Logue, Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Steve Pankey, and Holli Powell, and is framed by reflections from church leaders Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Gay Clark Jennings.

How did the idea for this book develop?
Susan: Adam and I, and a number of the authors in the book, have been inspired by the 8th chapter of Acts for quite a while. In fact, we are leaders in a group called the Acts 8 Movement, which is dedicated to mission, prayer, and evangelism in the Episcopal Church. We want to help our church proclaim the gospel in creative, courageous, innovative ways to people who have never heard it in any effective way. As we considered ways to help the church think through innovative ways of proclaiming the gospel in a time when many people have no connection to church or Christian faith at all, we realized that Acts Chapter 8 had some compelling things to say about church mission. The four stories contained within this chapter show the apostles struggling with many of the same issues our church struggles with today. So we gathered a group of people to help us explore those issues for the twenty-first century.

How do you see the book being used?
Adam: Acts to Action is designed to be read both by individuals and by groups, including church leadership groups. Each chapter has two sets of questions. The first are for reflection and discussion, and the second are for action. The action steps are small, concrete ways that implement the Scriptural insights. My hope is that people will read each chapter, spend some time reflecting on it by themselves or in a group, and then take the action steps. These steps can help people and churches live into Acts 8-style evangelism that should bear good fruit.

What is your hope for this book?
Susan: We hope that vestries, small groups, and individual Christians across the church read the book, discuss the discussion questions, and find inspiration for their own ministries. So many churches are working to discover how God is calling them to change, grow, and reach new people in a new era. We hope this book provides ideas and insights that spark new approaches to Christ’s mission in the church.

What inspires you most about Acts Chapter 8?
Adam: The most inspiring piece of Acts Chapter 8 is the assurance that God is bringing new life out of even the most difficult situations. Even if everything seems like an unmitigated disaster to me, I can be assured that God is weaving everything together in amazing ways. God’s imagination is far beyond my own…who knows what beauty God is unfolding?

Susan: Christians in Acts Chapter 8 find themselves in a world where everything has changed and they need to find new ways of practicing their faith – and they go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Jesus. We believe that the Episcopal Church is in a similar situation….For churches to proclaim the gospel in today’s world, we need to find active ways of proclaiming the gospel, going out into our communities and our world and talking to people about Jesus, rather than waiting for the people to come to us. We used Acts 8 as our inspiration in this book, because it leads to many insights about church mission in a time when the church needs to change the way it approaches its mission.

Do you have any stories that you feel deeply embody Acts Chapter 8?
Adam: My current congregation is having an important Acts 8 Moment right now. Over the past year, we have lost about a third of our choir due to graduations, deaths, and job relocations. Instead of limiting ourselves to pleas for more singers in the parish newsletter, we really thought about how we could use this need for more choir voices as an opportunity to reach people beyond our walls. After a number of discussions with people in the community, we are piloting a musical scholars program this year. We have nine high school students who will be receiving scholarships to attend choir rehearsals, sing in worship, and participate in an hour of Christian education and formation each week tailored to their needs. Some of the applications we received have talked about a long-standing desire to be part of a church. Our hope is that their scholarships will allow these young people to break down the barriers to attendance and deepen their life of faith.

Susan: In my diocesan position, I have been working with a vestry of a small Episcopal church in a midsize town to put some of these principles into action. They went out into their community and interviewed a number of the community leaders about the issues facing the town and how their church could help. One leader was the manager of a Boys and Girls Club across the street from the church. The manager suggested that the church could play a role in helping the children develop faith and character. The church is now taking 25-30 children one afternoon a week for a couple of hours, giving them snacks, mentoring, tutoring, fun, and a time of learning about the Bible.

Q&A: Mary Parmer, Director of Invite Welcome Connect

Invite Welcome ConnectMary Parmer serves as director of Invite Welcome Connect, a transformational ministry housed at the Beecken Center in the School of Theology, University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Mary is the past director of the Gathering of Leaders, a national leadership gathering of young Episcopal clergy.

How did the concept of Invite Welcome Connect form and develop?
The concept for the ministry of Invite Welcome Connect was born out of my 10 year experience as director of evangelism and adult ministry at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Beaumont, Texas, and then was further developed through the Newcomer Ministry Project of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Invite Welcome Connect is a ministry based on scripture, theology, and experience.

What is your favorite story that has come out of Invite Welcome Connect?
So many amazing stories have come out of Invite Welcome Connect—it would be impossible to say which is my favorite! Invite Welcome Connect has changed my heart, and It was a game-changing moment for our congregation as the fire of the gospel caught us and changed our lives forever. One woman shared that she might never have left the church 30 years ago, had she only heard the message of Invite Welcome Connect. I am humbled and blessed by all these stories—and all the ones yet to be told.

How do you see the book being used?
I pray the book will be used first as a tool for encouragement, giving people hope as they read of the transformation of individual lives and congregations of those who have implemented Invite Welcome Connect. The book includes a Getting Started Guide for those interested in implementing the ministry, and it could also serve as a check-in for those who are currently implementing the ministry.

What is your ultimate goal for this program and book?
My ultimate goal is that the ministry of Invite Welcome Connect will change the narrative of the Episcopal Church to move from maintenance to mission. For our congregations to thrive, spiritually and numerically, we need to equip and empower individuals and congregations to cultivate intentional practices of evangelism, hospitality, and connectedness rooted in the gospel imperative to Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced on this journey?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced on this journey is intensely personal; balancing my personal and working lives, essentially holding down two jobs as Gathering of Leaders director and creating/nurturing the ministry of Invite Welcome Connect.

What’s your favorite prayer?
Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And Wisdom to know the difference.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers and participants?
Although earlier I named my ultimate goal for the ministry and book, another more personal goal is that individuals who read the book will have the courage to discern the gifts God has placed within them, tapping into the imaginative creative mind God gives them, and then saying Yes to God’s call in their lives.

Q & A: Claude Payne, author of Reclaiming Christianity

Reclaiming Christianity Claude E. Payne served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and as rector of one of the largest Episcopal churches in the country. Reclaiming Christianity builds upon his vision for for the church to be mission-minded–to look outward to serve and share rather than focus inward. He is co-author of the best-selling book, Reclaiming the Great Commission.


How did the idea for Reclaiming Christianity develop?
Christianity has been in decline for half a century. My book exposes its root causes as inadequate understanding of how faith is transmitted and secondly, how internal conflict over theology and explosive issues has pitted the faithful against each other, undermining Christian integrity and degrading mission. The idea for the book stems from finding ways to turn decline into huge opportunity.

What is your hope for this book?
My hope is that churches and Christians will reclaim an evangelical vision of equipping seekers spiritually for a life-long pilgrimage in faith that leads into eternity, and that this spiritual nurture will inspire them to reach outward to bring health to the degrading aspects of life. An expansion of this vision includes a way of biblical interpretation based on love that will enable Christians who bitterly oppose each other to live into a kind of holy mutual respect. The highest vision is that it will contribute to the development of a better world.

What was your favorite part of writing this book?
Examining spirituality and how it is nurtured. Christianity is caught and then explained on the basis of inherited tradition. The growth of those who claim to be spiritual but not religious documents the reality of spiritual hunger in society and how Christians of strong faith don’t fully comprehend how to transmit that faith to others, including their own children. Christians possess spiritual treasure, deposited in their souls, that continues to grow throughout life. Modern society, including the church, privatizes this strong faith, suppressing its power because it isn’t shared. Identifying this treasure of the soul and fortifying it through sharing it at the congregational level in Christian Formation has been an especially joyful endeavor for me.

What would you do if you felt stuck?
Wait, pray, and continue to wrestle. Essentially I wait upon the Lord.

What is your favorite prayer? 
The Prayer Book prayer used for Fridays: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and of peace. 

My guess is that this won’t be the favorite of many. I cherish it because it tells me growth and fulfillment come through my struggles, especially those upon which I rely on divine help. It is the way of Jesus and the way of life.

Where did you do most of your writing?
At my desk at home. I am “retired,” actually a misnomer, for clergy vows are for life.

Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Christ, and through a whole host of others throughout life. My wife is foremost among these. Then I have been inspired through personal participation among clergy groups in the United States and Canada, and in congregational Christian formation, about how effectively the models described in my book have worked. I have witnessed the joy it brings.

What else would you like readers to know?
My book is offered in love, especially as it challenges ways to look at authority and current practice. I want the book to be a useful tool that stimulates, inspires, and challenges others to live into a fuller and more fruitful Christian life.

Q & A: Authors of Faith with a Twist, Amy Nobles Dolan and Hillary D. Raining

Inside the book Faith with a TwistAmy Nobles Dolan and Hillary D. Raining share a mutual passion for yoga and for faith, which brought them together to write Faith with a Twist.  Amy is the owner and head teacher of Yoga with Spirit, an ashtanga-based yoga studio in Wane, Pennsylvania. She is also a yoga writer who publishes a weekly blog and has helped edit a yoga anatomy book. She is married to her college sweetheart, Jim, and has three young children, JB, Katie, and Sally. Hillary is the rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. She also teaches yoga and plays piano, classical violin, and Celtic fiddle. She is author of Joy in Confession, published by Forward Movement. She is married to Ken and they have a daughter, Delia.

When and how did you begin practicing yoga?
Hillary: I truly started practicing yoga in earnest in 2010 when I won 5 free yoga classes at Leigh Valley Yoga studio in Bethlehem, PA. To be honest, I had always thought of yoga as too “easy” to count as exercise, but was proven wrong when I left feeling totally exhausted after my first class! I was hooked by the way my mind was calmed by the vigorous and meditative practice and found my prayers were deeper at the end of just one session!

How has yoga influenced your life?
Yoga pose, AmyAmy: Yoga began as a hobby. An hour of “me time” in a life consumed by taking care of children, husband, pets, and home. Within months, dear friends were commenting that I seemed different – happier, contented, less stressed and anxious, mellower. It was profound validation for me to know that the differences I was feeling in myself were actually noticeable to the people in my life!

I believe that yoga has made me a better mother, a better spouse, a better friend, daughter, and sister. I guess you could say I think yoga has helped me become more like the person God created me to be and that I yearn to be.

After practicing yoga for three years, I enrolled in teacher training and have been teaching ever since (about 15 years). I opened a studio called Yoga With Spirit and am blessed to share this practice with dozens of students each week. So yoga has completely changed my life in that it is now my work as well as my passion.

How have you seen yoga transform someone else’s life?
Amy: As a full time yoga teacher I see this practice transform people’s lives all the time. It is amazing!

I’ve watched students heal from awful injuries, surgeries, and illnesses. I’ve watched students practice as a part of their recovery from debilitating depression and anxiety. I’ve watched students enter into and exit from relationships as a result of the self-study yoga asks of us. I’ve watched students shoot for the moon – and succeed in getting the promotion they wanted or to start a new career or to just find peace in their crazy, daily lives.

One of my students who dove deep into the practice totally revamped her life. She started small by cleaning out extra “stuff” at home. She started to pay attention to her daydreams which all involved living near the beach in southern California. Over the course of the two years that we worked together, she put in place and executed her plan to sell most of what she owned, move out west and start a simpler, new life. She has never been happier!

How did the idea for this book develop? 
Yoga Pose, HillaryHillary: This book developed from a combination of ideas centered around Amy’s amazing teacher training program. As a student of Amy’s I was encouraged to put together a project that would help take the yogic principles that we were learning off the mat and into the real world. So, I decided to create a Lenten meditation series around yoga’s “ethical code” of the yamas and niyamas. Meanwhile, Amy, who is not only an accomplished teacher but also a gifted and prolific spiritual writer, had developed a manual for those who were looking to delve deeper into their practice. We knew we wanted to work on a project together born out of our friendship and mutual faith and love of yoga. Thus, we blended the two projects and Faith with a Twist was born!

What was your favorite part of writing this book? 
Hillary: I would say working with Amy on a project we were both passionate about was a blast! It’s rare when you get to work on something you care about with a person you have such fun with.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?
Hillary: As a person who has dyslexia, the writing process itself is always the hardest part. That is why I am always so grateful for good editors!

What else would you like readers know?
Faith with a TwistAmy: Hillary and I have worked very hard to convey how yoga and faith support one another. Rather than trying to blend the two traditions, which always dilutes both of them, we have tried to honor both the ancient spiritual practice of yoga and the Christian faith we share. We have not tried to make yoga “Christian” in our book. I, for one, do not believe there is such a thing as Christian yoga or Jewish yoga or Buddhist yoga. I believe yoga is a spiritual tool that supports and enhances any faith. In our book we have tried, instead, to show how yoga’s spiritual practices have supported and enhanced the contemplative prayer practices that draw us closer to God in our daily lives. And that is precisely what the founding teacher of Ashtanga yoga (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) taught was the highest purpose of the practice…to focus on God.

 

Q&A with Lindsay Hardin Freeman, author of The Spy on Jacob’s Ladder

Lindsay and her dogLindsay Hardin Freeman has been a priest for over thirty years and is currently the interim rector at St. Nicholas Church in Richfield, Minnesota. She is the author of eight books, including The Spy on Noah’s Ark, The Spy at Jacob’s Ladder, and Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Her most recent publication with Forward Movement, The Spy at Jacob’s Ladder, is a collection of your favorite Bible stories, told from a unique perspective. She worked on this book with talented illustrator Paul Shaffer, who has recently departed, may his soul rest in peace.

When did you begin writing?
I began writing as a teenager, when my 8th and 9th grade English teacher required us to write 75 words a day, then 150 words. Middle school is such a horrible time for most kids, and it certainly was for me. I poured out my heart on paper.

The fact that someone read what I had to say made all the difference. And you know what? You could say that about readers who read what I write today. The fact that someone is listening and willing to explore what I’ve written makes all the difference.

The Spy on Jacob's Ladder coverWhat was your favorite part of writing this book?
When I’m deeply into a writing project and making progress, that makes me happy. I think that writing is a calling from God and I’m happiest when I’m getting words on paper that others will read, that will make a difference, that will help keep the faith alive for future generations. I’m also a parish priest, and it’s hard to be faithful to the writing life while teaching, preaching, and being a pastor because it all requires significant emotional labor…. so what makes me happy is to be making progress.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
The most difficult part is what it always is—finishing the book! It’s easy to start a book, but hard to take it all the way through to the end. To diligently go from start to finish, to take apart stories, if needed, with a buzzsaw until  you get them right—it’s a labor of love. I’m fortunate in that I’m married to a writer and fellow priest, Len Freeman, who knows his Bible well and always has new ideas…and seems never to tire of reading what I write and helping the stories to be even better.

Where do you typically write?
Lindsay Writing My goal is to get up early and write for an hour early in the morning, usually curled up in a living room chair after I’ve fed the dog. If I have that discipline down, characters and ideas are freed to run around in my head most of the day. Sometimes I’ll only get a half dozen paragraphs done in that early morning hour, but progress is always better if I’m on track. The funny thing that I find about writing is that it’s physically exhausting. I’m always tired when I set down my laptop, but that’s also usually a sign that I’ve accomplished something.

Where did you go for inspiration?
I wrote the first volume of The Spy series in Hawaii, while serving St. Jude’s Church on the Big Island. Now if I need inspiration, I go to northern Minnesota along Lake Superior.

What would you do if you felt stuck while writing?
If I get stuck on a sentence—which happens often—I get up and walk around. I put the laundry in, get the mail, pet the dog, admire my garden…but I come back and sit down and keep writing. It looks like I’m not doing anything as I wander around the house or go out in the yard, but I’m thinking, musing, creating.

What’s your favorite book?
The Bible is right up there on the top of my list, and that’s a good thing, because I spend so much time with it. In terms of children’s books, I’ve always loved The Princess and the Goblin, written by George MacDonald, of whom CS Lewis said, “He baptized my imagination.” The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are a favorite series, as are the Uncle Wiggly books, written from about 1912 – 1927 by Howard Garis.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
It means a great deal to me when people say they’ve loved a book I’ve written, or when they share a story that the book has inspired. I will never take a reader for granted, and am honored to be a part of their reading life.

Q & A: Grandpa’s Tent authors, Sarah Kinney Gaventa and Mary Davila

Authors Sarah and MarySarah K. Gaventa and Mary Davila are Episcopal priests, mothers, and authors of Grandpa’s Tent, the newest Forward Movement publication. This story gently and honestly explains death and grieving to children and is perfect for emerging readers and for adults and children to read together. Here is what Sarah and Mary have to say about Grandpa’s Tent.


How did the idea for this book form and develop?
Mary: Having served as parish priests, Sarah and I were aware of what seemed like a lack of resources to recommend to folks when they asked for children’s books about death and heaven. Many books dealt (beautifully) with death but not heaven; some painted a picture of heaven, but the theology didn’t resonate. We thought, “If it doesn’t exist, let’s create it!”

What was the writing process like?
Mary: Scripture gave us the key image from the very start: Paul’s description of the body as a tent (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). The story was crafted around that…camping, tents, heaven as a permanent home. When Scripture provides such rich metaphors, the writing process is much easier, because the launching point is already there. Sarah and I reached out to fellow clergy of various denominations, asking what material they would like to see addressed in a book. We also met with groups of children, inviting their questions. The writing process itself was less laborious than researching, asking questions, and studying Scripture.

Grandpa's Tent coverWhat was your favorite part of writing Grandpa’s Tent?
Sarah: My favorite part of writing Grandpa’s Tent was FaceTiming with Mary while we collaborated on our Google Doc. I was so grateful for the technologies that made it possible to work together, even though we were hundreds of miles apart. It was a great way to stay connected with an old friend.

What was the most difficult part?
Sarah: The most difficult part was narrowing in on how best to express resurrection theology to small children. There are so many different images used in the Bible and we had to balance communicating in simple language with the complex ideas found in the Bible about life after death.

Where do you typically write? 
Mary: Sarah and I did all of our writing via Skype. She lives in Austin, Texas, and I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Using a Google document, we wrote on the spot, while we Skyped. I wrote in my kitchen on my days off while my children were at school.

Where would you go for inspiration?
Mary: Scripture and people—those are my sources of inspiration. I went through seasons of feeling convicted to write the book, and then other times, it fell to the back burner. But when someone in the parish died, or a child lost a grandparent or friend, and I was asked for a resource, I’d think, “We really could write something that seeks to affirm what we do know about life and death, and yet upholds the mystery of life after death.” I also felt like Sarah and I could be both direct and comforting in addressing some very practical things, from a feeling of discomfort with the smells and sights within assisted living facilities, to what to expect in attending a wake, funeral service, and burial. To be direct about the practical, and yet expansive and generous about the mystery of it all, was a balance we tried to strike.

How do you see this book being utilized?
Child reading Grandpa's TentSarah: We created Grandpa’s Tent as a resource for children who were dealing with grief–and for pastors teaching children about death in general. In the early part of our priesthood, Mary and I both were responsible for children’s formation and we share a philosophy of really listening to children and addressing their deep concerns. Many children worry about death, even if they are not actively grieving. We wanted to give parents, pastors, and hospitals a resource for beginning a conversation about this difficult topic.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
Mary: This book deals with topics that most people would really rather not talk about. People feel afraid to bring up the subject of death, and they don’t feel equipped to answer children’s questions. If this book brings comfort to even one family as they journey through death and grief, then our work has been fruitful.