Andy CastroLang is senior pastor at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ. She is deeply committed to civil discourse between individuals and throughout our community; in interreligious conversation, private conversation, intergenerational conversation and yes, even in political conversation. She has been a supporter of SpokaneFaVS since its inception because she supports this creative effort at thoughtful community conversation.
Ben Faulkner has unintentionally lived in too many places: Texas, Ontario, Michigan, Honduras, Tennessee, Spokane, and now Washington D.C. He studied Philosophy and Psychology and later taught both subjects for three years at an international school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He formerly served as both an academic advisor and associate director of the honors program at the Community Colleges of Spokane. Now he's a program manager at the George Washington University Honors Program in DC. When he’s not writing a story or immersed in conversations, you can find him lost on a trail or in the pages of a book.
Bill Williams is a freelance writer in Connecticut, and a former editorial writer for The Hartford Courant. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He hosts the Greater Hartford Sangha, a local meditation group. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Cate Wetherald was raised in the Bible Belt, the progeny of an excommunicated Roman Catholic and a biblical fundamentalist. She first encountered theology at at Lyon College, affiliate with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), while earning her Bachelor of Arts majoring in communications and minoring in English and theatre. She has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Gonzaga University, and is a trained spiritual director. She has written extensively for publication in multiple formats, and most recently was the director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.
Christi Ortiz is a licensed marriage and family therapist by profession and a poet by passion. She enjoys trying to put to words to that which is wordless and give voice to the dynamic and wild spiritual journey called life. She lives in Spokane with her husband and two children, Emmanuel and Grace. She loves the outdoors and meditating in the early mornings which gives rise to her poetry.
Rev. Deb Conklin’s wheels are always turning. How can the church make the world a better place? How can it make Spokane better? Her passions are many, including social justice in the mainline tradition, emergence and the post-modern and missional church.
Elizabeth Backstrom majored in journalism at Western Washington University and currently works as a content analyst and grant writer in Spokane. Her background is in newswriting and features, but if an overabundance of caffeine is consumed, she has been known to write a humor piece or two. Backstrom attended various Christian churches growing up in Spokane and currently attends First Covenant Church, an inner-city ministry in downtown Spokane.
Emily H. Geddes was born to two physicists and grew up as a Navy brat. Born-and-raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she holds a bachelor's degree in theatre from Brigham Young University, and earned an MBA from Eastern Washington University.
Francesca Nevil is a sophomore student at Gonzaga University studying International Relations and Sociology with minors in Social Justice and Leadership. She is originally from Wenatchee and grew up in the valley engaging in all seasons of recreational activity with friends and family. She has a very strong faith life and holds her Christian identity at the center of who she believes and is. Meeting new people and engaging in different cultures brings her the most joy, hence she loves to travel. Nevil spent a year following high school graduation on a solo backpacking trip through Europe, then spent four months immersed in Costa Rican culture. Further, she thinks becoming culturally aware and religiously literate are of the utmost importance, so when she received a Wolff Fellow position partnering with SpokaneFāVS she said she was ecstatic.
Hannah McCollum hails from Everett, but has recently made Spokane her home. She graduated from Whitworth University in 2017 with a degree in English and Spanish, and now works for the city of Spokane as a clerk. Hannah comes from an evangelical Christian background and enjoys church-hopping across denominations when she gets the chance. Her favorite book is “The Order of Odd Fish” by James Kennedy. She blogs infrequently at hannahshouldbeblogging.blogspot.com. Hannah’s life goals are to blog more often, eat more dark chocolate and one day get a dog.
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.
Janine Warrington graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in religious studies in 2017. Her thesis used comics as a visual metaphor for the role of doubt in healthy faith development. This fall she will pursue her Masters in Theological Studies at Emory University.
Jeff Borders was born in Spokane, Washington and has lived there since. He is a self published author, focusing in science fiction and fantasy, but he enjoyes writing in all its forms. By trade he is a Respiratory Therapist, but he is also active in his community as a volunteer firefighter, as well as being active in his church. He holds many additional teaching certifications for his fields of employment and he enjoys educating others.
Jeff married his wife Crystyne in 2003, and together they have four, very fun and energetic children.
His website is www.jeffbordersbooks.com
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.
He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).
The Rev. Joe Niemiec Jr. began his spiritual quest in 1986 when he walked out of a Houston jail and was struck by the realization that his life was in shambles.
He began his quest for ‘getting back on track’ with 12 step programs, followed by learning and practicing meditation with a local Redding, California, teacher.
John Hancock had a first career as a symphony orchestra musician and was a faculty member at University of Michigan. He has advanced degrees in music performance from Boston University and U.M.
Arts management was his way of problem-solving and expanding the public participation. He was orchestra manager of the Toledo Symphony, executive director of the Spokane Symphony and the Pasadena Pops and chief operating officer of the Milwaukee Symphony.
Currently he’s an Eagle Scout, a Rotarian, a liberal libertarian of an Iowa small-town self-sufficiency and was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. A childhood Methodist, he now instead pursues ideas of commonality among religions and philosophies.
Volunteerism in civic, political and social services work draws him to town from his forest home outside Spokane. Since 2006, his Deep Creek Consulting has aided non-profit organizations in grantwriting and strengthbuilding.
Justin Felts was born in Sandpoint, Idaho and has spent most of his life in the Pacific Northwest. Very fond of travelling, he has visited
20 U.S. states as well as four foreign countries. Currently majoring in Anthropology with minors in both Journalism and Religious
Studies at Eastern Washington University, Justin spends his free time reading, playing video games, and dabbling in photography.
After college, Kay Campbell lucked into journalism for a couple decades, eventually becoming the Faith & Values reporter and columnist for The Huntsville (Ala.) Times and AL.com for 10 years, winning some cool awards and meeting a zillion amazing people. A Presbyterian (USA) elder and the choir director for a loving, white, conservative, small-town, 205-year-old congregation, she also teaches 5th Grade at the Islamic Academy of Huntsville. She’s also a brand-new board member for SpokaneFāVS, an interfaith forum she has long admired from the other side of the Mississippi River.
Luke Grayson is a 20-something nonbinary transperson who has been in Spokane since 2012 and is an advocate for the LGBT community and for transgender youth.
He is currently helping raise kids and trying to make schools more inclusive and accepting of transgender youth. He is also attempting to help make the local community more inclusive of both the LGB and transgender communities.
Luke is also a slam (performance) poet who went to Atlanta for National competition last year as a part of a team representing Spokane.
Luke uses he/him or they/them pronouns.
MacKenzie Bills is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia. Graduated with honors from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa in 2016. She is passionate of Interfaith dialogue and action. She has worked for Interfaith Youth Core, the U.S. State Department, and the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Bills is most interested in comparative religious understanding in international policy, but specializes in the study of secularism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and a non-denominational prayer community and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.
The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.
Matthew Kincanon is a journalism and political science major at Gonzaga University. His journalism experience includes working at the Gonzaga Bulletin, and now SpokaneFāVS. He said he is excited to be a journalism intern at SpokaneFAVS because, as a Spokane native, he wants to learn more about the religious communities in his hometown as well as the religions themselves.
Matthew Sewell, a Denver Broncos fan and amateur Chestertonian, loves golf, music, truth and good food. A lifelong Catholic, he graduated from a Catholic college (Carroll College; Helena, Mont.) but experienced a "re-version" to the faith during graduate studies at a state school (N. Arizona; Flagstaff, Ariz.). Irony is also one of his favorite things. He and his wife currently reside in Spokane, though they're Montanans at heart. He blogs at mtncatholic.com.
Naghmana Ahmed-Sherazi moved to Spokane about four years ago with her son. Coming from a huge bustling metropolis like Houston with its varied and diverse micro-cultural communities, she said it was interesting to see people's reactions when they met her or her son. She said she has so far loved living in Spokane with its four seasons and unique landscape.
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, she has had the good fortune of travelling since an early age and has had education on four different continents. She considers herself a global citizen.
A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.
Nick Damascus is one who seeks to discover and apply the proverbial question of what is truth and wisdom, to fill that gaping hole, to become complete and to become realistically and synergistically functional. In an attempt to live the Christian life, which he says is a definite work in progress, he has discovered that he's created the Christ that fits his lifestyle and agrees with his ego (and boy what an ego, he says), carefully avoiding what God intended him to be.
Patty Bruininks grew up in northeast Tennessee. She left the South to attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., eventually graduating from nearby Hope College. She pursued her doctoral work in social psychology at the University of Oregon, becoming a lifelong Ducks fan. Before moving to Spokane, she taught for five years at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. Now at Whitworth, she teaches courses such as Psychology of Poverty & Social Class and Love, Altruism, & Forgiveness; she studies and conducts research on the emotion of hope. Dr. B (as her students call her) is married to Mr. B (Jim) and has two grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and two rescue pets (one cat and one dog). Her hobbies include crossing national parks off her bucket list (20 down, 39 to go), reading for fun (mostly in the summer months), and watching edifying TV shows like The Walking Dead (for the psychology, of course). She is Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Psychology Department, and is currently in her seventh year at Whitworth.
Peter Houston-Hencken is a recent graduate of Whitworth University with a degree in journalism. Peter currently works for a background investigation firm but is passionate about freelancing on the weekends. Peter grew up as the son of a Presbyterian pastor. He feels strong in his faith and his commitment to Jesus Christ. He aspires to have a career in journalism and help people get more informed about the events in their communities.
Rosemary Anderson is a recent college graduate with a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Idaho. She is a freelance writer, musician and activist in the Pacific Northwest. She can be found at her local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) or drinking mass amounts of kombucha at her favorite coffee shop.
Sarah Conover is a writer and teacher who, despite a fierce wanderlust, calls Spokane home. She has an MFA in poetry, and is the author of seven books on world wisdom traditions and spirituality. She and husband Doug Robnett are parents of two remarkable children long-ago nicknamed: “Swaminathan and the Material Girl.” Conover, getting old now, has enjoyed multiple careers. The best one yet is the latest: teaching creative writing, a course called “Making it Matter," to the eldering through Spokane Community College ACT 2 program. She hosted the Ask a BuddhistFāVS column for several years.
Charles Scott Kinder-Pyle goes by Scott, and loiters amid the millennial generations along the Spokane River, where he teaches, as an adjunct professor, in the philosophy departments of Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Recently he’s accepted a part-time position as Coordinator of New Church Plants for the Northwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples)... and now enters the fun-loving fray as Interim Pastor at Origin.
Here’s a little more biographical background on Pastor Scott.
In 1988, he graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). His work has taken him through Washington state, to Ohio, Pennsylvania (where he grew up) and back to Washington. For 16 of those years, Scott has enjoyed the creativity and adventure of starting newly forming congregations who reach out to those who feel alienated from the more formal institutions of Christianity.
In 2008, he received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary and penned a dissertation, ‘Pastor as Struggling Poet: Exploring An Alternative Mode of Missional Church Leadership.’
Then, from 2011 through 2013, Scott studied with various poets and eventually received a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry and poetics from Eastern Washington University Center for Writers.
He’s been married to Sheryl, whom he met at Princeton, for nearly 30 years; they have two affectionate children (Ian and Philip), and two wondrous dogs (Pearl and Caesar).
Thomas Schmidt is a retired psychotherapist and chemical dependency counselor who belongs to the Sufi Ruhiniat International order of Sufi’s and is a drummer in the Spokane Sufi group and an elder at the Country Homes Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. He is a member of the Westar Institute (The Jesus Seminar people). He studied for the ministry in the late 1950’s at Texas Christian Church and twice married Janet Fowler, a member of a long tern TCU family and a Disciple minister. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement, studying philosophy at Columbia University and psychology in the University of North Carolina university system. He has taught philosophy and psychology, and was professionally active in Florida, North Carolina, and, for 25 years in Spokane. He has studied and practiced Siddha Yoga, Zen Buddhism and, since the mid 1970’s, Sufism and the Dances of Universal Peace. He has three sons and three grandchildren. With the death of his wife, Janet, he is continuing their concentration on human rights, ecology, and ecumenical and interfaith reconciliation.
Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 13 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service.
Venerable Tenzin Tsepal met Venerable Thubten Chodron, founder of Sravasti Abbey, in Seattle and studied Buddhism with her from 1995 to 1999. During that time, Venerable Tsepal attended the Life as a Western Buddhist Nun conference in Bodhgaya, India in 1996 as a lay supporter. An interest in ordination surfaced after she completed a three-month meditation retreat in 1998. She lived in India for two years while continuing to explore monastic life. In 2001, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
While Venerable Tsepal was in India, some Australians friends introduced her to the 5 year Buddhist Studies Program at Chenrezig Institute (CI) north of Brisbane, Queensland, where she subsequently lived and engaged in intensive residential study from 2002-2015. As the Western Teacher at CI, she tutored weekend teachings and retreats, and taught the Discovering Buddhism courses.
Prior to ordaining, Venerable Tsepal completed a degree in Dental Hygiene, and then pursued graduate school in hospital administration at the University of Washington. Not finding happiness in 60 hour work weeks, she was self-employed for 10 years as a Reiki teacher and practitioner.
Now a member of the resident community at Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Tsepal is compiling and editing the many years of Venerable Chodron’s teachings on monastic training as well as leading a review on the Buddhist philosophical tenets for the residents.
Ven. Thubten Chonyi is a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied with Sravasti Abbey founder and abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron since 1996. She received novice ordination at the Abbey in 2008 and full ordination in 2011 in Taiwan. Ven. Chonyi regularly teaches Buddhism and meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane and other local locations.
Ven. Thubten Samten met her teacher, Ven. Thubten Chodron, in 1996 when the future Ven. Chonyi, took the future Ven. Samten to a Dharma talk at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle. The talk on the kindness of others and the way it was presented is deeply etched in her mind. Four retreats with Ven. Chodron, eight months in India and Nepal studying the Dharma, one month of offering service at Sravasti Abbey, and a two month retreat at the Abbey in 1998 fueled the fire to ordain on Aug. 26, 2010.
Ven. Samten's full ordination took place in Taiwan in March 2012, when she became the Abbey's sixth bhikshuni.
Right after finishing a Bachelor of Music degree, Ven. Samten moved to Edmonton, Canada to pursue training as a corporeal mime artist. Five years later, a return to university to obtain a Bachelor of Education degree opened the door to becoming a music teacher for the Edmonton Public School board. Concurrently, Ven. Samten became a founding member and performer with Kita No Taiko, Alberta's first Japanese drum group.
Ven. Thubten Semkye was Sravasti Abbey's first lay resident.
A founder of Friends of Sravasti Abbey, she accepted the position of chairperson to provide the four requisites for the monastic community. Realizing that was a difficult task to do from 350 miles away, she moved to the Abbey in spring 2004.
Although she didn’t originally see ordination in her future, after the 2006 Chenrezig retreat when she spent half of her meditation time reflecting on death and impermanence, Ven. Semkye realized that ordaining would be the wisest, most compassionate use of her life. She became the Abbey’s third nun in 2007. See her ordination photos. In 2010 she received bhikshuni ordination at Miao Fa Chan Temple in Taiwan.
Ven. Semkye draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey’s forests and gardens.
Rev. Vincent Lachina has served as Planned Parenthood Regional Chaplain for the last 13 years, providing support to patients and community members in Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Hawaii. Additionally, Lachina works to create an active network of progressive congregations in the Northwest who support reproductive justice for women. He is an adjunct member of Planned Parenthood's Clergy Advocacy Board, which provides guidance and advocacy on reproductive health and justice issues nationwide, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.