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 Shedlock is the communications coordinator for Catholic Charities Eastern Washington. Before working as a writer, he served Catholic Charities as a refugee resettlement caseworker. Ben’s career has emphasized Catholic Social Teaching’s themes of solidarity and an option for the poor. He is a member of St. Ann’s Catholic Church. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Cassandra Benefield mostly goes by Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a 'y'). She is a wife and mommy, who married at the age of 37 and had her baby girl just shy of 39. She has moved around all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer to Romania where she taught Conversational English, Modern Literature, Creative Writing, U.S. Culture, U.S. Geography, and U.S. History (the last two subjects she was so not qualified to teach!). She is a Journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who is prone to buy more theology books than she is ever able to read. Morro Bay, California, is her favorite place on earth ... with the exception of being in the center of God's will. From time to time, you will find her writing devotions on her blog underhisshadow.blogspot.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.
Connor Gilbert is a journalism and english writing concentration major at Gonzaga University. In addition to creating his own fiction and nonfiction creative writing, he is a sports editor for the Gonzaga Bulletin. Born and raised in Spokane, he is interested in learning more about the diverse religious landscape of the city and becoming more involved in the growing community.
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.
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.
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.
Spokane native Janine Warrington received her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Gonzaga University in 2017. Currently, she is pursuing a Master's in theological studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Areas of interest include the history of evangelical America, sexual ethics, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and Scripture studies. In addition to writing for FāVS, Janine also manages a blog about overlooked passages from the Bible called Neglected Word. Outside of academia, Janine enjoys cooking, yoga, Broadway musicals, and bothering her younger sister. Pronouns: She/Her/Hers.
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).
Kimberly Burnham is the author of the recent book, "Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, A Daily Brain Health Program." In Awakenings, Kimberly investigates the relationship between memory, language, caring and pattern recognition, creating a daily brain health exercise program enabling people to achieve better neurological health, mood and quality of life.
With a PhD in Integrative Medicine, Kimberly is known as The Nerve Whisperer. She uses words (books, presentations, and poetry), health coaching, guided visualization, and hands-on therapies (CranioSacral therapy, acupressure, Matrix Energetics, Reiki, and Integrative Manual Therapy) to help people with healing.
She assists people with movement disorders and walking issues due to Parkinson's disease, Huntington's ataxia, and Diabetic neuropathies. Alternative approaches for autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease or lupus are also available. Kimberly's practice includes children with seizures, autism, cerebral palsy, scoliosis, Down's, sleep and anxiety disorders. A Professional Health Coach, she consults with people via phone and Skype as well as working with clients in person in Spokane, Washington, where she lives with her family. She also focuses on vision issues like macular degeneration and supports people looking for eye exercises to improve driving and reading skills as well as athletic visual speed.
An award-winning poet, Kimberly grew up overseas. The child of an international businessman and an artist, she learned Spanish in Colombia; French in Belgium; then Japanese in Tokyo and has studied both Italian and Hebrew as an adult. She can be reached at NerveWhisperer@gmail.com or http://www.NerveWhisperer.Solutions.
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 Report Editor for the International Religious Freedom Report for the U.S. State Department where she focuses on countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. In her spare time, she supports the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. as a Civil Dialogue Facilitator and Trainer. MacKenzie is an interfaith and civic engagement activist and serves as an organizing member for the DMV Interfaith Summit as well as on the Andrew Goodman Foundation's Alumni Association's Executive Board. Previously., she was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia working to engage religious minorities in a Muslim state as well as youth activism. 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
Maimoona Harrington was born and raised in Pakistan moved to the United States with her family in 2008. She is married and a mother of two sons. She has a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies and sociology from Pakistan. Currently she is finishing her degree in Middle Eastern Studies at American Public University. Along with her current career as an interpreter she is also Islamic and Pakistani Culture Adviser.
As a practicing Muslim with the extensive world travel and living in the West, she has devoted herself to spread awareness of Islam as a goodwill gesture. In an effort to do this she started writing from her own personal experiences with religion, beliefs and life in a different culture. She also has special interest in all the religions and how and why they are all important to its followers. Her primary focus is on the co-existence and harmony between all human beings. Her message is to spread peace not division. She strongly believes that if you want to be closer to your creator then love His creation unconditionally and expect nothing in return for He loves us unconditionally and forgives us no matter how sinful we are!
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 Williams is a student at Gonzaga University from Portland, Oregon studying math, physics and film. He recently returned from studying abroad in New Zealand for a semester and can be found hiking or doing something outdoorsy most weekends. When he is not camping, hiking or fishing, he can be found preparing for his PhD in Astrophysics, working on his first feature film, or rocking out with the GU worship band, Thirst. He has been published in a few of the GU student journals, and he is excited for the chance to explore his own faith more deeply through engaging with faith communities all over Spokane during his time as a Wolff Fellow.
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.
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.
Mitch Finley is the author of 30+ books on Roman Catholic theological topics and spirituality, all written to appeal to both non-academic and academic readers. Mitch holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University and an M.A. in Theology from Marquette University. He and Kathy Finley have been married since 1974 and are the parents of three grown sons. To learn more visit mitchandkathyfinley.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.
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).
Scott McIntyre is glad his parents didn’t name him Vladimir or he’d be listed last on this page. While a long time California resident, he was the Oakland Spirituality Examiner for Examiner.com from 2011-12 and about the same time began blogging on several topics. The first, teaching Christians how to lovingly share their spiritual beliefs, emphasized skills that can benefit all forms of one-to-one interaction. He also writes on marriage, travel, downsizing, humor, and the motive behind people’s words and actions. After retiring in 2016, Scott embarked on some major ‘R & R’; Relocating and Rebranding. Following in his sister’s footsteps from the early 80’s, and later in the decade, his parent’s, Scott left the Golden State to become a Washingtonian in a small town just west of Spokane County.
Sophia Kesler is a lifelong intersectional feminist. Though raised Christian, Sophia has been Pagan most of her adult life, and is looking forward to sharing her faith and knowledge about Paganism with the SpokaneFāVS community. She has lived in and traveled to a variety of places, including Washington State, but is now looking to put down roots in New York City. A graduate of EWU, Sophia is an aspiring novelist and copy editor. When she’s not writing, reading, or exploring her faith, Sophia can be found learning to maintain long-distance friendships or exploring her new city.
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.
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.