AwakeningSoul: Need sanctuary? Want sustenance? Hoping for inspiration?

“God, put me in the midst of what you are doing,
run me over with your presence,
and allow me to bless what you are doing.”

Part of Fran McKendree’s morning prayers

A new year is right around the corner: For millions of Americans, it’s the start of the annual cycle in schools and congregations. Jewish families already are planning for Rosh Hashanah 5776 on September 13. Christian Advent comes later this fall. This week, we are reporting the latest news from a longtime ReadTheSpirit friend: Fran McKendree.

Fran and collaborator Ann Holtz, once again, are presenting a stirring lineup of artists, musicians and teachers for a four-day retreat in their nationally known AwakeningSoul series. The dates are November 5 to 8. This year the headliners are Old Testament scholar and teacher Walter Brueggemann and global storyteller Valerie Tutson. Capacity is 250 people, which Ann and Fran reached last year—but they say there’s still time to sign up in early September, this year!

Also—think about friends who might be interested in this gathering and do a good deed: Tell them about this news via social media. 

But, first, do you remember Fran’s work? Here are earlier stories featuring this inspiring musician …

You get the idea. Each year, Fran crisscrosses America as a highly sought-after music and worship leader at spiritual retreats—frequently for the Episcopal church and often for ecumenical and interfaith gatherings. Several years ago, he and Ann Holtz decided that—in addition to the 100s of events in which they have participated—they would become creative hosts themselves and bring people together at AwakeningSoul once a year.

That’s how religious networks form: The fuel is hospitality and creative collaboration—and the energy is spread when people reciprocate as Fran and Ann have done by becoming hosts of their own series. They travel to our home communities—and they invite us to their community as well. That’s the idea behind AwakeningSoul.


In his own words, here’s how Fran McKendree describes the trio of ideals held up at each AwakeningSoul gathering:

  • Sanctuary—respite, a safe harbor where we know our anchor will hold fast in the rising, ebbing tides;
  • Sustenance—a banquet of wisdom, truth-telling, mindfulness and new awareness;
  • Inspiration—knowing we are not alone on our journeys, emboldened, invigorated, grateful and encouraged as we head back into our worlds.


One of the first questions, when we hear about a new event is: So, what will it be like, if I do decide to attend? So, ReadTheSpirit asked Fran and Ann to describe AwakeningSoul.

FRAN: Think of this as a banquet where people come to receive food and be in community. When you walk into our meeting space, it’s really striking. We have these beautiful, 4-by-8-foot, folk-art banners made for each of the themes we’ll be exploring. You’ll see people coming in around you who mostly are middle age and up.

ANN: We are within the Christian household but invite all to come. Worship is woven throughout our four days together. We are intentional about our choice of language, song, and symbol with the hope that our worship is inclusive and accessible. In addition to participatory community worship we offer guided meditation.

Half of the people are coming from traditional institutions, but they want something fresh and nourishing. A third of the people who come are clergy, but most of them come incognito. Last year, we had a bishop who came and didn’t make it obvious that she was a bishop; she would share that with people if it was relevant, but she simply wanted to be a part of this community. This is a great place to come for clergy and lay leaders who want to renew their spirits, and want to feel free to say whatever they are thinking—without worrying that someone in their more traditional congregation might be threatened by hearing that.

FRAN: Being in this community of seekers feels like walking into a beautiful field blossoming with art and music and spiritual energy. These folks are hungry. They want to live fuller, more vibrant lives that are responsive to where God is calling them. That’s who you’ll encounter if you show up with us.


ReadTheSpirit readers are likely to know the name of this famous Bible scholar—but perhaps not much else. Wikipedia says he “is widely considered one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the last several decades.” Fans of Bill Moyers’ TV specials will recall Brueggemann from the lengthy PBS series on Genesis. Regular participants in Bible-study classes are likely to have at least one of his nearly 60 books on a shelf along with other reference materials. He is most famous for applying challenging themes from the ancient Hebrew scriptures to contemporary problems in our world.

Fran says he invited Brueggemann because he is such a stirring teacher—and he understands that people coming to a retreat want to fully interact with the main speakers. “That really impressed me about him. He likes to be accessible. He comes to every meal. He talks with different people each time. He understands what we’re trying to do and he wants to be part of the community.”

Fran has worked with him before. “A couple of years ago, I was asked to do a clergy retreat in Los Angeles and Walter was a speaker,” Fran says. “I knew he was a Bible scholar and I expected to hear these dry talks that might put people to sleep. Not Walter! By the end, he had these hundreds of clergy on their feet, standing because his presentation was so passionate. He has this ability to retell these ancient stories in a way that place you right there in world of the prophets—and then he plunks you back down in today’s world and makes you think about how the prophets’ messages should move us today.

“When he speaks, I see people scribbling notes—and, when he’s done, I see people getting together to discuss and debate what they just heard. He’s great!”

Care to hear Fran McKendree?

Here are two music videos that Fran suggests convey a feeling of the music you’ll experience. Here is Blessing at Midday …

And here is Painting in the Sky …

Care to connect further?

Fran and Ann make connection easy. Click on the photo at the top of today’s story to visit their website, or you can jump immediately to the Contact Us page for AwakeningSoul right here. Perhaps you want to learn more about Fran McKendree’s music—then go directly to his website.

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