Gathering at Shaker Village


These are most of the participants in the 2013 ReadTheSpirit gathering at Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.

Eide Alawan
His first name is pronounced Eed, Arabic for celebration and a reminder of the festivals in the Islamic calendar. Eide is nationally known as an interfaith activist, peacemaker and educator. He is the diversity expert for Spiritual Care Services at the Detroit Medical Center. He also is co-founder of North America’s largest Muslim youth organization, based at the Islamic Center of America. In addition, Eide heads a team of Muslim volunteers who provide services in traditional Islamic burial customs.

Rabbi Robert Alper
Call him Bob. He is the world’s only full-time standup comic who also is a practicing rabbi. Bob has appeared in comedy clubs nationwide and is heard daily on the clean-comedy channel of the Sirius/XM network. He also is famous for his Laugh in Peace tours, featuring standup comedy from Bob along with a cross-cultural mix of other comedians: Arab, Muslim, Christian. His website describes his career and his current projects. This spring, he is publishing his latest book, Thanks. I Needed That.

Dmitri Barvinok
Dmitri is one of the leading seniors in the Michigan State University School of Journalism, but already he’s much more than a student. He was a central figure in the MSU project that produced the popular new book The New Bullying in 101 days. Now, he is helping to coordinate the new MSU team creating a series of cultural-competency guidebooks. He also is part-time media director of the OurValues project, an expert at digital publishing and a talented copy editor.

David Briggs
In his three decades of journalism focusing on religion, David Briggs has won various national awards. In addition to working for newspapers, he served for a number of years as the religion reporter for the Associated Press. His vocation as a journalist springs from a commitment to truth and balance in covering the world of faith and diversity. Today, he is Executive Director of the International Association of Religion Journalists. He also writes the influential, monthly Ahead of the Trend column, which is widely shared on other websites including Huffington Post and ReadTheSpirit.

Mary Ann Brussat
Mary Ann and her husband Frederic are true pioneers in journalistic approaches to covering religion and emerging cross-cultural issues. They began their work in the 1970s and moved through various forms of media, finally co-founding Spirituality and Practice. Among their most important books are Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life and Spiritual Rx: Prescriptions for a Meaningful Life. Fred remains in New York at the helm of their online operation; Mary Ann is representing them in our Kentucky gathering.

Robert Bruttell
Bob is an innovator in building interfaith networks. At the University of Detroit Mercy, Bob teaches courses on religion in America. He also is co-founder and current head of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC). That organization is receiving a lot of attention, thanks in part to a recent profile of the IFLC in the Alban-related Congregations magazine. (That article also was cross-posted at the IFLC site.) In 2014, the IFLC is co-hosting the annual gathering of the North American Interfaith Network.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel Buttry
Dan is one of the world’s leading peacemakers. He made history as the first full-time, global peace trainer and negotiator employed by a mainline denomination: American Baptist Churches (ABC), the denomination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a peacemaker, Dr. Buttry is constantly in motion, training groups in conflict transformation, nonviolence and peace-building in several continents. Several publishing houses have released Dan’s book; ReadTheSpirit has published three.

The Rev. Paul and Jan Chaffee
Paul is ordained in the United Church of Christ. He is founder and editor of The Interfaith Observer (TIO), a monthly internet magazine. He was the founding executive director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, where he served for 17 years. He sat on United Religions Initiative’s original Board of Directors for six years and for ten years a trustee of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN). In 1996, Jan helped found the Presidio center, managing its funds for 15 years and Chapel use for a dozen. As such, she was on the front-end of interfaith celebrations, weddings and funerals, programs, staffing, and administration.

David and Amy Crumm
A journalist since the 1970s, David’s specialty is religion and cultural diversity. He is a University of Michigan Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow and a journalism fellow at the East West Center in Washington DC. Currently, he is the coordinator of “Michigan professional journalists with an interest in religion and cross cultural issues.” In 2007, he drafted ReadTheSpirit’s 10 founding principles as he became the co-founder of ReadTheSpirit Books and online magazine.
Amy is one of the few participants known to virtually everyone in the gathering. As our Event Planner, Amy is the helpful voice on the telephone who guided people through months of planning. At Shaker Village, she will be a “go to” person for further questions. Her career includes retail management and merchandising with Marshall Fields and now with Macy’s. She is a certified event planner.

Martin Davis
Marty is a journalist and consultant known nationally to religious leaders seeking fresh insights into congregational development and new media. Over the years, he has written a couple of popular online columns. For several years, he was director of the Lilly-and-Alban-co-sponsored Congregational Resource Guide from offices near Washington DC.

Celeste Dykas
Celeste is a copy editor and digital stylist for ReadTheSpirit Books. She has special interests in the fine arts, food, history and cross-cultural issues. For The Flavors of Faith, she tested all recipes as she copy-edited them—then worked with photographer Stephanie Fenton to style the food photos for the book. She lives in a historic farmhouse, where the food photographs were taken, in the Detroit area.

Stephanie Fenton
Stephanie has been part of the ReadTheSpirit core team since our founding in 2007. A journalist and photographer, Stephanie Fenton pioneered our unique Holidays & Festivals column—the only ongoing column of its kind in American journalism. As a photographer, Stephanie styled and photographed the foods in The Flavors of Faith.

Eileen Flanagan
Eileen Flanagan’s most recent book is about how to apply the Serenity Prayer in daily life—to accept the things we cannot change and change the things we should change. The Wisdom to Know the Difference has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama and won a Silver 2010 Nautilus Book Award. A major focus of her work is eco-justice. You can learn more about Eileen and read some of her recent columns at her website.

Terry and Dr. Nancy “Amby” Gallagher
Terry has worked for decades in communications and community relations for the University of Michigan and, as a volunteer, with interfaith and human-service agencies in southeast Michigan. As a regular contributor to Read the Spirit’s Our Values series, he has written columns about friendship, hospitality, the environment and baseball.
After more than 30 years as a nurse and adult nurse practitioner, Amby earned a doctorate in 2010 and is an assistant professor at the Michigan State University College of Nursing. Her research focuses on enhancing physical activity and preventing disability among the elderly.

Greg Geiger
Greg has held a number of leadership positions in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here is a profile of Greg in the Detroit Free Press from 2007. Over the past decade, this now-retired Ford executive has become well known in Michigan for work in interfaith networks. One of his key principles in building bridges is his belief: “All around the world, I was impressed with how much people actually share when it comes to their core values.” He serves on the Board of Directors of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

Joe Grimm
Journalists nationwide know Joe as the Ask the Recruiter columnist for the Poynter Institute and the voice behind The Jobs Page. His advice about media careers also is available in books: The Best of Ask the Recruiter and Breaking In. As part of the Michigan State University School of Journalism faculty, he helped to produce The New Bullying. In 2013, he is working with MSU and ReadTheSpirit to produce a series of cultural-competency guidebooks. Joe’s wide-ranging interests also include a project with Wayne State University Press to promote Detroit’s signature food: Coney Detroit.

Kabir Helminski
Sufi teacher, writer, translator and musician Kabir is a leader in the Mevlevi Order, which traces its lineage back to Rumi. As he travels, he spreads awareness of the music of Sufism and the art of the whirling dervishes. He is the author of two books on Sufism: Living Presence and The Knowing Heart. His books on Rumi include The Rumi Daybook and Love’s Ripening. He also is profiled in Wikipedia.

Becky Hile
Becky is an experienced web designer with expertise in graphic arts, digital styling, web analytics and social media. Becky specializes in research, styling, writing and editing online content as part of the sophisticated new architecture we are developing for the online marketing of books. She also works on our new web analytics systems. She lives in Michigan. (She is John Hile’s niece.)

John Hile
John is co-founder of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and publishing house. His career spans the Internet age and he has directed several major software-design projects through the years. Currently, one of his most valuable projects is a sophisticated new software suite for small to mid-sized publishers, moving content quickly from simple Word documents through easy forms of editing and digital styling—toward branching options for print and all e-publishing formats. He also is developing new strategies for web architecture in promoting book sales online.

Paul Hile
Paul lives in Atlanta. He is a writer and has worked as a social-media consultant in publishing. (He is John Hile’s son.)

Heather Jose
Heather (her last name is pronounced like “Joe’s”) is known to “cancer thrivers” nationwide as a writer, speaker and columnist for Breast Cancer Wellness magazine. She’s a leading advocate of taking charge of your battle with cancer and enlisting all forms of assistance—including family and friends, nutrition and exercise, prayer and meditation and, of course, the best of medical care. Countless readers have been helped by her book, Every Day We Are Killing Cancer. She also is the host and main columnist for the portal into ReadTheSpirit’s online magazine.

Jack Kresnak
After a long career in journalism, Jack now is focused on completing the biography of the late Father William Cunningham, a human rights and anti-poverty activist who founded Detroit’s Focus:HOPE. In addition to winning many individual awards, Jack is honored in the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. In recent years, he was president of Michigan’s Children, the leading nonprofit advocacy group in Lansing, Michigan, working to make Michigan a place where all children have the opportunity to thrive.

Dr. Matthew T. Lee
Matthew is the head of a four-year, Templeton-funded research project into the relationship between spiritual experiences and benevolent behavior in America. That project now involves research partners on other university campuses; Lee headed the team that published the project’s findings in a new Oxford University Press book. His work is profiled in ReadTheSpirit. He is the head of the sociology department at The University of Akron.

Dr. Mary Liepold
Mary is Editor in Chief for Peace X Peace, an international organization that strengthens and connects women’s voices in 120 countries. (This page summarizes the group’s history and current projects.) Before coming to Peace X Peace, Mary spent 14 years at the Child Welfare League of America, where she developed and for eight years edited the magazine Children’s Voice. Mary earned her doctorate in American Literature and Linguistics from the Catholic University of America.

Dr. Joe and Barbara “Bobbie” Lewis
Joe and Bobbie are active both in their Jewish community and in interfaith networks in Michigan—and both are also known for their work in media. Joe might be described as a contemporary polymath with a doctorate in 16th-century literature; his writing has ranged from computer manuals to poetry to translation; and his professional roles include establishing an independent publishing house, the Singlish Publication Society. Bobbie also is a veteran writer, editor and consultant. Her website is; she has a recipe blog:

Stuart Matlins
Stuart is founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of Jewish Lights Publishing and SkyLight Paths Publishing. Both imprints focus on religion and spirituality from a broad non-denominational perspective. He is author or editor of several books, including the best-selling How to Be a Perfect Stranger. Stuart was the 2006 recipient of the American Jewish Distinguished Service Award, an annual presentation of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion. He was a member of the First Catholic/Jewish Lay Conference at the Vatican in October 2007.

Megan McFeely
Megan, pronounced Mee-gan, is the outreach director and associate producer of Global Spirit on PBS. She blogs for the Huffington Post about her own spiritual journey following the inner Path of Sufism. She is making a film on feminine consciousness called As She IS, due out at the end of 2013. She is a communications strategist, working with a diverse array of spiritual teachers, authors and thought-leaders focused on spiritual awareness and the evolution of human consciousness.

Fran McKendree
Fran is a singer-songwriter from North Carolina who has devoted his life to the spiritual strength of music. He lives in a mountaintop home and arts studio with his wife, Diana, who is one of the nation’s leading icon writers (traditional icon painters are called “writers”). His mufti-faceted career circles the globe. He travels constantly headlining events primarily for religious groups and often with a special focus on youth programs. Explore his website. ReadTheSpirit has covered Fran’s work several times: From his home in our American Journey series. And, on the release of a new album.

The Rev. Edward McNulty
In congregations coast to coast, Ed’s books on faith and film have helped preachers, teachers and small-group leaders combine Hollywood with Bible study. In addition to his books, McNulty also is the long-time writer for Visual Parables magazine, a monthly guide to discussing movies in congregations. ReadTheSpirit already has begun publishing some of McNulty’s new reviews and study guides in our online magazine. Now, we are pleased to publish McNulty’s latest book, Blessed Are the Filmmakers. Here is one of Ed’s most popular series: Top 10 Jesus Movies.

Patricia Montemurri
Patty is an award-winning reporter for the Detroit Free Press, ranging over the years from major investigative projects to her current role as a top feature writer. Her work often is featured in the combined Detroit newspapers Sunday editions. She has specialized for many years in covering religion, especially the Catholic church, and has reported from Rome as well as across the United States, on occasion. For a personal story, Patty and her husband Paul contributed to Story Corps about meeting each other in the midst of Detroit news events. Here is a recent Free Press feature on families blending cultures.

Henry and the Rev. Margaret Passenger
Henry is a copy editor with decades of experience in newspapers before his retirement. We value the wide span of age, experience and cultural background within our staff. For example—Passenger, the retired journalist, worked with Barvinok, the student journalist, in copy editing Rabbi Bob Alper’s new book. He lives in rural Michigan with his wife: the Rev. Margaret Passenger, an educator, writer and retired United Methodist pastor. Margaret’s writing and teaching focuses on the spiritual stories of women both in the Bible and in contemporary life.

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt
Benjamin is one of the most popular columnists at ReadTheSpirit and at the website for the Day1 radio network, where he has been invited to broadcast a week in Day1’s signature, nationwide, five-part sermon series later in 2013. Benjamin is a veteran pastoral counselor in the Washington D.C. area. He travels widely to speak, convene workshops and to learn from other caregivers and nonprofit groups. He has been part of the ReadTheSpirit team since our founding in 2007, beginning with his first book Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass.

Patty and Michael Thompson
This husband-wife team works with ReadTheSpirit in many ways. Patty is the head of our business operations and develops our unique materials for interacting with authors on everything from quarterly accounting reports to daily calls on modified short orders of books. She also heads our operations that channel our new books into the publishing platforms for our multiple e-editions. In 2012-13, her husband software developer Michael Thompson also has worked with ReadTheSpirit as a designer and developer with John Hile in the new digital architecture behind ReadTheSpirit.

Jane Wells
Jane understands the best connections between popular culture and faith. As an author, she created Glitter in the Sun, a book-length Bible study exploring themes in the popular Twilight novels and films. In spring 2013, she is working on a similar book drawing lessons from the Hunger Games novels and films. Wells uses those talents, as well, in her role as Marketing Director for ReadTheSpirit. Jane Wells’ daily work focuses on spotting trends in new media. She is an expert at independent publishing, new social-networking platforms and media marketing.

The Rev. Megan Walther
Megan, pronounced May-gan, is an ordained United Methodist pastor in Michigan. Her husband Joel also is a pastor and, together, they serve three churches. Megan and Joel are involved in a wide array of educational programs for young clergy. Megan also is a content editor (She is David Crumm’s daughter.)

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