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Conference Contributors


Conference Contributors
& workshop leaders

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Alison Adam

Alison lives in Cumbria and has decades of experience in working with people in worship planning and leading and in congregational song.  Now, after a Covid-enforced 2 year sabbatical, she finds the best place for her to do anything like prayer is walking in the woods.  She hopes this is a pathway to something new in terms of liturgy and prayer and is looking for opportunities to explore with others how we talk about God and how we relate to God with language as well as those things which enable us to worship with our whole being.


Alison is a member of the Iona Community, has worked in primary schools, youth work, with the Wild Goose Resource Group, where she contributed to much published and recorded material. She currently works part time in a charity shop.


Rachel Mann

Rachel is a priest, writer and broadcaster. She began writing poetry, liturgy and short stories in the late 90s and has also written feminist liturgical theology, cultural history and been a regular contributor to The Church Times. Author of 12 books, she writes on theology, spirituality and literature.

Rachel holds a degree, Masters and PhD in Philosophy, an MA in Creative Writing, post graduate studies in the Bible and 19th-Century literature and a Doctorate based on the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and the Bible. Ordained into the Church of England in 2005, between 2009-2017 Rachel was Poet in Residence and Minor Canon at Manchester Cathedral. She was appointed Honorary Canon of Manchester Cathedral in 2017 and Area Dean of Bury and Rossendale in 2021.

Rachel also enjoys broadcasting has appeared as a panellist on The Moral Maze and Beyond Belief and is a is a regular contributor to Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2 and presents the Daily Service on BBC Radio 4. She has written extensively on music, particularly prog, folk and metal. 

In the video below, Rachel is interviewed about her book, 'In the Bleak Midwinter'.

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Carol Marples

Carol graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1988 with a BA (Hons.) in Tapestry. Since then she has regularly exhibited her own work, taught, and led workshops for all ages and abilities in textiles, drawing and painting in Scotland, Europe and North America. Carol completed an MLitt in Theology, Imagination and the Arts (2012) and a PhD (2019) from St. Mary’s College, University of St Andrews. 

Carol is the artist, teacher, creative liturgist and development worker for the Soul Marks trust. Since SOUL MARKS was established in 2003 Carol’s ministry has taken her to many places. The work has included creating large-scale artworks with local and international communities and leading a variety of workshops, projects and worship in conference centres, church halls, barns, cathedrals and tents in many other unexpected places.

In the video below Carol explains how she uses art to help people to pray.


Ched Myers

Ched is an activist theologian who has worked in social change and radical disciple movements for over 45 years. He has a degree in Philosophy and an MA in New Testament Studies and serves on the faculty of the Proctor Institute Dale Andrews Freedom Seminary. He has given seminars and retreats across the world, working in ecumenical and inter-faith contexts, teaching scripture on issues of faith-based peace and justice. He is author of over 100 articles and a range of books including Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, 1987 and most recently Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization, 2021)..

Ched has worked with a number of social justice organisations including Pacific Issues Network and American Friends Service Committee. He is co-founder of the Word and World School, the Sabbath Economics Collaborative and the Center and Library for Bible and Social Justice. With his partner Elaine, he is a restorative justice practitioner and works with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.

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Pádraig Ó Tuama

Pádraig is a poet and theologian from Ireland and his work centres around themes of language, conflict and religion. His published works include poetry, prose and theology. He is a public speaker and broadcaster and has appeared on Radio 4, Radios Scotland, Wales and N Ireland many times.

Pádraig holds a BA of Divinity, a Masters in Theology and is currently engaged in a PhD in Theology through Creative Practice (University of Glasgow). From 2014-2019 he was leader of the Corrymeela Community whose core aims are peace and reconciliation. 

Together with his partner, Paul Doran, Pádraig cofounded Tenx9 a storytelling event in Belfast which now has satellite events in many other cities. He presents the popular Poetry Unbound podcast from On Being Studios. He is a seasoned retreat director and speaker. Poetry Unbound will be released by Canongate in October 2022.


Pádraig was Poet in Residence at our 2012 conference and we have been looking for the opportunity to invite him back ever since!

In the video below Pádraig give s TEDx talk on 'Imagining Peace'


Jane Shaw

Jane is the Principal of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, Professor of the History of Religion and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford.

Jane holds a BA in Modern History, a Master of Divinity from Harvard University and a PhD in History at the University of California, Berkeley. She taught history and theology at Oxford University for 16 years. She was ordained priest in 1998 and was the Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco from 2010-2014. She has held appointments as honorary chaplain and honorary canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Canon Theologian of Salisbury Cathedral.

Jane’s interests include modern religious history, the Enlightenment, ethics, issues in gender, sexuality and the role of technology in society. She has published several books. Her academic writing focuses on lived religion and her work often includes themes of questioning, doubt, forgiveness. She writes for The Times and The Guardian on issues around politics, religion and the arts and presented a series on BBC Radio 3 on spirituality and mysticism. 


Graham Sparkes

Graham is a Baptist minister who served in local ministry for a number of years before taking on responsibility for the denomination’s Faith and Unity Department. This included national and international ecumenical engagement, and work on current social and political issues. In 2011 he became President of Luther King House Educational Trust in Manchester, an ecumenical partnership for theological education, where he teaches Christian spirituality.


For many years Graham served as a Trustee of Christian Aid and has also been a long-standing member of the Baptist Union Retreat Group. He has co-authored God and the Art of Seeing: visual resources for a journey of faith.


Graham became a Retreat Association Patron in 2013 and has played a key role in the last three major Retreat Association conferences since 2012 and Summer Events since they began in 2014.

Workshop leaders

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Christopher Chapman

Christopher is an experienced spiritual director and retreat leader. He teaches spirituality courses for St Augustine’s College of Theology and is a guest director at St Beuno’s. He is the author of Seeing in the Dark, Earthed in God and Send my Roots Rain.

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Ian Mobsby

Ian Mobsby is the Guardian of the Society of the Holy Trinity, an acknowledged religious community of the Church of England and a Rector of a Mixed Ecology Parish Church in Central London where he is also the Prior of the Blackfriars New Monastic Community. Ian is a published author on the subject of Mission and New Monasticism, the Canon Theologian for Mission for the Diocese of Niagara in Canada, the Chair of the Spiritual Formation Group in the Diocese of Southwark, and the Assistant Dean for Fresh Expressions and Pioneer Ministry also in the Diocese of Southwark. He has been involved in the area of mission and spirituality for over 30 years.  


Emma Pennington

Emma Pennington is Canon Missioner at Canterbury Cathedral and holds a doctorate from Oxford University on Julian of Norwich.  Formerly a parish priest, area dean and spirituality adviser in the Oxford diocese, she has been Chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford and speaks widely on Julian of Norwich and Christian Spirituality.  Her recently published book with BRF is At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich.

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Gillian Straine

The Revd Dr Gillian Straine is the CEO of The Guild of Health and St Raphael, an ecumenical Christian organisation promoting and resourcing the healing ministry of the church. Gillian is passionately committed to health, healing and Christian living. She is a cancer survivor, Anglican priest, theologian and scientist with a strong interest in communication and teaching. She is particularly keen to bring the study of science into conversations about Christian healing. She is the author of Introducing Science and Religion: A path through polemic (SPCK, 2014), The Limits of Science? (CSP, 2017) and Cancer: A Pilgrim Companion (SPCK, 2017).


Lya Vollering

Lya Vollering is a gardener, artist and activist, who lives in the walled garden based at Minsteracres Retreat Centre in the Northeast of England. She is a member of the Community of the Passion, and she is inspired by the Passionist spirituality with the emphasis of Jesus Passion as the greatest act of love. Crucified God, Crucified Earth and Crucified people are all interconnected. The crucifixion however points also to resurrection.

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James Woodward

The Reverend Canon Professor James Woodward PhD has worked as a Curate, a Bishop's Chaplain, a Hospital Chaplain and from 1996 in Parochial Ministry in the Diocese of Birmingham. From 1998 to 2009 he was the Master of the Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson, Temple Balsall, Vicar of St Mary's Church and the Director of the Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy. In this post he pioneered work in both Church and society to encourage better thinking and practice in the support and care of older people. From 2009 to 2015 he was a Canon of Windsor. James was appointed Principal of Sarum College in September 2015 and Professor of Theology at Winchester University in 2017. He has written and edited 15 books.

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