After the ups and downs of the last year and a half, everyone could use a little encouragement. And that’s just what the 2021 Southern Christian Writers Conference — held June 4–5 at Hueytown First United Methodist Church — set out to provide.
“Let’s embrace the encouragement of your leaders and peers,” said SCWC director Cheryl Wray, during the opening session of the conference. “We have wise counsel here.”
The conference also celebrated the encouragement of writers by recognizing Jennifer Davis Rash, president and editor-in-chief of TAB Media Group, as this year’s recipient of the Joanne Sloan National Award for the Encouragement of Writers, an annual award given by Vision Press. Previous recipients are Cec Murphey (inaugural recipient in 2016), Rick Bragg, Bruce Barbour and Ramona Richards.
“There’s a thread that runs through the story of my life,” Rash said. “It’s the many mentors who have taught and encouraged me. God continually placed people in my life, at every point, who just showed up. They guided me, they loved me, they mentored me. I’m so very thankful.”
One of the most important virtues instilled in Rash through the years has been patience, she said.
“Patience seems fitting during seasons of writing deserts or when a book isn’t coming together,” she told the participants, noting how times of waiting provide an opportunity for self-reflection and a focus on sanctification. “Can you imagine the difference of the depth of our writing on the other side of that season of waiting and sanctification?”
After more than a year of waiting to gather again, the SCWC staff and participants’ patience was rewarded as well.
About 50 people gathered in person for the 30th year of the SCWC, giving Wray and her team an extra boost for the special anniversary.
“Being in a room with people, face to face … we are just so excited,” she said. “That might be what I’m most excited about this weekend.”
The in-person participants were joined by more than 100 people watching the conference virtually.
Honoring God through writing
In addition to the presentation of the Joanne Sloan Award, the conference also featured two keynote speakers; workshops on writing, research, magazines, books, social media and more; and the 2021 SCWC Writing Awards ceremony.
Todd Gerelds, the Friday night keynote speaker and author of “Woodlawn,” shared about the importance of connecting with the body of Christ and how personal experiences inspire and influence writing.
“We are the body of Christ. We all have different roles. One of the things we learn in life is that we all need each other,” he said. “We are to share Scripture and share our experiences with others so they don’t ever say, ‘I feel like I’m all alone.’”
The gift of words is valued by God, Gerelds said.
“Everything we know as reality today He spoke into existence. He used words to create. Then the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We call Jesus the Word of life. Words are very important to God.”
Since people are image-bearers, Gerelds said, Christians should reflect His character by using the gifts He gives them to create that which He has gifted them to do.
“You have been created in the image of God, by a God who values words. What better way than to use the gift you have to encourage people and bring community among the body?”
Ginger Rue — the Saturday keynote speaker, contributing editor for Guideposts Magazine and author of the Aleca Zamm series — echoed Gerelds’ sentiment.
“Honor God with the gifts He has given you,” Rue said. “All the successes will fade. As Solomon said, all the things of this world are vanities (Eccl. 1:14). As Christians we are called to something higher than that. When disappointments come, you have an anchor to hold on to.”
She also emphasized the importance of properly aligning the heart in service to God.
“Do your work for the Lord, not for yourself or anyone else,” she said. “Even if the work you do doesn’t get noticed, doesn’t get published, God still sees you did that work for His glory. You haven’t actually lost anything.”
The conference concluded with the recognition of the winners of the 2021 SCWC Writing Awards.
And the winners are…
In the newspaper article category, first place went to David Chancey for “When Hate is Appropriate,” published in the Newman Times-Herald; second place went to Jan White for “Faith Over Fear in the Face of COVID-19,” published in the Andalusia Star News; and third place went to Shirley Crowder for “Christians Should Scatter Sunshine,” published in The Gadsden Times.
In the magazine article category, first place went to Bill King for “In Over Your Head?,” published in Mature Living Magazine; second place went to Karen Allen for “Unexpected Blessings,” published in Home Life Magazine; and third place went to Grace Booth for “Duplicity,” in Life Signs Magazine.
In the poetry category, first place went to LaKisha Cargill for “Betrayal,” published in Wildfire; second place went to April McCay for “The Golden Leaf,” published in The Cullman Tribune; and third place went to Tina Posey for “Life is Like a Fragrant Rose,” published in The Fentress Courier.
In the short story category, first place went to Becky Alexander for “Connected by Kindness,” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and Divine Intervention; second place went to Karen Allen for “The Lost Ring,” published in Abba’s Answered; and third place went to Nancy Cowart for “He Drew Us All,” published in Abba’s Answers.
In the blog post category, first place went to Mel Tavares for “Post-Pandemic Grief;” second place went to Terri Miller for “Adjusting My Focus;” third place went to Miranda Herring for “The Blue Nights and the Heavy Things;” and honorable mentions went to Katie Dale for “Always Look for the Rainbow” and A. Ray Lee for “Out of the Darkness into Light.”
Wray took the reins of the conference three years ago from her parents David and Joanne Sloan, who founded the SCWC in 1991. The 2021 conference may have just wrapped up, but she’s already looking forward to next year.
“We were so glad we got to experience the conference this year, but we are looking forward to being together in greater numbers next year,” she said. “Both the conference and the Southern Christian Book Expo will be in person next year.”
The 2021 sessions will be available to view virtually through the summer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase access to the virtual session.
To view the full gallery of photos from the conference, visit tabonline.org/SCWC-2021.