Photos from previous retreat, taken by Katherine Sleadd

Photos from previous retreat, taken by Katherine Sleadd

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Contributor biographies

Peter Rollins is an author, philosopher, storyteller, producer and public speaker who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion and forming “churches” that preach the Good News that we can’t be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret. Challenging the idea that faith concerns questions relating to belief, Peter’s religionless reading of Christianity attacks the distinction between the sacred and the secular. It critiques theism and it sets aside questions regarding life after death to explore the possibility of life before death. Peter gained his higher education from Queens University, Belfast where he earned degrees (with distinction) in Scholastic Philosophy (BA Hons), Political Theory and Social Criticism (MA) and Post-Structural thought (PhD). He's the author of numerous books, including Insurrection, The Idolatry of God, and The Divine Magician. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently lives in Los Angeles and will die somewhere as yet not known.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet and theologian. His work centres around themes of language, power, conflict and religion. Working fluently on the page and with groups of people, Pádraig is a skilled speaker, teacher and group worker. His work has won acclaim in circles of poetry, politics, religion, psychotherapy and conflict analysis. His work has been featured in Poetry Ireland Review, Academy of American Poets, Post Road, Cream City Review, Holden Village Voice, Proximity Magazine, On Being, Gutter, America, and Seminary Ridge Review. His books include In the Shelter, Sorry for Your Troubles and Readings From the Book of Exile. Pádraig lives and works in Belfast.

Leonie McDonagh is founding member and director of ponydance, with a focus on marrying comedy and dance theatre. In 2014 she was choreographer in residence at the American Dance Festival and was associate artist at the MAC, Belfast. Leonie studied dance at Middlesex University, Sallynoggin College and London Contemporary Dance School. She has been granted several bursaries in professional development from Arts Council Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2016 she was commissioned by Belfast International Festival to make her first solo show, which was supported by Belfast City Council and presented at Holland Dance Festival. With ponydance, she has produced numerous full scale productions. She also works as a facilitator for community projects in dance, movement and as a freelance choreographer and performer. She lives in Belfast with her son Tóbín. 

Jonny McEwen began painting in 1986 and first exhibited in 1991. A Graduate of the Art College in Belfast, he has exhibited widely in Ireland, England, Wales and Germany. Since returning from his travels in Eastern and Central Europe in 1997, Jonny set up a studio in Belfast. McEwen’s work is part of the following public collections: UTV, Dept of Environment NI, Secretary of States Office, Office of Public Works, University of Cork as well as many private collections. He also created one of Ireland’s biggest public art pieces for the Skainos Building in East Belfast. 

Rebekah Johanson is founder and creative director of Lines & Current, a minimal jewellery and accessories brand. Named ‘One to Watch 2018’ by Image Magazine, Rebekah’s creative and pioneering energy sets her apart as an industry leader. The brand itself is built on three pillars; Minimal, Soulful and Everyday. She designs all of the jewellery pieces and work very closely with a silversmith in Guangdong. In addition to this, 10% of all profits go to causes that bring about hope and change in people's lives.

Jay Bakker grew up with a theme park for a playground, watched his parents’ evangelistic empire self-destruct, turned to drink and drugs as a teen, sobered up in his 20s and became a pastor to punk-rockers and skate-boarders. Born and raised when Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were at the height of their TV ministry, Jay — then known as Jamie — spent much of his childhood on the set of their “PTL” show or at their Heritage USA religious resort. Scandal ended his parents’ ministries in the 1980s and dark, angry years ensued for the boy. He was featured in a reality series, “One Punk Under God,” on the Sundance Channel and has  authored three books. His mum, Tammy Faye, become a gay icon. Jay, following in her footsteps, became an LGBTQ rights advocate. 

Barry Taylor is a theologian-philosopher, musician, artist, academic and writer who has spent more than thirty years challenging traditional notions of religion and church and creating alternative communities built on the idea that life is uncertain, the future is unwritten and that none of us has the answer. Barry's work collapses the boundaries between the sacred and the profane, blurs the lines between theism and atheism and raises new questions about life, death and everything in between. Barry also writes books, makes music with his friends, produces daily art works and spends a lot of time in coffee shops reading. Born in the U.K. he recently returned to London after living in Los Angeles. 

Spencer Burke is a teacher and coach from California who founded The Hatchery, an incubator designed to help 'spiritual entrepreneurs'. Spencer’s expertise spans decades. He has run dozens of conferences in the US and has helped to develop the platform for many well-known speakers in the US. Basically, Spencer has been helping to build platforms for speakers, writers and activists for most of his working life.

Ursula Burns is a singer-songwriter with a reputation for being the most dangerous harpist in the world. The multiinstrumentalist accidentally fell into comedy when she won the Irish Musical Comedy Award, while her first trip to Edinburgh festival earned her a nomination for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. She wondered why they were laughing - she was being serious.

Micah Purnell is a multidisciplinary artist from Manchester who specialises in Design Thinking and Ethical Persuasion. This means an alternative approach to problem solving and a passion to pursue meaningful projects that offer a tangible benefit to people’s wellbeing. He is a creative consultant and practitioner with expertise in art direction, book design, situationist art, billboard curation and writing maxims. Micah is currently running Selling Virtues, a campaign for people-centred advertising. In 2014, he founded Print & Paste, a celebrated outdoor gallery of international artists and designers. Since 2016, he has curated its current manifestation Add Art. His installation Status Cages, questions the freedom consumerism appears to offer.

Alana Henderson is one of Ireland’s most talented and promising new musicians. Alana is a ‘cellist, singer and songwriter who has toured extensively with Hozier and played widely across the UK and Ireland. She has also featured on Saturday Night Live, Jools Holland and gave a Grammy performance with Annie Lennox.

Tour Alaska is the solo project of A Plastic Rose frontman Gerry Norman. Having spent well over a decade on the road touring all over the UK, Ireland and Europe - including arena tours supporting Snow Patrol, Biffy Clyro and Twenty One Pilots - Tour Alaska offers a mellow and reflective experience both lyrically and musically. It’s an intimate experience that delves into pain, loss and joy.

Wlliam Crawley is an Belfast-born BBC journalist and broadcaster. He is the presenter of Talkback, a daily radio phone-in show on BBC Radio Ulster and he is a presenter of Sunday on BBC Radio 4. He has also made several television series for BBC Northern Ireland. William earned a degree in philosophy from Queens University (B.A., M.Phil.), gained an M.Div. in theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and earned a PhD for his dissertation on the epistemology of the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga from Queen's University. Prior to his career in the media, he worked as a university lecturer in philosophy and theology. William has gained numerous awards and accolades, including Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts (FRSA), Fellow of the British-American Project, Recipient of Eisenhower Fellowship, Doctor of Literature (D.Lit.), The Queen's University, for Services to Broadcasting and the Andrew Cross Award for Speech Broadcaster of the Year.

SPARK | Fringe Ticket

This year, for locals, we’re releasing a limited number of fringe ticket for SPARK. This gives you access to the evening events taking place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

There are two ticket types:

  1. Single evening access

  2. Access to all three evenings

I had to put the prices in $ (depending on currency fluctuations, the cost comes in at approximately £15/30).

Once you’ve purchased your ticket, you just need to turn up on the night and give your name to reception at the Crawfordsburn Inn.


19:30 - 21:00 | tour alaska and Alana Henderson

Tour Alaska is the solo project of A Plastic Rose frontman Gerry Norman. Having spent well over a decade on the road touring all over the UK, Ireland and Europe - including arena tours supporting Snow Patrol, Biffy Clyro and Twenty One Pilots - Tour Alaska offers a mellow and reflective experience both lyrically and musically. It’s an intimate experience that delves into pain, loss and joy. Alana Henderson is a ‘cellist, singer and songwriter who has toured extensively with Hozier and played across the UK. She has also featured on Saturday Night Live, Jools Holland and a Grammy performance with Annie Lennox.

21:30 - 22:30 | Fireside chat with Peter Rollins

These nightly conversations will be led by different people and offer a more intimate and informal chance to ask questions and discuss whatever is on your mind. On this evening, join Peter as he tells his story of ikon, unemployment, living in a squat and gradually becoming a freelance (pyro)theologian.


19:30 - 21:00 | Feed the Beast with Pádraig Ó Tuama

What is hungry in us? What is starving? What are the beasts we try to tame that need to be heard? Pádraig will read from a new collection of poems, exploring ravenous desires.

21:30 - 22:30 | Fireside chat with Barry taylor

Join the godfather of Christo-punk as he talks about his upcoming memiour Sex, God and Rock N Roll. It’s an incredible book that tells the story of a journey that has involved touring with AC/DC, being part of a religious revival in Russia, doing music for porn movies, having a sexual encounter with the Children of God and the discovery of the Death of God. And these are just a few of his stories… with my hand on heart I can say that Barry could well be the most interesting man in the world.


19:30 - 21:00 | Leonie in conversation with Jay Bakker

A culture war is raging. The political landscape can seem bleak and violence is increasingly spilling out in various ways. Someone who understands these conflicts intimately is Jay Bakker. Growing up in a conservative world, yet finding a home among the outcasts of society, Jay bridges incommensurable worlds. Something that was uniquely modeled by his mother, Tammy-Faye. Tammy Faye offered us a rare glimpse of someone who was embraced by very different groups. Loved by fundamentalists and those within the LGBTQ+ community, she brought diametrically opposed people together, accepting all with an overflowing expression of joy and grace. Join Leonie as she talks to Jay about his past and what his experience might teach us.

21:30 - 22:30 | Fireside chat with Pádraig Ó Tuama

Join Pádraig for the final fireside conversation. He’ll tell you a little about his journey to becoming a full time author, poet and speaker and you can ask him pretty much anything you’d like.