Photos from previous retreat, taken by Katherine Sleadd

Photos from previous retreat, taken by Katherine Sleadd

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 | Timetable

On this page you’ll see the full SPARK program. It’s still early days, so things are likely to change as we get closer to the event. Everything is optional (indeed I strongly recommend you opt out of a number of things to work and enjoy the incredible hotel and grounds).


14:00 - 16:00 | Wine Reception

Once you’ve registered at the front desk, come along to the reception any time from 2pm to meet fellow Sparkers, have a glass of wine and relax after all your travel.

16:00 - 17:00 | Welcome

Meet all the people who will be involved in the programme. You’ll get a chance to hear from them all and work out who you’d like to spend time with during the retreat.

17:30 - 19:30 | Fine Dining

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 Conversation with Peter

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.

23:00 - 00:00 | The Whiskey Circle

To round out the evening, Jonny will invite the night owls to hang out by the fire and talk about life, death and everything in between. Remember to bring a blanket!


07:00 - 09:30 | full irish Breakfast

08:30 - 09:30 | Coffee & Contemplation with Padraig

Each morning, Padraig will be crafting a contemplative space that will involve poetry, storytelling and guided reflection.

08:30 - 09:30 | Coffee & Concepts with Peter

In contrast, Peter will use his ‘Non-Membership Coin’ to chart out the theory and practice of Pyrotheology.

10:00 - 11:00 | Sparking Change in our Personal Lives

The aim of SPARK is to help spark change in your personal and professional life. In this talk, Peter will look at how we can develop a healthy personal life that involves making peace with the good, the bad and the ugly.

11:30 - 13:00 | Workshops

How to Crowdfund with Peter: Increasingly creatives and social influencers are partially - or fully - supporting themselves via platforms that connect them directly to people interested in their work. Whether you’re an artist, musician, podcaster, writer or speaker, this way of making an income is increasingly the best way to make a living and connect directly with your audience. In this workshop I’ll be looking at how to develop a crowdfunding model.

Running an Unconventional Business While Juggling Family with Rebekah: Born out of a love for clean lines with a boho twist, Rebekah set up 'Lines & Current'... a minimal jewellery and accessories brand that is inspired by minimalism and simplicity. Rebekah designs all the jewelry, and 10% of all profits go to causes that bring about hope and change in people's lives. Join Rebekah as she talks about the lessons she learned along the way to creating a successful business.

Building Your Brand v. Building Your Audience with Spencer: Join a thoughtful discussion about how and what it means to create an authentic voice rather than chasing the latest trends and falling prey to vanity metrics. How can you become an expert in your particular niche? What does it take to develop your 100 “first followers”? What are the benefits and what order should I consider, writing a book, creating a podcast, producing an online course, developing a show or road tour… Join in the conversation, bring your life experience and your questions, you’re not the only crazy one out there!

14:30 - 17:30 | learning from Lewis or Work Space

Join William Crawley at C.S. Lewis Square to learn about how Lewis was able to become one of the most well known and well loved religious figures of the 20th century. Or take some time at the hotel to work on your projects with help from various experts.

17:30 - 19:30 | Fine Dining

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

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 Conversation with Barry

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.

23:00 - 00:00 | The Whiskey Circle


07:00 - 09:30 | full irish Breakfast

08:00 - 09:30 | Coffee & Contemplation with Padraig

08:00 - 09:30 | Coffee & Concepts with Peter

10:00 - 13:30 | The Vault or Work Space

The Vault is an incredible underground artist collective that houses almost 100 creatives working on all kinds of projects. You’ll get to meet some of the artists who work there and take part in some rather unorthodox workshops. Or stay behind in the work room to focus on your projects and get help from various experts

14:00 - 15:30 | Sparking Change in Your Professional Life

It’s so hard to do what you love and make a living doing it. In this talk, Peter will offer some advice that might help you align these two things. Or find a way to productively navigate the conflict between them.

16:00 - 17:30 | Workshops

Building a Platform with Peter: So you have a message? How do you develop it, how do you hone it, how do you get it out there in the world? Peter will be talking about how to develop your voice and how to get it heard above the white noise of clickbait and bad opinion pieces.

The Art of Looking Sideways with Micah: In this workshop, Micah will be looking at how to generate inspiration and some of the mechanics behind what aids memorable and remarkable devices that create impact. Along the way he’ll be looking at some of his work, stories that have connected with people, the power of play, the risk of playing it safe and an alternative approach to problem solving.

Perhaps Trying to be Godly, we have Forgotten What it Means to be Human with Spencer: Why do so many planning tools seem so out of touch with reality? There’s a saying in lean methodology that we should “love our problem rather than the solution”. No matter what issues you face in your career/business/ministry today you’ll need new tools to match the new challenges, cultural and religious shifts ahead of you. In this workshop you’ll have the opportunity to test your ideas, challenge your assumptions and rethink how we can humanize our process.

17:30 - 19:30 | Fine Dining

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

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 Conversation with Pádraig

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.

23:00 - 00:00 | The Whiskey Circle


07:00 - 09:30 | full irish Breakfast

08:30 - 09:30 | Coffee & Contemplation with Padraig

08:30 - 09:30 | Coffee & Concepts with Peter

10:00 - 17:00 | giants Causeway or Work Space

Join us for a magical mystery tour that will give you a glimpse of some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Or spend the last day relaxing at the hotel, exploring the grounds and digging down into your work.

17:30 - 19:30 | Fine Dining

19:30 - 00:00 | Party

It’s not quite the end, but it is the last night. So we’ll be supplying some music, drinks and antics to help mark the evening.


07:00 - 09:30 | full irish Breakfast

08:30 - 09:30 | Coffee & Contemplation with Padraig

08:30 - 09:30 | Coffee & Concepts with Peter

10:00 - 11:30 | Workshops

Free Ideas with Micah: Come to Micah’s open shop where he will help you brainstorm ideas on branding, advertising and ambient/non-traditional forms of marketing.

How (not) to be a brand with Barry: Barry will be exploring how you escape the dis-imagination machine.

Opening Line with Pádraig: What first sentences can you recall? Maybe “Call me Ishmael” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged that…”. This workshop will explore famous first lines, as well as generate some first lines of our own. Drawing on literary criticism, imagination, intuition and conversation, participants will be asked to reflect on their own lives, the literature that has informed them and to consider the infinite possibilities in twenty six little letters.

12:00 - 13:00 | benediction

There will be an official send off to mark the end of the retreat. But don’t rush off too soon as there will be time to hang out before we go back out into the world… hopefully carrying a little spark that will help us to make some changes in the lives we’re returning to.