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King University News :: Upcoming Buechner Institute Lecture Series Contemplates Vocation; Adds New Venues

As challenging economic conditions persist both regionally and nationally, more and more people are beginning to reflect on their careers.  This year, the 2013-2014 Buechner (Beek-ner) Institute Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Bristol Herald Courier, will push beyond the idea of a job or career and contemplate “Vocare.”  

Frederick Buechner, for whom the Institute is named, speaks eloquently in his book “Wishful Thinking,” about the notion of people responding to a call - having a vocation rather than a job.  A quote from that text, the one for which he is most famous, says, “It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to do by God.  There are all kinds of different voices calling you to do all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God, rather than that of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest.  By and large a good rule for finding out is this:  the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you most need to do, and (b) that the world most needs to have done. . . Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do.  The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

Dale Brown, director of the Buechner Institute, said of this year’s series lineup, “Our guests at the Buechner Institute are people who have found fulfillment in their callings and who talk about their vocations with passion.  Audiences get the rare opportunity to witness the potent occasion of the meeting of joy and need.”

Brown added, “Over the last several years, the lectures have taken place mainly in the Bristol area.  With increasing interest, the Institute has increased its diversity of offerings to include presenters of music, sports, philosophy, ministry, poetry, drama, popular writers, and dance.  We have also expanded the series to include events in Abingdon, Va., and Kingsport and Knoxville, Tenn.” 

Elizabeth Owens, a King junior majoring in Biology with minors in Psychology and English, and chair of the Buechner Institute student board said, “This year's series at the Institute is sure to catch our students' attention and provide conversation that our community will be glad to take part in.  I'm very excited to hear these speakers and learn how they felt called to do what they do.  It's important for us as college students to think not just about what we want to do after graduation, but who we want to be. Our guests this year will make us think about just that.”

The 2013-2014 Buechner Lecture Series’ opening convocation on Aug. 28 will be given by a minister of the Church of Scotland and director of the Princeton, N.J., based Center of Theological Inquiry, William Storrar.  He has been fostering the dialogue between theology and other disciplines for more than three decades, from first chairing working groups on medical ethics with scientists and medical practitioners in the 1980s to his initiative in launching the Global Network for Public Theology in the 2000s with social scientists and policymakers. 

The lecture series then kicks off the second week of September with an Appalachian Emphasis Week.  The events will begin with Bristol native Emily Satterwhite on Sept. 9 with lectures at both King University and Virginia Intermont College.  She will begin the week with two talks addressing Appalachian stereotypes in literature and film, specifically the notion of Appalachia as “down home.”  Satterwhite’s events are co-sponsored by the Virginia Intermont Convocation Program.

On Sept. 11, award-winning author Ron Rash will read from his works of fiction and poetry.  The film of his New York Times bestseller “Serena,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, is slated for theatres nationwide on Oct. 31.  A movie based on his work, “The World Made Straight,” is also due out later this year. 

Capping off Appalachian Emphasis Week will be the return to campus of actress, storyteller, and monologist Barbara Bates Smith.  Best known for her Off-Broadway performance of Ivy Rowe, a character from Lee Smith’s novel, “Fair and Tender Ladies,” on Sept. 13, Smith’s presentation will feature her one-woman play, “Civil War Cameos,” adapted from Lee Smith’s work as well as that of Ron Rash and Allan Gurganus, and accompanied by musician Jeff Sebens. 

September’s events will close with philosopher and author Thaddeus Kozinski, currently associate professor of Humanities, Theology, and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo.  His 2010 publication, “The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: And Why Professors Can’t Solve It,” examines three of the most influential figures of political philosophy: John Rawls, Jacques Maritain, and Alasdair MacIntyre.  This event is funded by the King University Student Government Association.

Timothy L. Brown and Todd Shy will present in October.  Brown, a pastor in the Reformed Church in America, is president and Henry Bast Professor of Preaching at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich.  Brown is known for his ability to reanimate biblical texts and has preached in churches across the country and the world.  Shy, who will speak at both King and the Bristol Public Library, is an essayist, book reviewer, and educator who grew up in Bristol, Va.  He currently serves as humanities curriculum specialist at Avenues: The World School in New York City.  Shy was a 2009 finalist for the National Book Critics Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.

One of only two ticketed events for the season will take place on Nov. 2 at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education in Kingsport with singer, songwriter, storyteller, activist, and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon.  During his career, he has produced 34 albums and received seven Grammy nominations.  His performance will be a continuation of September’s Appalachian theme.  Having devoted most of his life to the study of folk music and culture of Appalachia, he is considered a master performer on the hammered dulcimer. 

November 18 will bring archaeologist Keren Ras, who for the last decade has worked at various excavating sites in Israel.  She is currently senior staff member for two significant Israeli-German projects, the Ramat Rahel Archaeological Project and the Lautenschlager Azekah Expedition at Tel Azekah, of which King University is a participant. 

The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland in the Episcopal Church will kick off 2014 with two lectures on Jan. 20 at King in Bristol, Tenn., and in Abingdon, Va., at Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church.  Noted speaker and conference leader on the topics of reconciliation, spirituality, and social justice, he is the former canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  Sutton’s lectures are funded by gifts from the Buechner Institute Governing Board.

The second ticketed event for the season, which will take place on Jan. 28 and is co-sponsored by King’s Office of Development, will bring Frank Deford.  In addition to authoring 18 books of both fiction and non-fiction, Deford is best known as a sports writer, especially for his work at Sports Illustrated.  He has served as a commentator on television and, since 1980, on National Public Radio (NPR).  The recipient of numerous awards, he has been inducted into the Hall of Fame for the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters.  The event venue will be in King University’s Maclellan Hall.  Proceeds will benefit King’s Annual Fund for Scholarships Programs.

The anniversary of the founding of the Buechner Institute brings with it the annual Buechner Lectureship.  Previous years have featured Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Ron Hansen, Katherine Paterson, Marilynne Robinson, and Kathleen Norris.  This year’s Lectureship will be presented on Feb. 1 at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tenn., by noted author and poet Patricia Hampl.  A 1976 recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Hampl first gained recognition for her book, “A Romantic Education, published in 1981, a memoir about her Czech heritage.  Her latest book, “The Florist’s Daughter,” was named to the New York Times “100 Notable Books of the Year.”

On Feb. 24, a student requested lecturer, Rachel Held Evans, will speak at both King in Bristol and at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education in Kingsport.  Evans is a best-selling author, noted speaker, and blogger about the lives of women and modern Christianity.  Her two publications include “Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions,” and “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head and Calling Her Husband Master.” 

March’s events begin on March 3 with presentations by Liz Lerman at King in Bristol and at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.  Lerman is a noted dance choreographer, performer, writer, educator, and founding artistic director of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, based in Takoma Park, Md.  Lerman’s events are co-sponsored by the Arts Array. 

March 5 brings Jane Dawson, author and John Laing Professor of Reformation History in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  She is the author of “The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots” and “Scotland Re-formed, 1488-1587.”  Her latest work, a biography of John Knox, is expected for release in 2014.  This event is co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Heritage Foundation.

Each year, the Buechner Institute has partnered with the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., to provide the rare privilege to hear eyewitness testimony from Holocaust survivors.  Brown commented, “As such opportunities become increasingly rare, we are even more grateful to have another visitor from the museum this year.”  On March 31, with lectures at both King’s Bristol campus and Knoxville campus at Hardin Valley, the Institute will welcome Alfred Munzer, Holocaust survivor.  Munzer currently serves as president of the medical staff at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md. 

The Buechner Institute’s lecture series will conclude with a presentation at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tenn., by Christian Wiman, senior lecturer in Religion and Literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.  Wiman served as editor of Poetry Magazine from 2003 to 2013.  Recipient of both the Ruth Lilly and Wallace Stegner fellowships, he has produced four published books of poetry, two collections of essays, and his most recent work, a memoir, “My Bright Abyss.”

Of the season’s potential impact, Brown said, “We need these contemplative encounters with people and ideas to catch the flickering light among the gray days, to hear the voice that may lead us toward transformation, to smell the fragrance of a life well lived, to have our own encounters with big ideas and some small ones too.” 

Most of the Buechner Institute events are free, and all are open to the public.  For more information, visit, or contact Dale Brown at or 423.652.4156.  


King University is a Presbyterian, master's-level comprehensive university.  Founded in 1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, education, and humanities.  Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, and nursing.  A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and travel destinations are also available.  King University is a NCAA Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity athletic teams.  For more information about King University, visit  King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability.  King University is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia.  For more information, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.