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2024 ACP Convention Speakers and Presenters

Opening Keynote Speaker (Thursday) – Bekah McNeel

This Is Going to Hurt
Following Jesus in a Divided America 

Bekah McNeel will set the tone for our convention as she discusses the research and findings from her new book where she analyzes the narratives surrounding six hot-button issues—immigration, COVID, abortion, critical race theory, gun violence, and climate change. For each topic, she exposes how “us versus them” thinking leads us to turn a blind eye to injustice. She also offers an alternative perspective on each issue, based on a sensitive reading of the gospel. Humorous and insightful, This Is Going to Hurt offers a breath of fresh air for readers seeking a nuanced and authentically Christian mode of political engagement. 

Bekah Stolhandske McNeel is a native of San Antonio, Texas, where she works as a journalist. Her work has appeared in Texas Monthly, Sojourners, The Guardian, The Trace, The Texas Tribune, The 74 Million, Christianity Today, Texas Public Radio, Relevant, Andscape, The Hechinger Report, and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. She published her first book, Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down: A Guide for Parents Questioning their Faith with Eerdmans in 2022. Known for her ability to communicate the high stakes of politics and policy and bring clarity to complex systems, Bekah keeps the human beings most affected at the front of her coverage.

Luncheon Keynote Speaker (Friday) – More in Common

Faith, Politics and Polarization in America

In public discourse, religious identities are increasingly framed and understood through the lens of partisan politics. Despite this trend, faith remains one of the few institutions capable of uniting Americans across lines of difference. In this presentation, More in Common will share insights from their new report (coming in March 2023!) which explores the intersections of faith, politics and polarization in America today. More in Common surveyed over 7,000 Americas to better understand the impact of polarization on faith communities, misperceptions within and across diverse faith traditions and common values and experiences that have the potential to transcend real or imagined divisions. This presentation will be an opportunity to dig into the data, reflect on misperceptions, and identify strategies to elevate nuanced narratives of what it means to be a person of faith in America today.  

Julia Coffin 
Senior Associate, More in Common US 

Julia joins More in Common with over half a decade experience advancing programs and policies to protect and assist migrants and refugees in the United States and internationally. Selected as a Rotary Peace Fellow, she completed an MA in Peace, Conflict and Development at the University of Bradford and has a BA in Sociology, Anthropology and Religion from St. Olaf College. Previously, Julia led peace and leadership development programming for youth in Nepal as a Fulbright Scholar. Julia currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Coco Xu 
Research Associate, More in Common US

At More in Common, Coco works on qualitative and quantitative research on polarization and division in the US, with a particular interest in studying what shapes people’s perceptions of one another, identities and collective memory. She received a MA in History from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, with her research focusing on the history of Chinese immigrants in New York City. She holds a BA in History and Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. Coco currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. 

More in Common is a nonpartisan nonprofit research and civic organization working to understand the forces driving us apart, find common ground, and bring people together to address our shared challenges. We conduct unique audience and opinion research, grounded in social psychology, to better understand the complexities and nuances of Americans’ perspectives. We seek to understand not just what Americans think, but why. Using our research, we engage with hundreds of civil society organizations, cultural institutions and corporations across the country to apply insights to help navigate division, reduce polarization, and bring more Americans together to engage in civil and cultural life. Learn more on our website and sign up for our newsletter at

Workshop Presenters

Group Panel on Covering Denominational Conflict moderated by Celeste Kennel Shank

This panel will discuss writing and creating media about conflict within our denominations and broader Christian traditions (e.g. the Anglican Communion). Some panelists will also draw on experience covering denominational conflict for secular publications also. We will talk about the challenges of this kind of writing, for example, crafting articles to have enough detail for those who are highly engaged and enough summary for those who are not following the story as closely.


· Heather Hahn of United Methodist News
· Dartinia Hull, managing editor, the Presbyterian Outlook
· David Paulsen of Episcopal News Service 
· Ore Spragin, editor, the Christian Index, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
· John Thomas III, editor, the Christian Recorder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church 

Moderator: Celeste Kennel-Shank, ACP past president, is author of What You Sow Is a Bare Seed. Before becoming an ordained pastor in Mennonite Church USA, she learned about the denomination’s dynamics through working for Mennonite Weekly Review (a predecessor to Anabaptist World). She was also news editor for the Christian Century, editing many stories on denominational conflict for a general Christian audience.

Gregg Brekke presents results from the Migrant Media Monitoring Project

How can you report more effectively on immigration and migration – an issue that divides many people of faith? The Migrant Media Monitoring Project report presents easy-to-use data on bias, language use, voice and subject representation, along with other demographic information useful for reporting on and engaging in issues of migration. Media sources from both the United States and Canada were monitored, providing a broader view of migration in North America.

The study was conduced by the North American chapter of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC-NA) in cooperation with WACC Global and other organizations. Following the time-tested methodology of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which reports globally on the role of women in media, the North American effort follows similar studies conducted by the European, African, Caribbean and South American chapters of WACC.

Gregg Brekke is executive director of the Associated Church Press and serves as the vice president for WACC-NA and is its representative to the WACC Global board.

Lee Catoe presents Authentic Story Telling: The Power of Podcasting

The power of podcasting is summed up by true authentic story. Lee will discuss both the theological and technical frame-working of authentic story through podcasting especially in a time of deep polarity in society and political spheres. This podcast will discuss how podcasts may be developed, approached, and created.

The Rev. Lee Catoe (he/him) is the editor of Unbound ( and the co-host and co-producer of A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast. He is a native of the small, rural town of Jefferson, South Carolina. Lee is a graduate of Presbyterian College (2010) with a B.S. in Biology and a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School (2019) with a Masters of Divinity. His thesis work incorporated the intersection of songwriting and Queer Theology with a focus on incarnational theology and embodiment. Lee is a songwriter, plays guitar and, occasionally, performs. He also freelances as a graphic designer. Lee and his husband, Will, and dog Rupert live in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Kristel Clayville presents AI, Ethics and the Faith-Based Newsroom

Dr. Kristel Clayville is a Senior Fellow at the University of Chicago’s MacLean Center. She holds a PhD in Religious Ethics from the University of Chicago’s Divinity School and completed Fellowship training in clinical medical ethics at the MacLean Center. She has served as the Acting Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, and was a Fellow in the Sinai and Synapses program. She has a clinical background as a chaplain and ethicist at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Currently, she teaches ethics in the Computer Science Department at UIC, where she also serves on the hospital ethics committee, and the medical school ethics education committee. Her research interests encompass the ethics of emerging (bio)technologies, organ transplant ethics, the role of religion in medical education, AI and religion, and the function of ethics committees in hospitals and tech companies.

Jacklyn Frias and Alexander Carpenter present Vertical Video for Publications

Jacklyn Frias is a Web Producer for SPECTRUM and the primary creator for its Adventist Tea TikTok channel. She graduated from Southern Adventist University with a major in Mass Communication Writing and Editing. After college she worked for the Chesapeake Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as a communication assistant. In her free time, plays a variety of video games, reads books, and drinks a lot of tea.

She will be joined by Alexander Carpenter, Executive Director and Editor of SPECTRUM, to talk about how social media videos have expanded the reach and audience for their publication.

You won’t want to miss this conversation if you’re considering integrating short format social media video into your news and publication cycle.

Chris Herlinger and Erik Tryggestad present Covering Global Conflict for Faith-Based Publications

What stories we tell is often as important as how we tell them. Chris and Erik will explore the impact their work has had on their respective faith communities and the importance of bringing new perspectives into their reporting.

Chris Herlinger is international correspondent to Global Sisters Report and also writes on humanitarian and international issues for National Catholic Reporter. He has reported from Ukraine, South Sudan and Darfur, Sudan, as well as numerous other locales, including Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Kenya and Ethiopia and Liberia. He is the co-author, with Paul Jeffrey, of books on Haiti and Darfur, published by Seabury, and a third, on global hunger, published in 2015. Herlinger has been a journalist his entire working life, including stints at two Minnesota dailies in the 1980s, and, since 1993, in New York City. Herlinger is the former senior writer for the humanitarian agency Church World Service, and his freelance reporting for Religion News Service has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post and The Christian Century.

Erik Tryggestad joined the staff of The Christian Chronicle in 2001 after working as a writer and assistant editor for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. His favorite part of working for the Chronicle is covering international news. He’s a regular participant in mission trips abroad and has filed stories for the Chronicle from 90 nations and territories. He became the Chronicle’s President and CEO in June 2019. He has previously served as editor-in-chief of the Chronicle. He is a deacon of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. His wife, Dr. Jeanie Tryggestad, is a pediatric endocrinologist at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital. They have two daughters, ages 16 and 10.

Teri McDowell Ott preaches at the convention’s opening worship service

The Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott has been an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister for over twenty years. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary she served the church in a variety of pastoral positions. In 2008 she completed her Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary. She began serving Monmouth College as Chaplain in January of 2011 and was promoted to Dean of the Chapel in 2019. On June 1st, 2021 Teri accepted a new call as Editor / Publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook, the only independent publisher of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Teri’s first book, Necessary Risks: Challenges Privileged People Need to Face, is inspired by her work with college students and her experience volunteer teaching in a men’s prison. It was published by Fortress Press in March, 2022.

She will be joined in the worship service by musician and songwriter Steve Thorngate, managing editor of the Christian Century.

Rose Schrott Taylor and Steve Thorngate present Workflow Solutions for Remote Newsrooms

The need to coordinate newsroom submissions, editorial approvals and resource sharing has intensified as more publication staff works remotely and newsrooms have become decentralized. But the process of managing the flow of content from creation to publication – both electronically and in print – has become more difficult in these virtual workspaces. Not specifically a “how-to” workshop – although you’ll learn from the presenters’ experiences – you’ll have the opportunity to pose your questions to seek a solution that best fits your needs.

Rose Schrott Taylor, digital content editor for The Presbyterian Outlook, and Steve Thorngate, managing editor of the Christian Century, will walk you through their experiences of identifying their need for a remote workflow, the process of evaluating software platforms and how they implemented and now ultimately manage their respective solution. Attendees are invited to bring your questions and insights as the workshop opens up to considering how various solutions may be a better process and financial fit given each publication’s circumstances.

Heidi Thompson presents Beyond Subscriptions: Diversifying Revenue Streams for Publishers with Online Fundraising

Fundraising has never been more important for faith-based publishers, and in this workshop, Heidi Thompson of Shanley + Associates will walk through real-life examples from online fundraising campaigns from the last year. From high-level strategy to practical tips and tactics, we’ll review successes and lessons learned.

Heidi Thompson is a consultant with Shanley + Associates and a digital marketer specializing in helping independent publishers find readers and revenue online. Her clients include Sojourners, Christian Century, Anabaptist World, National Catholic Reporter, and J. The Jewish News of Northern California. Currently she consults with more than a dozen nonprofits and media organizations on audience development, revenue strategy, and fundraising.