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Jim Atwood wins top Presbyterian Writers Guild award

Virginia pastor and author is national expert on gun violence prevention

 by Emily Enders Odom, president | Presbyterian Writers Guild

Jim Atwood (Photo by Della Orr-Harter)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. James E. “Jim” Atwood — an author, pastor, and a nationally recognized voice on the subject of gun violence prevention — has been named the recipient of the 2018 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award by the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG).

 Atwood, pastor emeritus of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington, Virginia, is the author of Gundamentalism and Where it is Taking America (Cascade Books, 2017), America and its Guns: A Theological Exposé (Cascade Books, 2012), The Leaven of Laughter for Advent & Christmas (Trafford Publishing, 2006), The Leaven of Laughter for Lent & Easter (Trafford, 2006), among other works. He and his wife, the Rev. Roxana Atwood — also an honorably retired PC(USA) teaching elder — previously served together as mission workers in Japan. They currently reside in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“Jim Atwood started out writing books to encourage preaching with humor,” wrote the Rev. Jan Orr-Harter, of Aledo, Texas, chair of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Endowment Fund, in nominating him for the honor.

“He ended up as the primary voice of the Christian church in sounding the alarm about the gun violence epidemic that killed 36,000 Americans in 2016,” Orr-Harter said. “This recognition by the Presbyterian Writers Guild not only honors the urgent work of Jim Atwood, but speaks well of the whole Presbyterian Church for its focus on gun violence prevention.”

Atwood will receive the prestigious award at the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s General Assembly luncheon June 21 in St. Louis.

Named for the late David Steele — the Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in The Presbyterian Outlook — the distinguished writer award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.

Atwood first became an advocate for gun violence prevention — joining the board of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence — after a member of the congregation he was then serving, Grace Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Virginia, was shot and killed by a robber with a Saturday Night Special.

Since then, he has served as interfaith coordinator of the Million Mom March, chair of the Greater Washington chapter of the anti-gun-violence group Heeding God’s Call, and as a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, which in 2014 selected him unanimously to receive its 2014 Peaceseeker Award.

“Not only is Jim [Atwood] addressing a major issue like gun violence, but he is doing it from the pastorate,” said the Rev. Stephen P. McCutchan, of St. Petersburg, Florida, a member of the PWG Board, who — with the Rev. Emily Enders Odom of Louisville and the Rev. Rebekah Hutto of  New York City — comprised the PWG’s award selection committee.

“I was and continue to be amazed over this honor,” Atwood said upon being informed of having been selected for the biennial award. “I will be long gone when America’s unique gun pandemic is fully repealed and replaced by God’s blessed peaceful community. But with a grateful heart, I accept this award on behalf of all who speak up and speak out against our shameful scourge of gun violence.

“All who seek peace should regard this award and recognition as their very own. It is but one more signal to our nation that people of faith will continue to raise our voices as we fight to make our constitutional right to live in domestic tranquility a blessed reality.”

Previous winners of the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award include MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Kathy Bostrom, Katherine Paterson, Fredrick Buechner, Ann Weems, Eugene H. Peterson, Gustav Niebuhr, Marj Carpenter, Gayraud Wilmore, Eva Stimson, Kathleen Norris, Bill Tammeus, John Buchanan, Doris Betts and the late Vic Jameson.

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