Shalom Academy

Shalom Academy

Monday, January 8 - Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Registration now available!

Pursuing Community in a Divisive World

Psalm 34:14 "Seek peace, and pursue it"

Cultivating unity within faith communities can be difficult when cultural pressures are divisive. As the next iteration of the former School for Leadership Training, Shalom Academy 2024 offers a place to learn and reflect on the practices that move congregations past divisiveness and toward peace, both within their walls and in their larger communities. Keynote speakers and workshops give fresh perspectives on justice-inspired shalom, small group facilitators offer spaces to connect around shared interests, and new-this-year excursions provide for relaxation and recreation with friends both old and new. Make plans to start your 2024 ministry inspired and renewed by attending Shalom Academy, January 8-10, 2024.

Keynote Speakers

melissaMelissa Florer-Bixler

Melissa is the pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church, and a graduate of Duke University and Princeton Theological Seminary. She spent times studying in Israel/Palestine, Kenya, and England. Much of her formation took place in the L'Arche community of Portland, OR. Now she prefers the Eno River and her garden in Raleigh, NC. She is the chair of L'Arche North Carolina and a steering committee member in broad-based organizing in her county. Melissa's writing has appeared in Christian Century, Sojourners, Geez, Anabaptist Witness, The Bias, Faith&Leadership,and Anabaptist Vision.From time to time she publishes academic writing. She and her spouse parent three children.

adam taylorAdam Russell Taylor

Rev. Adam Russell Taylor is president of Sojourners and author of A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community.Taylor previously led the Faith Initiative at the World Bank Group and served as the vice president in charge of Advocacy at World Vision U.S. and the senior political director at Sojourners. He has also served as the executive director of Global Justice, an organization that educates and mobilizes students around global human rights and economic justice. He was selected for the 2009/2010 class of White House Fellows and served in the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs and Public Engagement. Taylor is a graduate of Emory University, the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology. Taylor also serves on the Independent Sector Board, the Global Advisory Board of Tearfund UK, and is a member of the inaugural class of the Aspen Institute Civil Society Fellowship. Taylor is ordained in the American Baptist Church and the Progressive National Baptist Convention and serves in ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. 

Keynote Descriptions

Monday, January 8

7:00 - 9:00 PM 

Keynote Speaker: Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler
Title: Ministry during the election cycle: politics without despair
Description: 2024 marks another election season in a climate of increased hostility and animosity. How can church leaders faithfully and hopefully lead congregations during these months ahead? What do our politics have to do with our pulpits?

Tuesday, January 9

7:00 - 9:00 PM 

Keynote Speaker:  Rev. Adam Russell Taylor
Title: Where Do We Go From Here--Toxic Polarization or the Beloved Community?
Description: Rev. Adam Russell Taylor will focus on tools for overcoming polarization in our society, our politics, and our churches, including the role that a shared moral vision plays in that effort. Rev. Taylor will also discuss the importance of identifying and fostering a healthier Christian engagement in public life and politics.  

2023 Information:      

Jan. 9-12, 2023

Creating Communities of Belonging: Appreciating EveryBODY

When reading 1 Corinthians 12, we are reminded that collectively we are all part of the body of Christ with each individual serving as one part of the larger body. Each body part is mutually dependent and vital to the health of the whole. Our communities of faith require a variety of gifts to thrive. When everyBody is actively included and firmly connected, the whole church benefits and grows stronger. Sadly, people with disabilities are often unintentionally excluded from Christian communities, despite the fact that any of us could develop a disability at any time.

Ministry leaders are in a unique position to advocate for the full inclusion of all people, regardless of physical disabilities, medical conditions, or developmental differences, in our communities of faith.

Our hope is that this conference will raise awareness about the presence of people with disabilities. We hope to inspire conversations about accessibility and inclusion, and encourage participants to seek affirming ways to engage everyBody in full participation in the mission and ministry of the church. We invite you to join in our discussions:

  • How does our theology reflect that everyBody is of sacred worth and belongs in the church?
  • How can we create Christian communities that identify and nurture each person’s gifts to support the mission of the church?
  • How do we remove barriers and make our communities of faith accessible for everyBody?
  • How do we include people with disabilities in leadership and decision-making activities?

After attending this conference, may you have an increased passion to advocate for disability justice in your church and communities of faith for the benefit of us all.


Amy Julia BeckerAmy Julia Becker is an award-winning writer and speaker on personal, spiritual, and social healing. She is the author of four books, including To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope. She hosts the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast.


Yes, I have two first names, a vestige of the first ten years of my life in small-town North Carolina where my Yankee parents got swept away by the romance of double names. Some people call me AJ. I write about the healing that happens when we embrace our common humanity.

My thoughts arise out of my personal experiences as a Christian, as a reader, writer, and teacher, and as the mother of three kids, including our daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome. I’ve written books on what seem like a wide range of topics—taking care of my mother-in-law as she was dying from cancer, giving birth to a child with a disability, bumping into my own limitations as a young mother, beginning to confront my social position as a person of privilege, and how we can participate in personal, spiritual, and social healing. But what runs through all these stories is my belief that love is stronger than fear.

I believe that human beings have been created with the capacity to give and receive love, and the more we are able to participate in the love that fuels the universe, the more we are able to confront fear and division and experience peace and friendship.

A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary (MDiv), Becker holds a bi-vocational license with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She lives with her husband and their three children in western Connecticut.

Rev. JJ Flag

The Rev. Dr. JJ Flag (he/him/his) has committed his life and work to seeing the Church be a place of welcome to and for all. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, he was recently called as the Associate Minister of Pastoral Care and Justice at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC.

Rev. JJ earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Religion, before graduating with a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. He went on to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree from Drew University Theological School. Having been born with a disability, advocating for those with disabilities is an integral part of living out his call. He often lectures and contributes to podcasts centering matters of theology, faith, disability, and race. One of Rev. JJ’s greatest joys is being a partner in life to Ebony, and father to two very energetic daughters.


Ken MedemaKen Medema has inspired people through storytelling and music for four decades. His vocal and piano artistry and imagination have reached audiences of 50 to 50,000 people in 49 United States and in more than 15 countries on four continents. 

From his birth in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1943, Ken has been unable to see with his physical eyes. His sight is limited to distinguishing between light and darkness and seeing fuzzy outlines of major objects. “As a kid I was not widely accepted,” he says, “and I spent a lot of time by myself. Because I have lived with some degree of being different all my life, I have some sympathy for people who have been disenfranchised, whether they have been disabled or politically oppressed or whatever.”

Music early became a major component of Ken's life. “I started banging on the piano when I was five years old,” he says, “making up crazy little fantasies on my mom’s piano. When I was eight years old my parents got me a wonderful teacher who taught me the classics with Braille music and taught me to play by ear.” His teacher also taught him to improvise. “Every time I learned a piece my teacher would tell me, ‘Now, you improvise in that style.’ So music became a second language.”

After graduating from high school he studied music therapy at Michigan State University in Lansing, where he concentrated heavily on performance skills in piano and voice. He worked as a music therapist in Fort Wayne, Indiana, returned to Michigan State for a master’s degree (1969), then worked for four years as a music therapist at Essex County Hospital in New Jersey. It was while employed there that Ken began writing and performing his own songs. “I had a bunch of teenagers who were really hurting,” he says, “and I started writing songs about their lives. Then I thought, ‘Why don’t you start writing songs about your Christian life?’ So I started doing that, and people really responded.”

In 1973, he began a career as a performing and recording artist. He recorded albums for Word and Shawnee Press; then, in 1985 founded Brier Patch Music. Brier Patch is an independent recording, publishing, and performance-booking company with headquarters in Grandville, Michigan. Brier Patch is named after Brer Rabbit’s home in the legendary Uncle Remus stories. “Brer Rabbit lived in a place not comfortable for anyone else,” Medema says, “and we decided to follow him there.” Brier Patch creates musical expressions that celebrate all aspects of the human experience, with an emphasis on spirituality and such universal concerns as peace, justice, and the environment.

Today, Ken performs in many venues: local congregations, charity fundraisers, high school and university campuses, denominational youth gatherings, universally televised religious programs, corporate conventions, and annual assemblies of national organizations.

Ken and his wife Jane have been married since 1965 and live in the San Francisco Bay area of California. They have two grown married children, Aaron and Rachel, and four grandchildren. 

Beverly Vander Molen who travels with him has been manager and sound person for 35 years. 

See archives and resources from past Shalom Academy/School for Leadership Training events

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