The Porch Gathering builds a better world through telling better stories. We gather around art and activism - those who desire to heal our personal and cultural wounds as a diverse community, laugh and cry around the “campfire experience” of great movies, and gain tools for constructive, respectful, and thoughtful dialogue across boundaries.

We're opening a space for significant interaction around ideas of grounded hope, individual and communal purpose, provocative and meaningful storytelling, and - frankly - enjoying life together. We truly believe that we are here not just to save the world, but to be changed. Our vision is that the Porch Gathering would be a place where a couple hundred people could come together to take life seriously without taking ourselves too seriously; meet brilliant people from all kinds of places; and better understand ourselves, our place in the world, what we can do for the good, and the ways in which we can authentically give ourselves a break.

The event runs from Thursday evening March 7th through Sunday morning March 10th, with a range of storytelling, music, cinema, breakout sessions, talks, and opportunities for quiet or just hanging out with friends. We'll have a dozen or more speakers/musicians/facilitators distinguished in their fields, and lots of options for engaging a better story and way of being, including deepening a sense of community together, and practical tools for the journey of living with courage and creativity.
Montreat, near Asheville, NC
Date & Time
March 9, 2023 - March 12, 2023
For a flavor of what we do, here's last year's (2023) Porch Gathering Schedule* - the 2024 Schedule will be announced in the coming months
Optional Pre-Gathering Workshop: How Stories Can Save Us, with Mark Yaconelli - at FREELAND HALL 3RD FLOOR, MONTREAT
“Now more than ever, we need a book and a teacher such as this.” –Anne Lamott, New York Times bestselling author

There is a depth to story that we rarely take time to ponder, let alone to tell and hear. Story is how we transform pain. Story is how we make something useful out of the absurd. Story is how we bridge divisions in our families and communities. Sharing stories is how we make a home within ourselves and one another. In this three-hour interactive workshop, author, community activist, and veteran storyteller Mark Yaconelli will help you experience how stories can heal our families, our friends, and our world. This workshop is ideal for nonprofit staff, faith leaders, educators, social justice activists, health care workers, parents, teachers, and community builders of all kinds. Please arrive in time for the workshop to begin at 1pm sharp. Thanks!

Mark Yaconelli is a speaker, community-builder, and author of Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us as well as five previous books. As founder and director of The Hearth nonprofit, Yaconelli has worked with The Ford Family Foundation, Compassion International, The Greenbelt Arts Festival, The Eli Lilly Foundation, The Mexican-American Center of Austin, among other organizations. Yaconelli holds an MA in Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union and received a spiritual direction diploma from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Interviews and profiles of Mark’s work have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BBC Radio, and ABC World News Tonight. He and his wife have three grown children and live in Ashland, Oregon.  
Please note meal packages are now sold out - if you booked a meal package you will have received notification of where your meals will be served. If you did not book a meal package there are plenty of options a very short distance away in Black Mountain - see here for a list.

Opening Night: Transformative Story Party - at UPPER ANDERSON, MONTREAT
For over six years The Porch has hosted a regular storytelling night delving into community, creativity, and the common good. Tonight we're pulling out all the stops, with some of our favorite storytellers and musicians, and a deep dive into the way stories shape our lives. And before the stories & music, our co-founder Gareth Higgins will give a talk about our vision for Transformative Storytelling.
Morning Session #1
Take a walk, hang out, or participate in a profound exploration with wise friends, choosing between the following:

1: Rupture & Repair - Micky ScottBey Jones (UPPER ANDERSON)
Conflict, making mistakes and hurting one another are common to the human experience. But the ways of repair: accountability, apology and empathy often feel nearly impossible to initiate or receive. From the public discourse about "the Oscars slap" to lessons from my own experience with public mistakes and apologies to the ones you may be secretly wrestling with, let's make some space in this session to explore the inner and outer landscapes of rupture and repair.

Micky used to be a birth doula, and is now known as The Justice Doula. She now accompanies people as they birth non-human, precious things into the world - like love, empathy, self-compassion, liberation, healing and resilience. Her work is about accompaniment - being a caring companion, a witness to your struggle, a curious co-learner, a gentle, firm voice asking you what you want and reminding you of the wisdom you have inside and the resources you have for more growth and resilience.

2: Praying in the Dark - Dan Snyder (FREELAND HALL 3RD FLOOR)
Nonviolence for the soul. Nonviolence for the world. The future of democracy. How are we going to find our way through all the polarizations to a new world that works for everyone? Against the backdrop of his Quaker heritage and his own life story, Dan Snyder brings together the four disciplines of theology, depth psychology, strategic nonviolence, and spirituality. The resulting conversation points toward a reimagining of God, self, and world. We can be both incredibly joyful and deeply responsible citizens. We can drink from the deep wells of compassion and mercy. Those wells are fed by hidden springs that are beyond fixed ideologies, beyond belief and doubt, beyond action and inaction, even beyond all of our convictions about religious, moral, or political correctness. We are created by Love, for love. We drink deeply from Love's hidden spring when we learn to pray in the dark.

3: Cultivating Beauty: Establishing a Creative Rule of Life - Janice Kominski (THOMPSON-BROWN MEETING ROOM, MOORE CENTER)
Creating is essential to our flourishing, especially for those of us who experience and express spiritual presence through art, poetry, dance, written stories, film, photography, theater, music, and more. When we intentionally cultivate space and life rhythms to create, our art can serve as both balm and fuel while we strive for meaning, justice, and peace. Come join us to explore and discuss creativity as a spiritual practice with some unseen stages. Step into a different way of evaluating sacred time.

Janice Kominski (she/her) is a poet, musician, songwriter, visual artist, dancer, theater geek, and lover of languages and textiles. A current MDiv/M.A.C.E. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary and a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA), her journey also includes work as a mental health counselor, community organizing around education, work in television, web, and print media, and raising three remarkable humans.

4: Open session - The intersections between mindfulness, spiritual practices and bipolar disorders (and other mental/emotional disorders, too.) - Kevin Varner - WILLIAM BLACK LODGE

Morning Session #2
Take a walk, hang out, or participate in a profound exploration with wise friends, choosing between the following:

1: Nancy Hastings Sehested -
Marked for Life (UPPER ANDERSON)
Nancy Hastings Sehested served as a state prison chaplain for thirteen years in two high-security prisons for men in North Carolina. Nancy says “Even in my bleakest of days, I [believed in] redemptive purposes. So I became a witness. I bore witness to the tragedy of lives stuck in the misery of a punitive system. I also bore witness to the spirit of hope that emerged from impossible circumstances.” 

2: Melvin Bray - Relational Storytelling in the Practice of Equity (FREELAND HALL, 3RD FLOOR)
One of the biggest challenges in the practice of equity is finding, as Resmaa Menakem put it, "better ways to belong and better things to belong to."  The primary tool we use to help persons who are on the Truth & Transformation 12-Step journey find belonging are accountability circles in which persons unlearning inequity get to share their story, know they are not alone in the struggle, and build their equity muscles. Come try your hand at the relational storytelling that undergirds our circle times.

Melvin Bray ( is an Emmy® award-winning storyteller, author, and social entrepreneur who lives with his wife, three kids and two dogs in southwest Atlanta, GA. He actively participates in vanguard networks seeking more beautiful, more just, more virtue-filled ways of showing up in the world.

3: Lynne Michelson - Experiencing our community through connected conversation (THOMPSON-BROWN MEETING ROOM, MOORE CENTER)
This offering is a chance to be together with folks you may or may not know; together we will weave a community experience of the “We Space,” utilizing structures for intimacy and enlivening conversation. Deepen your experience of the weekend through sharing the kaleidoscope of this gathering. Feel replenished in heart, body and mind through different forms of listening and sharing, and come out re-energized and connected.

Lynne Michelson, MSW, is a psychotherapist who combines mindfulness and transformational/somatic approaches.  She also supports groups and relationships to grow into greater connection, creativity and aliveness. Lynne is passionate about thrilling conversation and its connection to presence, listening and curiosity.

4: Open session - a home-grown poetry sharing session for anyone to participate in.  The poems should follow the theme of the gathering and somehow tell a story. - Betsy Lambert - WILLIAM BLACK LODGE
Afternoon Session #1
Take a walk (or a nap!), hang out, or participate in a profound exploration with wise friends, choosing between the following:

1: Laura Hope-Gill on Light and Darkness (FREELAND HALL 3RD FLOOR)
I am emerging from four-month walk with photophobia. My brain felt stricken by a sledgehammer in response to every single ray and particle of light: phone screen, computer, digital clock on microwave oven, tv, lightbulbs, windows, headlights, sky, moon, stars. Everything that we "see" was off limits. Able now to do things I didn't know if I would ever be able to do again, I literally see the world differently. I was grateful for my decades of studying spiritual alchemy. Darkness and its metaphors help us engage the shadowy interior of the self. Let's talk and write about darkness. Maybe together we can shed a little light on this aspect of all our paths.

Laura Hope-Gill is a North Carolina Arts Council Fellow for Creative Nonfiction. She published two books on architectural history and a collection of poetry, “The Soul Tree,” which earned her the title of first poet laureate of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

2: David LaMotte - You Are Changing the World, Whether You Like It or Not (UPPER ANDERSON)
In You are Changing the World: Whether You Like It or Not, David LaMotte challenges some deeply held, though seldom examined, ideas about how large societal changes happen and what our own roles in those changes can and should be.

Drawing on stories from his own work and interviews with others in Guatemala, India, South Africa, Australia, Palestine, Bosnia, and the United States, LaMotte methodically challenges narratives that keep us immobile in the face of problems that confront communities, nations, and the world. You Are Changing The World is challenging, encouraging and inspiring - David looks at questions of daily vocation, helping us discern both our potential to have an impact and how to get started. Anyone who wants to live a life that matters will find a meaningful, potentially world-changing lesson.

3: Christine Ruth - The Heroine's Journey (THOMPSON-BROWN MEETING ROOM, MOORE CENTER)
Many of us are familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but feel called to far more than serving as mere “temptresses” or “helpers” on the stereotypical male quest.  Join pastor and therapist, Christine Ruth, LMFT, as she hosts a discussion on the 10 Stages of the Heroine’s Journey.  Discover your own stage in your personal narrative, the obstacles arrayed against you, and the tasks you must face to move forward.  Whether you’re meeting ogres, fighting dragons, or healing the mother/daughter split, your epic quest awaits!

Christine Ruth, M.Div., MS, LMFT is an ordained pastor, a grief counselor, and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT).  She founded Princeton Family Counseling Center in Princeton, New Jersey and the Podcast, “The Soul Enchilada.”  Christine has twenty-one years of ministry and counseling experience facilitating retreats, grief workshops, and conducting individual and marriage therapy.  She is a program assistant for Internal Family Systems, a therapeutic approach to trauma.

4: Open session - Suggest your own session and we'll help you find folks who would like to join you (WILLIAM BLACK LODGE)
Cracks in Everything:
Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything that's how the light gets in. That lyric is from the song "Anthem" released by Leonard Cohen in 1992. (You can find the lyrics here.) In this session, you're invited to tell a true story (10 minutes or less) from your life about cracks of light, anthems, or whatever this lovely song stirs up in you.

Afternoon Session #2

Take a walk (or a nap!), hang out, or participate in a profound exploration with wise friends, choosing between the following:

1: Daneen Akers (UPPER ANDERSON) - Dear Mama God
Come to this session for a conversation about why our world needs a story and language that fully includes feminine forms of the Divine and why feminine God-language is liberating for all genders. In addition to a conversation, we will also step into some heart-expanding and liberating practices of song, poetry, art, and prayer/meditation that lets us embody aspects of our conversation. 

Daneen Akers is a writer, filmmaker, and parent who believes deeply in the power of stories. She is the author of Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and the brand-new Dear Mama God.  She lives near Asheville, North Carolina with her family. Most mornings she’s woken up by an enthusiastic Carolina Wren outside her window. 

2: Tamara Hanna - Story through Imagery and Music (FREELAND HALL 3RD FLOOR)
During the richness of this Porch Gathering you may need some space to Release or Receive as you integrate where you are in in life or this weekend. Using an adaptation of the therapeutically and researched-based Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, participants will experience a personal journey unique to themselves. While remaining completely safe, conscious, and autonomous, the container of music can elicit meaningful images. Tamara (Asheville-based Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor) will then guide you through a simple mandala drawing exercise, allowing each person to express and digest their own meaning. Finally, Tamara will facilitate group discussion and sharing as time permits. (No musical or artistic skill required!)

Tamara Hanna has been a licensed professional counselor for nearly 20 years with a foundation in clinical psychology and creative writing. Love and Loss Counseling is her private practice in Asheville, North Carolina where she works with individuals, couples, and groups helping folks navigate relationships with integrity, heal from spiritual injury, and clear the path to deeper connection with themselves, others, and the transcendent. She lives fearlessly in deep waters, yet has learned the importance of coming up for air by cultivating beauty, play, and laughter.

3: Billy Price - Good Questions: Practicing Complexity, Curiosity and Collaboration (THOMPSON-BROWN MEETING ROOM, MOORE CENTER)
unRival is dedicated to the practice of gathering people in and asking good questions in safe, collaborative spaces. We believe that slowing down and being present increases an appreciation for complexity and a capacity for nondualistic storytelling—which in turn allows us to see and be seen, to soften our grievances, and to find joy in belonging to one another. In this hands-on workshop, we’ll seek to experience this dynamic together by creating an artifact that embraces a complex and honest response to good questions.

Billy Price is a filmmaker, actor, and visual artist who serves as Chief Creative Officer at unRival.Network. He is a cancer survivor, a father of two, and a fan of books, music, film, sports, and sneakers. Lately, Billy has been finding joy in giving attention to his close friends, a few secret creative projects, and the backyard of his home in Nashville, TN.

4: Open session at WILLIAM BLACK LODGE - I’m hoping to find ways to immerse myself in new stories so that they come more naturally out of me. To do this I need to be able to more readily identify the new stories.

I’d like to gather with folks who would help me explore these questions: How do I know a new story when I hear one? How do I recognize the old stories when they reassert themselves? What are your favorite movies, novels, podcasts, etc. that tell the new story well? - Celia Williamson

Just as Malcolm X was a landmark figure in US American history, but much misunderstood, Malcolm X is a landmark film, though little talked about today, three decades after its release.

Our dear friend Melvin Bray, the educator, broadcaster, community leader, and activist for the common good, says "Malcolm X changed my life. I want to share his vision of a better world with you." We are delighted to welcome Melvin to host a rare public screening of Malcolm X on the big screen, in advance of a conversation about how the courage and creativity of this man could still help lead us today. The film is extraordinary, and it will be amazing to watch it together in this way.
saturday MARCH 11TH
saturday MARCH 11TH
Morning Session #1: Melvin Bray on MALCOLM X at UPPER ANDERSON, Montreat
Join us for a community conversation about the spiritual vision, human rights activism, and legacy of Malcolm X.
saturday MARCH 11TH 10.30-11.45am
Morning Session #2
[Please note new time: 10.30-11.45am]

Take a walk (or a nap!), hang out, or participate in a profound exploration with wise friends, choosing between the following:

1: Jasmin Pittman Morrell - A Cartography of Belonging (UPPER ANDERSON)

A Cartography of Belonging: A creative writing session exploring the sinews of our belonging to ourselves, each other, the land, and Spirit. Bring pen and paper if you have it, and you’ll come away with a short poem, or perhaps the beginnings of a longer piece of art - something you can return to as a guide and artifact of your own wisdom. No writing experience necessary, all are welcome!

Jasmin Pittman Morrell is a writer, editor, and an MFA graduate of Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. You can find her long-form essays featured in The Bitter Southerner and Meeting At The Table: African-American Women Write On Race, Culture and Community (DownSouth Press, 2020). She's also served as an organizer for the Movies and Meaning film festival, the Wild Goose Festival, and The Porch Storytelling Events. Jasmin is passionate about the power of storytelling and the imagination. When she’s not surrounded by words, she’s probably getting lost in the woods around her home in western North Carolina.

2: Brian Ammons - The Tyranny of Vocation (THOMPSON-BROWN MEETING ROOM, MOORE CENTER)
Brian Ammons is an educator, spiritual director, coach, writer and ordained minister. Brian has written and spoken widely on themes of vocational discernment; interfaith work in higher education; and the intersections of gender, sexuality, and spirituality.

As a Coach and Spiritual Director, Brian spends much of their time engaged in conversations around vocation and calling. This session is an exploration both of the stories we tell about work, identity, and meaning (both culturally and individually), and the ways we may get stuck in navigating tensions between identity and authenticity.

3: Gareth Higgins - Porch Circles: A Creative Way of Discovering Purpose, Meaning, and Connection with others on a path of Transformative Storytelling. 
Join Gareth for a practice of conversation that goes far deeper than the typical "How are you doing?" and moves into an exploration of who we really are, what we're here for, and how we can help each other. FREELAND HALL 3RD FLOOR. 

[Anthony Smith - Tending to the soul of our cities: creating labs of democracy that change the weather  Anthony Smith is a pastor, author, poet, faith-rooted activist and City Council Member with the City of Salisbury, NC. -  REGRETTABLY ANTHONY SMITH'S SESSION IS CANCELLED DUE TO UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES - WE HOPE ANTHONY WILL JOIN US AT A FUTURE GATHERING]

4: Open session - Suggest your own session and we'll help you find folks who would like to join you
saturday MARCH 11TH 12PM-1PM
saturday MARCH 11TH 1.30PM-5pm
A screening of Wonder Woman 1984 an enormous movie with enormous themes, followed by a discussion with Suzanne Ross of UnRival and Gareth Higgins from The Porch. Wonder Woman 1984 is one of the most original superhero films in that it explicitly acknowledges the truth that violence doesn't solve anything, and often creates more damage in its wake; it's a rare film that seeks to explore complex and credible motivation for villainy; and most of all has a hero(ine) who doesn't rely on brute strength to bring order out of chaos. UnRival and The Porch are dedicated to telling stories that transform the myth of redemptive violence and help us commit to nonviolence and justpeace. This movie is a perfect illustration of what we're hoping for, and we look forward to sharing it with you.
saturday MARCH 11TH 5.30pm-6.30pm
saturday MARCH 11TH 7PM
In the week leading up to St Patrick's Day our festival culminates with a celebratory evening dedicated to the gifts of Celtic storytelling, spirituality, and activism. We'll have Irish poetry, music, a magnificent movie, and a talk by The Porch co-founder Irish writer and storyteller Gareth Higgins, also featuring guests including Belfast poet Adrian Rice.

Gareth Higgins is an Irish writer, storyteller and community convenor, and co-founder of The Porch, the Wild Goose, New Story, and Movies & Meaning Festivals.

Stoneback is a spin-off trio from the Asheville based group, Life Like Water, that focuses on playing dance music largely from the Irish tradition. Composed of Megan Drollinger on Fiddle, Charles Furtado on hand percussion, and Connell Sanderson on Cittern and Uilleann Pipes, Stoneback weaves an exciting tapestry of sound that is sure to keep toes tapping, and spirits high, as they take the audience on a colorful journey of up beat jigs and reels, sweet waltzes, and stirring original compositions.

Adrian Rice is from north Belfast but has lived in Hickory for almost twenty years, and now lectures at Appalachian State University.  As a poet and educator, he has delivered innumerable readings, lectures, and workshops on both sides of the Atlantic, using poetry to challenge sectarian certainties and promote peace and reconciliation across divided communities.
sunday MARCH 12TH 7.30am-8.30AM
BREAKFAST - see you next time!
Location, Accommodation, Meals & Registration
The Porch Gathering takes place at Montreat Conference Center and the White Horse in Black Mountain, near Asheville, NC.

Here's a map of Montreat and information about the White Horse in Black Mountain (2.6 miles from Montreat).

The closest airport is Asheville (AVL), about a 40 minute drive to Montreat. Flights are often cheaper to Charlotte (CLT), a 2 hour drive, or Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP), just over a 90 minute drive. We encourage carpooling/ridesharing and attendees can make such requests via the event Facebook page linked here.

Please note that advance registration is necessary to attend the gathering, and participant numbers are intentionally limited to create a possibility of more meaningful community - click here to register now and guarantee your place. And because life is unpredictable, if you register in advance and are unable to attend, you can transfer your registration to a friend at no additional cost, although we cannot offer refunds. Accommodation and meals are not included in registration and must be booked separately (and of course you are welcome to commute to the gathering or eat elsewhere). 

Onsite accommodation is now sold out at Montreat Conference Center and William Black Lodge at Montreat, but local accommodation is available. Click here for information on local hotels and other accommodation.

Meals are also available at Montreat Conference Center for both residents and those staying off-site, but must be booked in advance, and by 5pm on Friday February 17th.

The town of Black Mountain has several good food options as well - click here for more information.

Meal packages at Montreat are around $35 for three meals a day from Thursday dinner through Sunday breakfast.

If you're not staying onsite and want to have meals with other participants in the Gathering, you can book a commuter meal package by clicking here. Meal packages must be booked by 5pm Eastern on Friday February 17th.

We want to make the Gathering widely accessible, so have set the registration at $179 - much lower than many comparable events; if you can afford to pay $279 or more, please do so: we will use any such contributions to offer full or partial scholarships to folks who aren't currently able to afford the registration fee. And if the $179 registration fee is beyond your reach for now, please get in touch to discuss scholarships - we'll be glad to help.
The Porch Gathering convenes a vibrant assortment of people committed to creativity, community, and the common good. We're delighted to introduce you to our friends who will help provoke and inspire our conversations this weekend - storytellers, activists, writers, teachers, musicians, leaders and people like you.
Suzanne Ross
Gareth Higgins
Melvin Bray
Daneen Akers
Mark Yaconelli
Christine Ruth
Janice Kominski
Billy Price
Nancy Hastings Sehested
Anthony Smith
Micky ScottBey Jones
Laura Hope-Gill
Brian Ammons
Dan Snyder
Jasmin Pittman Morrell
Lynne Michelson
David LaMotte
Tamara Hanna
Adrian Rice
Diana, Princess of Themyscira**
**may not be able to appear in person due to saving the world commitments
 Join us in March for a beautiful weekend of connection with what matters most
We look forward to hosting you!

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