Practice & Presence helps health care practitioners imagine and engage their vocations with clarity, faith, and joy

2:30pm, Friday, October 6th – 7:30pm, Saturday, October 7th, 2023


When Jesus healed, he reversed disorder and decay, liberated people from hostile powers, and restored them to relationship in community. Modern health care tends to focus only on the first of these, seeking to reverse disorder through technical fixes. How might those who inhabit modern health care look towards Jesus’ pattern of healing, and to Christian theology more broadly, to enrich and renew their work?

Join us as we explore together why theology matters for health care, and together look to Jesus to renew our vocations to healing.


After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, we were delighted to host Practice & Presence once again in 2022. Please note, this conference is designed to be an in-person gathering, and as such virtual attendance is not offered.

The one exception is that the first plenary session featuring at 3pm on Friday, October 6th, 2023 will have a hybrid offering via our virtual TMC Seminar Series. Registration for the 2023-2024 TMC Seminar Series will be available in summer 2023.

Early Registration: For those who register by Friday, September 2, 2022

Standard: $295
Trainee or Clergy: $200
Student: $100

Regular Registration: For those who register between September 3-18, 2022
Standard: $350
Trainee or Clergy: $225
Student: $125

Registration closes Sunday, September 18, 2022

Plenary Sessions

Friday, Sept. 23, 3:00pmThe Art of Living as Creatures
– Brian Volck, MD, MFA, in conversation with Martha Carlough, MD, MPH
Friday, Sept. 23, 6:15pmThis Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World
– Norman Wirzba, PhD, MAR in conversation with Warren Kinghorn, MD, ThD
Saturday, Sept. 24, 9:45amShalom: A Theological Vision for Health and Healing
– Patrick T. Smith, PhD, MA, MDiv in conversation with Brett McCarty, ThD
Saturday, Sept. 24, 6:15pmWhat Does It Mean to Be Healed?
– Sarah Jean Barton, BCP, MS, OTR/L, ThD in conversation with Warren Kinghorn, MD, ThD

Plenary Speakers

Sarah Jean Barton focuses her scholarly work in theological ethics, with special attention to disability, liturgy, and pastoral care. Her research engages qualitative and participatory methodologies to partner with under-represented populations in theological scholarship, particularly people with intellectual disabilities. Barton has a joint faculty appointment with Duke University School of Medicine in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, where she works in the Occupational Therapy Doctorate Division. She is an occupational therapist with a current board-certification in pediatrics. Barton presents, lectures, and publishes across multiple disciplinary contexts, including Christian ethics and theology, disability studies, inclusive education, and occupational therapy. Her first book, Becoming the Baptized Body: Disability and the Practice of Christian Community, was published by Baylor University Press in August 2022.

Patrick T Smith Headshot

Patrick T. Smith is the Associate Research Professor of Theological Ethics and Bioethics; at Duke Divinity School. Smith is also the director of the bioethics program for the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine and associate professor in population health sciences, Department of Health Sciences, Duke University Medical School. He has served as a member of the board of directors and the executive committee for the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities. His current research and writing are in the areas of moral philosophy, bioethics, theological ethics, end-of-life care, and religious social ethics. Professor Smith was named a 2016-17 Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology, was the recipient of the 2019 Paul Ramsey Award for Excellence in Bioethics, and in 2022 received the Edmund Pellegrino Medalist Award in health care ethics.  

Professor Smith served as a lecturer at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. He served as core faculty for the Master of Bioethics program offered through Harvard’s Center for Bioethics. He also was a principal faculty member for the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality, an interfaculty initiative across Harvard University that aims to be a research catalyst for an integrated model of spirituality, public health, and patient care in dialogue with spiritual communities. Professor Smith also worked professionally for eight years as the ethics coordinator for Angela Hospice Care Center in Livonia, Mich. During some of that time he served on the Ethics Advisory Council for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and as a board member for the Hospice Palliative Care Association of Michigan. 

He has served on the board of directors of organizations working for the common good and more equitable social arrangements such as YW Boston, which aims to empower women and eliminate racism. He also contributed thought leadership by serving on the board of a community development corporation that supports local communities through building affordable housing, engaging in advocacy work, and providing education on housing policies and practices. 

Brian Volck Headshot

Brian Volck is a pediatrician who received his undergraduate degree in English Literature and his MD from Washington University in St. Louis and his MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of a poetry collection, Flesh Becomes Word, and a memoir, Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words.He co-authored of Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine with Joel Shuman. His essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in The Journal ofMoral Theology, The Christian Century, DoubleTake, Health Affairs, and IMAGE. His clinical work has taken him to the Navajo Nation, rural Honduras, inner city community health centers, and academic teaching hospitals. He teaches theology and medicine at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore and is a Benedictine oblate at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert near Abiquiu, New Mexico. His website is

Norman Wirzba

Norman Wirzba pursues research and teaching interests at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies. He lectures frequently in Canada, the United States, and Europe. In particular, his research is centered on a recovery of the doctrine of creation and a restatement of humanity in terms of its creaturely life. He is currently the director of a multi-year, Henry Luce-Foundation-funded projected entitled “Facing the Anthropocene.” In this project, housed at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, he is working with an international team of scholars to rethink several academic disciplines in light of challenges like climate change, food insecurity, biotechnology and genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, species extinction, and the built environment.  

Professor Wirzba has published several books, including Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of ChristianityFrom Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (in its 2nd Edition), and (with Fred Bahnson) Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation. He also has edited several books, including The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

Professor Wirzba serves as general editor for the book series Culture of the Land: A Series in the New Agrarianism, published by the University Press of Kentucky, and is co-founder and executive committee member of the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology.

2016 – Practice & Presence: A Gathering for Christians in Health Care

Practice & Presence Agenda 2016

2017 – Practice & Presence: A Gathering for Christians in Health Care

Practice & Presence Agenda and Workshops 2017

2018 – “I Was Sick and You Visited Me”: Learning Presence with Those Who Suffer

Practice & Presence Agenda 2018

Practice & Presence Workshops 2018

2019 – Faithful Health Care in an Anxious Age

Practice & Presence Agenda 2019

Practice & Presence Seminars 2019

2020 & 2021

Our 2020 and 2021 gatherings were cancelled due to COVID-19 travel and gathering restrictions. 

2022 – From Machines to Creatures: Healing Our Vision of Health

Practice & Presence Agenda 2022

Are you a Christian in health care who longs to experience your healing work as a calling? Do you believe that the church should matter for modern health care? Do you long to connect your work with your Christian commitments?

From Friday afternoon through Saturday evening on the campus of Duke University, nurses, physicians, therapists, students, chaplains, and other health care practitioners will gather:

  • To tune our eyes and hearts to see how God is present in our work in health care
  • To engage scripture, theology, and Christian history—open to how our imaginations and our practices might be transformed
  • To grow in friendship with one another in the context of shared meals, conversation, prayer and worship
  • To rest, reflect, and respond to God’s love for us and for our world.