On retreat

Joyce Hollyday was introduced to God in a church on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Though her earliest aspiration was to be the person who roamed the town’s amusement park dressed like a Krackel bar, she was swept away by the prophet Amos’ vision to “let justice roll down like waters” and became instead a journalist and activist, then a pastor, author, editor, and teacher.

Joyce’s long journey of questioning and seeking began at the age of thirteen when the assassination of Martin Luther King unsettled her world. During her sophomore year at Bates College in Maine, she spent a spring semester in New York City’s East Harlem, where her concerns about race, privilege, and injustice intensified.

After college she attended Yale Divinity School. A church bureaucrat told her that, being a woman, Joyce would have to wait ten years to do urban ministry—unless she moved to a particular city and found a man to marry. Joyce instead left seminary, headed west, and launched her mule ministry. Under the auspices of A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, she spent four months selling mule rides and preaching to tourists, grateful that none of her nightly listeners cared too much about the quality of her sermons because they were distracted by one of the most magnificent sights on earth—sunset over the Grand Canyon.

Sojourners women

In the fall of 1977, Joyce joined Sojourners Community in Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood still referred to as the “Fourteenth Street riot corridor” a decade after Dr. King’s assassination, in the heart of the city known then as the “murder capital.” She shared a three-story row house with a dozen adults, four energetic children, a timid collie, and an army of cockroaches. She applied her limited fiddling talent to a trio known as the Roachtown Ramblers.

During her fifteen years as the associate editor of Sojourners magazine, Joyce traveled widely around the country and across the globe to cover faith-based efforts for justice. She co-founded a peace witness in the war zones of Nicaragua, interviewed anti-apartheid church leaders in South Africa, and spent several weekends in the D.C. jail as a result of protests against the wars in Central America and the nuclear arms race. Joyce wrote her first book, a spiritual memoir titled Turning Toward Home, in 1989.

In 1992 she moved to Transylvania County, tucked among waterfalls in the exquisite mountains of Western North Carolina. She worked in a bookstore and as a court advocate for survivors of domestic violence, living on a small farm that was so shady and damp that the only things she harvested were a tomato that cost her forty-eight dollars to grow and a crop of mushrooms that sprouted in the cracks in the floor around the bathtub. There she wrote Clothed with the Sun, her book pairing biblical and contemporary women.

Twenty years after her first stint in seminary, Joyce finished her M.Div. degree at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, where she served as a chaplain on the cancer ward of a children’s hospital, wrote Then Shall Your Light Rise, co-taught a course on “Principalities, Powers, and Preaching,” and journeyed to the Middle East. She was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 1998 and spent nine years as an Associate Conference Minister for the UCC’s Southeast Conference, preaching, offering social justice retreats, and collecting oral histories in African-American churches, which formed the backbone of her book On the Heels of Freedom.


The mountains called Joyce back to her spiritual home, and she co-founded Circle of Mercy with two dear friends in 2001. Until January 2015, she co-pastored this unconventional ecumenical faith community in Asheville, North Carolina—preaching, offering pastoral care, planning retreats and the church prom, and visiting a sister church in Cuba. She recently realized a lifelong dream of writing a novel, tentatively titled Pillar of Fire, a work of historical fiction based on the inspiring medieval Christian mystics known as the Beguines.

Joyce has also kept busy helping a few fascinating people craft their memoirs; co-founding and teaching for Word and World, an itinerant school for faith-based activists; visiting a friend on Georgia’s death row; leading retreats on feminist spirituality, reconciliation, unmasking empire, and hope for the long haul; making trips to Greece and Belgium for writing and research; and crocheting blankets for a baby boom of great-nieces and -nephews and a couple of honorary grandsons. Prompted by her most sacred and challenging experience—caring with her two sisters for their mother in her final weeks of life—she is collaborating in the creation of a place where people can die well.

Joyce was born on the autumnal equinox, and fall has always been her favorite season. Now that she considers herself in the autumn of her life, she is most interested in cultivating deep roots through contemplation and writing. She lives in a house nestled in an acre of trees with her peace-activist-and-poet husband, Bill, and their two dogs, Micah and Tasha, next to a large patch of land with hiking trails and pastures, a pond and pine forest, wild orchids and stunning mountaintop views. Each and every day, Joyce finds many moments to give thanks for an abundance of blessings and a life rich in joy.

fall scene




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