There are few things I enjoy more than listening to people tell stories. This past week I had two splendid opportunities to do just that.
On Sunday afternoon I led a program for one of our congregations. People sat around tables in groups of four or five and told stories. The stories were about experiences at the church when people felt most alive, most connected, or most spiritually touched. The stories were about what people valued about and received from that congregation.
I heard stories about community and belonging; about worshiping, studying, and praying together; and about diversity and acceptance. There also were stories about stepping up and serving; about laughter and love; and about compassion and working together despite disagreements.
On Wednesday morning I co-facilitated a Zoom focus group about ABCORI ministries at Canonicus. With great energy and excitement, participants told stories about their experiences at Canonicus.
A grandmother told about exploring the grounds as she walked and her young grandsons rode their bikes. A 90-year-old shared about coming to Canonicus when he was ten and finding a respite from the Great Depression. Several participants told stories about experiencing spiritual renewal. Other stories focused on the beauty and calming nature of the place.
In both instances, the storytelling drew the storytellers together. While the individual experiences were different, the shared stories reminded those gathered—in person and virtually—of what they had in common.
Telling those stories also did something that reciting facts couldn’t have. Most of us have enough information. What we often need is context, new perspective, imagination, something to sustain our faith. And that’s where stories have power.
Stories can help make sense of a situation or setting. They can simplify something that’s complex into something that seems understandable. They can help make sense of chaos. They can help reframe a situation in ways that linear analysis can’t.
Stories also can help us understand a different point of view. To listen to a story is to share that perspective for a little while. Stories can help us look at a situation in a new way and reflect on our choices in light of that perspective.
Stories can pass along values. They can help us learn about kindness, forgiveness, humor, humility, determination, and love. And they can do so in a way that helps us remember those values because our feelings are touched, and we become personally involved in the story.
Facts can feel like missiles being fired at us. Stories invite us to join and participate. They have the power to communicate with people on both sides of a real-life paradox or conflict. Stories invite us to become co-creators and encourage us to engage in collective dreaming.
In the months ahead, there will be a variety of opportunities in our region for us to share stories. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to listen to the stories that will be told and experience the power they will have to draw us together.