SFJFS Session 1 Insights

Come to the Table’s School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling (SFJFS) kicked off on January 19 with a session entitled, “The Power of Storytelling,” featuring a mini-workshop from New York Times bestselling author Mark Yaconelli. 

While this cohort of SFJFS is not open for new members, we thought it would be helpful to share five insights from each session with our network. The second cohort for SFJFS will begin in the fall of 2023. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on the latest information from the Come to the Table team.

Five Insights From Session 1

“One thing that really makes me feel seen or heard is when you know my story.”

  • Yaconelli led participants in a series of small group storytelling exercises that got our storytelling juices flowing. After asking participants to tell a story about a memorable meal, the group discussed how storytelling allows the teller to open up about themselves in a unique way. Yaconelli emphasized the importance of active listening by requesting participants not interrupt anyone’s story and simply say “thank you” at the completion of each exercise, as storytelling is an act of giving a piece of oneself to another.

“Communities are shaped by stories that have the power to empower and disempower. We need to assess the stories we tell and listen to.”

  • Come to the Table Project Manager David Allen led cohort members in a workshop on Lee Anne Belle’s storytelling project model, which discusses four types of stories – stock, concealed, resistance, and emerging stories. While stories can create empathy, enliven our imagination, and sit at the root of our common life together, stories can also codify stereotypes and stick in our brains as “single stories” that lead to oversimplifying someone else and their circumstances. We discussed the power of story for good and bad and worked to identify how stories are told, or not told, in our communities. 

“Story is a democratic process. Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to be heard.”

  • Yaconelli asserted that storytelling is a universal desire and that faith leaders have a special role to play in not just hearing the stories, but also uplifting them. Participants discussed how stories become concealed and what ways communities can work to center the story of members on the margins.

“The core of the Christian faith is testimony.”

  • Yaconelli called participants to center the story, or testimony, of others in their life of faith. Yaconelli said that often in faith communities we don’t sit in the power of testimony enough. We tend to sit in ideas, thoughts, and problems, and facts and figures. But in story, in the sharing of one’s life, feelings, experiences, there is love and grace communicated and understood. Yaconelli went on, “Story kindles that warmth in that fire, helps us stay close to what matters and what keeps us alive in the midst of a dark and hurting world.”

Connection is about more than the transaction of satisfying someone’s needs. Connection is about being able to empathize, understand the reality of what someone is going through, and see the gulf between perception and reality.

  • Toward the end of our conversations, one group member spoke about the often transactional nature of food ministries as an exchange of goods and how they were inspired by the session to make more authentic, personal connections with the people they serve by being vulnerable with their own story and listening to others.
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