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The Soul Speaks in Story: Storytelling as Ministry

“Tell me about a time you were given compassion. Tell me about a place that you loved when you were little. Tell me about your first crush.” When you read these prompts, chances are you are transformed to a time, place, or memory. Your senses and imagination may awaken and suddenly the words begin to fly right out of your mouth. This is the power of storytelling that New York Times best-selling author Mark Yaconelli communicated to over 50 faith leaders who gathered together at Union Grove United Methodist Church in Hillsborough. Starting with these simple prompts, the room of faith leaders began opening up to one another about their lives.

Over the course of the day, Yaconelli led the group of faith leaders to revel in the power of story through storytelling exercises, a discussion about the importance of listening and creating a space for stories to be told, and a conversation about practical ways that faith communities can center story in worship and practice. 

In his latest book, Between the Listening and Telling: How Stories Can Save Us, and throughout the workshop, Yaconelli emphasized the power and importance of story. Stories the ability to break down barriers, eliminate previously-held assumptions, and open up new perspectives. Stories also move people to action, help us understand the world and others more clearly, and foster a deep-seated empathy. This is even more true for faith leaders, who communicate truths about our relationship with God and neighbor, not through data, facts, or figures, but through stories – both ancient and ongoing.

“Stories give flesh and blood to the spirit’s movement,” one participant said. “When we share our lives with others, it communicates that you are not alone in your experience and can take comfort in that.”

One of the emphases of the workshop was on the role listening plays in good storytelling. In small group storytelling exercises, while one person shared, the remaining group members would listen and were encouraged to not ask questions but fully soak in the story. This deep listening shows compassion for others and creates a stance of giving yourself over to the story. 

“Storytelling is an exchange of gifts,” Yaconelli said. “The listener gives their presence and the speaker gives a piece of themselves in story.”

When the gifts of both the speaker and listener are recognized, something sacred occurs, Yaconelli suggested. It is there in community, between the listening and telling, where people can better understand one another and learn to live lives that reflect the complexity, beauty, and sacredness of the human experience. 

“When you share a story with me, you become my person,” one participant shared. “My group of people has grown today.”

At Come to the Table, we believe that in order to address food justice issues, we need to tell a new story, a story that challenges individual blame and individual solutions, seeks to understand and confront structural food system issues, and demands collective action and creative solutions. We are hosting the School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling, starting on January 19 and happening every other Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.. A few spots are still available for faith leaders interested in this work. Please reach out to David Allen at [email protected] for more information about how to join.