St. John’s is in the midst of pastoral transition. After 28 years of total ministry at St. John’s, my colleague who I pastored with for the past 16 of those 28 years retired. So this month, my call changes from co-pastor to solo pastor. Many pastors have been through the life of St. John’s for the past 147 years. However, I am the first clergywoman and person of color to pastor this church.
To move us through this transition, I am spending the next 2 months telling stories.
Within the walls of St. John’s are many stories of people and pastors who have come and gone. Brené Brown says, “Stories are data with a soul.” Where opinions tend to be black and white and divide people into them and us, stories are multi-colored and render people vulnerable, bringing people together. When church people tell stories, they reveal the values, heroes, myths, and traditions of the church. “Each church has a unique story, or defining code, within the larger story of God’s story.” (Kevin Ford, “Transforming Church)
Storytelling is also how people discover how their personal stories connect to God’s narrative. Rachel Held Evans says God is a storyteller and therefore as human beings created in God’s image, “we are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God.” C. S. Song calls this story theology, where the stories of God and God’s people intersect. It is not neutral. A neutral theology is a homeless and tasteless theology. Story theology is rooted in the intersection of God and God’s people. Storytelling reveals truth and exposes biases. This kind of storytelling is called countermemory because it “aims at challenging versions of reality put forward by the dominant culture.” To move from teaching the status quo to teaching for change is to give witness to a different reality.
Each Sunday, I will tell stories about St. John’s and intersect them with God’s story. We will also be building a story wall where there will be opportunities for people to tell their own story. Throughout the sanctuary, I pulled pictures from throughout the 147 years for people to look at. Pictures tell a story that words alone can’t suffice.
These Sundays of storytelling will hopefully give us time to grieve, adjust to the change, and give us space to dream about how we are called to be moving forward. I too need the time and space to figure out how I am called to lead with my particular skills and gifts, experiment a little as I “try on” different ways to worship, and find my voice as the pastor of this congregation during this particular time.
I’ll be sharing elements of worship throughout this series as a resource for any congregation as you navigate any kind of transition or change.