Nancy and I just got back from a clergy retreat program called Fresh Start (for clergy new in their positions or new to the diocese). We are finishing up our 15 month commitment in the program. We recently spent 2 days with 20 colleagues at Waycross the Diocesan conference center. A major portion of this time was spent hearing each individual’s stories and the story of their congregations. Each of us was given 17 minutes to tell our story and in various additional modules were able to relate parts of the story of the congregations where we were formed and where we now serve.
We began on Sunday night and ended just before lunch Tuesday. Monday we began our story telling at 9 am and with a brief pause for lunch and dinner continued until 9 that night. In a very strange way it was both tiring and exhilarating. Sitting and concentrating for that length of time is exhausting. Our minds were tired and our backsides were sore by the time we went to bed. But we also realized once again that story telling is an exceptionally powerful tool. We got to know these colleagues of ours in new and deep ways. They entrusted to us their stories and we entrusted to them ours as well.
In the story, and in the telling, one hears the wind of the spirit nudging, urging, and changing the direction of life. It is the same with “The Story” which brings us together and binds us into a Christian community. The Jesus story; the story of God calling people as far back as Adam, Eve, Abraham and Sarah form us in different ways, but similarly to ways the personal stories form and frame our growth and life as spiritual people.
The fruits of the process of story telling at Fresh Start are community building, acceptance and understanding. This went along with adding skills and knowledge to be better priests and pastors but the most important result is strengthened relationships and friendships created and renewed. These relationships span background, gender and age ranges.
Storytelling is even more important in the life of a congregation. And it is something we should intentionally encourage as individuals and as part of our focus as a community. One of the great gifts we have to give our present stratified culture (by age, interest and economic class) is the opportunity for broadly diverse intergenerational relationships and activities. This retreat modeled for us the way the Church from the first to twenty-first centuries best grows and functions.