The Power of Story

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

Much research is being done on what makes individuals, families, and pastors resilient in our complex and ever-changing culture. In February, I was sent a link to a New York Times article, “The Stories That Bind Us,” by Bruce Feiler. Based upon research, Feiler noted that the single most important factor in a person’s ability to weather the challenges of life is to develop a strong family narrative.  Children and youth who know a lot about their family history and have a sense of being a part of a larger family, tend to function in healthier ways when facing life’s challenges.  Feiler emphasized the importance of creating, refining and retelling family stories including the ordinary, positive, and difficult experiences of family life.

The biblical story is our foundational narrative giving us instruction, poetry, rituals, prophecy, and stories to talk about our faith in God. Numerous times in scripture, there is mention of telling the story to the children, reenacting a ritual, or giving witness to what is seen and heard (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Joshua 4:6-7, Psalms 44:1, Psalms 78:6, Isaiah 43:10, John 1:7, Matthew 28: 17-20, Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8). The scripture is packed with stories of people living in families and in a faith community dependent on God and each other to live out their faith. These stories remind us of who God is, who we are, how we are a part of a larger family, and how the faith community continues to be called to live God’s mission in the world.

Leadership Ministers and other staff on retreat.

At a retreat in March, Leadership Ministers reflected on past and more recent Franconia Conference stories of ordinary people doing ordinary things to serve God. Our stories reflected themes of generosity of time, talent, and finances; breadth and depth of relationships; lament of congregations being asked to leave conference or choosing to leave; resiliency during internal, national, or international crisis; welcome of people and congregations of color; vision to begin local ministries or ministries beyond our geography.

Biblical, family, congregational, conference, and denominational stories connect us to each other, past and present. They remind us of God’s steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness in all generations; our failures, inaction, learnings, and activities; and our shared identity and mission. Stories remind us of our common commitment to Jesus Christ, to living as followers of Christ, and bearing witness to Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Recently, I viewed a TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story,” presented by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She frankly declares that those in power often determine which stories are told, where a story begins, and what is included or excluded. This power reinforces and perpetuates stereotypes. One single story is incomplete and emphasizes differences. It creates a narrative that shows a people, place or issue as one thing over and over again and that is what they become. Multiple stories enhance understanding and have the power to humanize, empower, and heal.

As we engage in the reconciliation and restructuring process of looking at the possibility of forming a new conference with Eastern District Conference, what stories need to be told? Who determines which stories are told and what is included in the stories? How will these stories guide us in imagining a new future, facilitate healing of past or more recent wounds, form our new identity, and shape our vision for the future? May we continue to share the ordinary, positive and difficult stories with an openness to hearing multiple stories. As we shape the future together, may our stories enhance our understanding, give witness to the Spirit’s activity among us, facilitate healing, and empower us to imagine what the Spirit is calling us to be and do.