Sidebar Stories, 2021

Mount Holly, New Jersey

To discover and express fresh dimensions of God by equipping worshipers to give testimony to experiences of God at work through personal storytelling and visual art.

Provide a brief summary of the purpose and goal of your grant. 

Our hope is for believers and church leaders to understand and use the practice of storytelling in public and private conversations to explore and recognize more of who God is. As God is revealed in real life stories of God's relationship and work on earth, a fuller and changing picture of God can be developed in the context of community. This alters the image of the God we worship and we tend to become what we worship. By training pastors and church leaders in a simple method of spreading a culture of storytelling about God in the community and by providing dramatic examples of how stories provoke thought, raise questions, deconstruct or confirm our image of God, we hope to raise awareness and teach the skills of narrative worship. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year? 

  1. What are the dangers in storytelling for worship? If a story is incomplete (all are), or includes elements that can be misinterpreted, or seems to be in conflict with biblical teaching (likethe apostle Peter's story about a sheet with unclean animals and a voice saying he should partake of what was biblically forbidden), or when a story includes elements that are shocking and may trigger others, or stories that are used primarily for entertainment and self promotion, what guidelines should govern stories that are used for worship?
  2. How can recent research in the biological, social and psychological elements of storytelling be used in teaching biblical stories as well as personal stories in a way that they reveal God clearly?

In what ways has your project engaged your congregation so that it impacts the worship life and habits of the congregation? 

    We have worked with pastors and leaders from various churches who will implement the principles of Narrative Worship in different ways. Following the workshop for pastors sna d church leaders, commitments were made to practice narrative worship in sermon preperation, adult and childhood education and outreach.  Responses from the theater project that used public storytelling has resulted in prompting a sacred sense of who God is in the lives of regular people.  This nudge toward noticing and worshipping God among unbelievers has been expressed. Believers have expressed finding a pathway to a larger concept of God by seeing God at work in the lives of stories presented on stage. 

    What criteria have you used to evaluate your plan to foster vital worship? 

    Notes were taken of informal responses in both the Narrative Worship workshop and reception following the stage production of "No Graven Image".  A request for written evaluation has also been sent to all participants of both projects.  In addition, there will be a zoom discussion of selected participants to evaluate as well as individual interviews with some who attended. 

    What issues have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

    1. Time constraints of the workshop. In an attempt to include more information about the use of story in worship, the workshop became less experiential and some people felt overwhelmed and that things moved too fast. We struggle with what to leave out or how to expand the workshop into two days instead of one.

    Different narratives address different perspectives of who God is, especially as they come through different people with different experiences. This diversity is healthy but it also opens the door for more conflict that can lead to a shut down or polarization among some people. General stories or parables are flexible for people to interpret as they choose.  Personal stories can be more direct and therefore threatening.

    What would you like to share with other Project Directors? 

    We are pleased beyond expectation with both projects.  We have experimented, learned and produced two experiences that can be useful to the church, but we are not promoters or good at packaging a product/experience in a way that is transferrable.  The theater project can be used through the professional film that is being produced and the workshop can be improved and offered for other churches and church leaders. We don't have clear ideas about how to continue and expand the impact of these events. 

    The concept of "worship" among unbelievers has become a big part of our conversation.  What does it mean for those who first notice God in the lives and stories of common people to move into a perspective of awe and desire to know more?