Telling Our Stories

By on May 31, 2024

Over the last few months I’ve found myself visiting a variety of parishes across the diocese.

As part of the rollout of the “Thriving Communities” process, I’ve had the opportunity, through the testing of these tools, to meet with congregations, to hear their stories, and to be shown around their communities. I’ve heard of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. I have also heard stories of resilient faith—faith that God is at work–even though the work we are doing together is hard.

Through listening and through story, I’ve had the chance to ask about and to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness, the desires God is placing on peoples’ hearts, the unfolding sense of God’s invitation to reach out in ministry for the sake of the world God loves. I have also heard from some that this process takes time. I freely admit that it does.

It takes time to be together. Time to listen. Time to share. Time to celebrate what God has done and what God is doing. Time to consider our strengths and weaknesses. Time to anticipate the new possibilities God is dreaming up in our midst. Time to pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.

The process takes time, because at its heart, the “Thriving Communities” process is centered in stories and storytelling. We all know you can’t rush a good story. We’re talking the story of God’s faithfulness from generation to generation. We’re talking the story of God’s faithfulness in the here and now. We’re talking about God’s faithfulness in the life of ever-evolving congregations. We’re talking God’s faithfulness in the lives of individuals: lives, and people, and relationships, and communities transformed by our encounters with the living God.

Sometimes we want to rush through these processes to get to the other side. Sometimes we want to rush through the stories to get to the next step. All too often, I’m prone to think that the next thing will save me–will save us–from the challenging moment we’re stuck in. We focus on the next idea, the next project, the next leader. And yet, there is nothing that can save us but the slow, patient ferment of God’s transforming love.

This is why the “Thriving Communities” process is about story. It’s about the story of God. God’s faithfulness. God’s invitation. Our (sometimes hesitant, sometimes tentative) response.

These past weeks I’ve been reading a North American study on why clergy are alienated from their calling, congregation, and career. And while this book is focused on the systems that drive clergy from congregational ministry, one particular observation stayed with me while writing this month’s column.

In Stuck, sociologists Todd W. Ferguson and Josh Packard quote a pastor who remarks, “It seemed like the way we were doing church was providing a structure to keep an organization going, but there was never the time or the inclination to really share life in Christ.” This statement highlights the challenge that many clerical leaders face–and with them, us too.

Sometimes it seems we can become so focused on institutional survival that we forget to slow down, to listen, and to share stories of God’s faithfulness. Sometimes we can be so focused on the mechanics that we become disconnected from the love that brings us together.

In preparation for marriage, Ericka and I were offered the following piece of advice: no matter what, make sure that you don’t get so distracted by planning for the wedding that you forget to nurture the relationship. Don’t throw so much of yourself into the administration that you forget the reason why you’re doing any of this in the first place.

The authors of the study frame it this way: tell your stories to undermine bureaucracy. “Stories,” the authors write, “undermine bureaucracy because no one’s story is about bureaucracy.”

When clergy tell the story of their calling, they remind us why they entered ministry in the first place. I have yet to hear a story that centers a call to repair leaky roofs and organize cleaning schedules. In the same way, when we tell the stories of what brought us to faith, and how God appears in our lives, it is rarely (though not impossibly) related to budget planning cycles.

Sometimes we need to take the time to be reminded (and to remind ourselves) of why we continue to show up; Why we continue to minister one to another; Why we continue to care so deeply and profoundly about prayer and worship, study and learning, life in community, and service in the world. And in this time, the best way to do this is to tell our stories – the stories of Jesus showing up in our lives and the life of our congregation – that transformed us, and that continue to transform us to this very day.


  • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

    Canon Andrew Stephens-Rennie is the Director of Missional Renewal for the Diocese of Kootenay

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