"Would you be willing tell my church a little about your story of faith?", asked Heather, "we are having someone different speak each week through lent, followed by questions and prayer". After my last mission news I couldn't really say no could I?
These are some of my thoughts about sharing faith stories. Like most advice it is gathered from the wisdom of others. You will doubtless get more developed ideas at Everyone Has A Story, but feel free to pick the best bits from this in the meantime. Or better still – what advice you would give to a story sharer?
My own, obviously. But it's a bit more complicated than that. Behind Heather's request for my story of faith, is a request to tell how my story has been changed by interaction with God's story. The reason for me talking is to give an example of how my life is different because of God. It's a story as much about God as it is about me. The occasion I reversed our car into a boulder may be legendary in our household, but if God doesn't get a mention, it's just an anecdote not a faith story.
And whose story can't I tell? Some difficult stuff has been happening around me recently, and God has been in the midst of it. But it's someone else's deeply personal story to tell, and so Heather will need to wait for them to ready to share it.
I'll thank Sean Adair for this piece of advice. Even the shyest of us would be talking for quite a while if we tried to describe everything of significance that had ever happened to us. More recent may be most relevant: "Where have you encountered God this week?" as Sally Coleman used to drum into me, every week.
"Testimony" isn't necessarily going back to a recollected first encounter. The narrative of each of our lives is shaped by many themes and profound moments. Each of these carries significance. What makes my family tick today isn't solely defined by that dropped ice cream on a first date many years ago.
One of the privileges of my role is meeting and hearing stories from so many people in different communities across our district. And I never cease to be amazed by the unexpected connections. You may not know Heather, but I wouldn't be surprised if she knows someone who knows someone in your church.
Yes our lives can be shaped by difficult experiences as well as positive ones, but publicly sharing my story should never be a moment to be talking down another congregation, organization or individual.
Heather gave me in advance notice for a reason. Whilst I am comfortable speaking to a crowd, I think I am generally more worth listening to when I have given what I will say some forethought, and have some notes to keep me vaguely on track. Heather was making it easier for more people to say yes to sharing their story, including those who need to write a script, practice in front of a mirror, and ask a friend to check it for them. (workshops on 2nd April will include other ways of widening who is comfortable to share stories).
Heidi was first to tell her story in our little series. I've no chance of matching her international travel, multicultural upbringing, or musical expertise. Ben will do the last one, and he is an evangelist to surfers! But our faith communities are shaped by combination of all our stories. Every story is valuable. Each story adds something unique to our collective understanding of our communal story and God's story. By definition authentically telling my own story using my own words adds a few more stitches to the tapestry, however exciting or otherwise it may feel. Every story counts.
" followed by questions and prayer" concluded Heather. My experience is my experience. But it's not the last word. It doesn't invalidate anyone else's experience. Telling and publicly ascribing purpose to my life is a vulnerable place. We treat what is said with care and dignity, and we accept that both the similarities and differences between our stories combine to create a robust textured understanding of God's story.
Hope to see you and swap stories of what God is doing in your life and your church at Cliff College on 2nd April (book your tickets here). Everyone is welcome, and it's usually easiest to apply what you have learned if someone else has learned it alongside you, so do think about who you might extend an invitation to.
District Mission Enabler
Registered Charity no. 1129363
0114 270 9990 / 0114 430 0255
Sheffield District Office
Room 47, Victoria Hall Methodist Church