Let’s talk about … our stories

This week we asked our bloggers what they wish churches talked about more.

It was the most diverse gathering of people I’d seen in quite some time. Old, young, African American, Caucasian, Asian, Latino, with kids, alone, gay, straight, giggling, solemn, white collar, blue collar, retired, in school, unemployed, just walked in off the street, came from the rich suburbs up north – it seemed like every section of Baltimore society was represented in an audience crammed haphazardly into the warehouse-turned-gallery. Most of us (small children excepted) grew hushed as a young student walked on stage and, without preamble, spoke the words of a traditional African blessing. Another student took her place and recited a piece of well-memorized poetry before introducing a woman in her 70s. She took the stage and told us a piece of her story – she shared with us her wisdom of seven decades. Then another student shared her performance art, another elder shared his wisdom, another student, another elder… through seven sets of youth and elders.

They held us spellbound. There was no rustling of papers. There were no quiet whispers – even to fidgeting toddlers. There were just these stories, shared across generations. Stories that evoked laughter one minute then sent us looking through pockets and purses for tissues the next. Stories that were unflinchingly candid about the joy and heartache of our human experience, stories that – though they were told by people from different faith backgrounds and traditions – spoke with deep conviction about the power of the resurrection.

In the days leading up to this event, I had been puzzling over the topic we were invited to write about this month: what do you wish people talked about in church? We live in an area where racism is a big issue, so “What about white privilege?” was my first thought. But the truth is, we have been talking about that already. I came up with other issues that have been in the news quite a bit recently (locally, nationally and denominationally): gun control, divestment, issues of sexuality. But we talk about these things too, despite the fact that we have a variety of opinions on just about all of them. And then I attended this event, and it hit me. In my life, the church is one of the last places where diverse people from different generations gather on a regular basis. What I wish we talked more about? Our own stories. Our own experience of life and God and what it means to be fully human and fully alive.

When I was 10 – in fifth grade at a Quaker school – we spent most Wednesday mornings doing community service. One of the most vivid memories that I have of that time is from the quarter that I spent at a local nursing home. Several of us found ourselves speaking with a man who was almost 100 years old – he had been born in the late 1800s. He told us stories about his life at the turn of the century, two world wars, the Depression… so many things. And I remember being fascinated, spellbound. He had so many stories, so much to teach, and we all sat at his feet and listened with rapt attention. For my classmates and for me, that conversation was formative; it shaped us.

This is what I want for my congregation: these conversations that shape us, these conversations where young people grow through the wisdom of their elders and elders are stirred by the passion of their younger brothers and sisters in Christ. In this holy space where we still gather diverse people from different generations, I want us to tell our stories, to share the good news of Jesus Christ as we’ve witnessed it in our lives.

What do I wish my people talked about in church? I wish we talked about our own narratives of love and loss and life and death and, most importantly, of our experience of God in Christ and the power of the resurrection.

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Jennifer Barchi is serving as the Solo Pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.