Ellen and I have had the privilege of teaching the children at St John's for many years. It is the best part of our week! A while ago the Sunday School Teachers participated in a training to learn about Godly Play, a Montessori based curriculum. We discovered a remarkable way of telling the stories from the Bible that has made a huge difference in the quality of our time with the children in Sunday School. It has also been a wonderfully positive experience for the teachers.
When a person has an experience of God there is a desire both to re-experience it and to tell it to others. But how do we communicate this experience? We compose a story, and through that story we relive the experience as well as share it with others.
Storytelling also permits the listener to participate in the event and share in the experience of the storyteller. Such is the case with the stories of our faith. They are our primary sources for experiencing and knowing God. These shared sacred memories of the people of God, told from generation to generation, continue to provide our knowledge of god, to form our identity as the people of God, and to give meaning to our acts of worship.
Through memory, imagination, and meaning we bring to the texts not only our personal experiences but also the shared experiences of the Church through time. These stories are told over and over again, from one generation to the next, and over and over again in our readings in our lectionary. They are not put aside once the point is learned. Rather, they are told again and again constantly revealing new meaning, deepening our faith, and surprising us with who God is in the world and in our lives.
Becoming a storyteller is not taking on the role of instruction, or knowing all the answers, or entertaining the children. It is taking on the possibility of entering the story and kind of disappearing so that the children may enter it too. The storyteller gets out of the way so that everyone can experience the power of the story.
In preparing to tell a story we take time to personally own and sense the greatness, mystery, and awe of the story. All of the stories have materials that are moved around to help to tell the story. The words are carefully chosen to provide the essence of the story without unnecessary details, and there is also silence used purposefully.
In order to draw everyone into the story the storyteller focuses on the materials, and avoids eye contact. We are relating to the story, not to one another at that point. The slow way we tell the story and the silences leaves room for the Spirit to be present and to act in the imagination.
Following the story there is time to wonder- We purposefully don't ask for questions that illicit a right answer so much as ones that invite the children to think about what is important to them.
We have had the experience of telling a story to some of the same children who heard the story the year before. It is surprising to see how different the response and experience can be. This is because the children are in different places in terms of their development- cognitively, socially, and in their journeys with God and this community at St John's.
So we invite you to consider the power of story, and possibility of becoming a storyteller. In addition to participating in an important ministry with our children this can also be an opportunity to engage with the stories of our faith with a new sense of wonder and discovery.
Come and play.