Joan New has always been on the dramatic side.
So when she discovered the art of biblical storytelling two years ago, she knew she had found her niche.
But Joan faced her biggest audience yet at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 15-19, in Orlando, Fla.
The 1,025 voting members and other participants of the assembly gathered for three Bible studies. Each began with Joan sharing a scripture passage, along with Paul Lutz, pastor of Prince of Peace.
Unlike Joan, Paul is a veteran. For the past 20 years, he’s been sharing the gospel story every Sunday morning through storytelling.
“I can now pull most of the lectionary gospel stories without much practice,” he says, adding that one of his favorites is Isaiah 55, the promises of God.
Isaiah 55 was one of the assembly’s featured biblical passages. The other two highlighted the story of the woman from Samaria, found in John 4:3-29, and “Freed in Christ to Serve,” which is the assembly’s theme taken from Galatians 5:1-14.
It’s not about memorizing
According to both Joan and Paul, biblical storytelling is not about memorizing Bible passages and reciting them.
“It’s about internalizing and becoming the original storyteller,” says Joan. Movement and interaction with others are involved, she says, and it’s invitational.
“We bring the story to life. And as a result, those seeing and listening receive a deeper understanding of the biblical passage,” she says.
“Scripture was meant to be told orally,” according to Paul. “Text was only written down to be told, not read, and there’s a difference,” he says.
Biblical storytelling is about reclaiming oral traditions. And, there’s even an official network of biblical storytellers called The Network of Biblical Storytellers, International.
The network is, indeed, international, says Paul. Founded by a Methodist professor, narrative theology is an approach to theology that finds meaning in story.
“It’s a growing phenomenon,” Paul says, estimating that about 10 percent of ELCA pastors are biblical storytellers.
“I would say that (ELCA) pastors, at some time during the year, share the gospel as a story,” he says. The Passion Story is popular and one of the most engaging for congregations. This story also offers the opportunity for more than one member to get involved in storytelling.
For Lent this year, Paul “gave up” storytelling. That meant that he relied on members of his congregation to do the work for him. “It was fantastic,” he says.
Members of Prince of Peace have a “storytelling festival” on the second Sunday of September. Between worship services, Paul invites members to tell a biblical story.
“I was surprised that as many as 12 people agreed to do this,” he says.
“This church is the right place for me,” says Joan, who’s been a member of Prince of Peace for the past 23 years. “I think the ELCA as a denomination tries to be open without compromising core beliefs.
“I also like the openness and welcome of the ELCA. I love attending synod and churchwide assemblies. I have so much appreciation of the vast ministries of the ELCA and its diversity, which I don’t always witness Sunday to Sunday,” Joan says. “We do some really cool stuff as a church!”