“We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen. . .”
In the last 3 weeks I’ve been in a variety of group settings–clergy lunches, a dinner with wardens, table fellowship at our home, and a Sunday forum. What they had in common? Conversation in which we shared stories of personal faith experiences. I came away from each gathering uplifted, inspired, and wanting to hear more.
We had a prompt for these conversations, a deck of “faith sharing cards.” Each card has a question, both in English and in Spanish, such as:
Some people feel that they are being ‘led’ by God. Tell about a time when you felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as yourself. Share a story of a time in your life when this was especially challenging. How did you respond?
What is the message you think Christ wants us to take into the world? Share a story from your life when you were most faithful to that call.
Share a story about a time when you allowed God to change your mind.
Not wanting to put anyone on the spot, when I introduce this faith sharing exercise, I hand out at least three cards per person, so that participants can choose among a variety of questions. “And if you don’t any of those”, I tell the group, “you can pick three more.”
So far, after a moment’s hesitation, people have jumped into the conversation. The level of personal sharing surprises everyone. At one gathering over dinner, people who had not met before went around the table three times! At another, those who knew each other well expressed awe at what new things they had learned about their friends.
It’s often a revelatory experience to share part of our story, for in retrospect we often see more clearly how Christ was present in a time of struggle, how the Holy Spirit acted in ways that we hadn’t recognized before. In the telling of our stories there is an increased confidence in God and our response to God. It is always moving to hear another person’s story.
At Diocesan Convention last month, we gave a set of “faith sharing cards” to every delegate and clergy person present, encouraging them to use them in a variety of settings among their faith communities. For the next year, I will use them when I meet with clergy and lay leaders, particularly when we share a meal together, and at some diocesan meetings, perhaps inviting folks to share a faith story with the person sitting next to them as part of our devotional time.
Research shows that among Christians, Episcopalians are the least comfortable sharing their faith with other people, which makes it difficult for us to grow in faith together, and it helps explain why our churches struggle to attract new people.
I invite you to join me and others in sharing bits of your faith story and listening to others in your community do the same. If we all take up this gentle challenge for a year in various settings, I’m convinced that we will be a more joyful, spiritually confident, warm and welcoming church.
It’s worth trying, don’t you think?
You can download your own set of faith-sharing cards on the EDOW website. There we also have suggested questions for youth and children.