Telling Stories in a Community Dispersed

by | Dec 9, 2021

The Tending Our Soil initiative invited every congregation to listen to the soul of the congregation by remembering its history – its birth and journey – together as a community. How do you gather the community for storytelling for a community with multiple communities and at a time when a community is dispersed, as we are during this pandemic? This was the challenge we faced as we planned how to remember the story of St. John’s, Olney.

Still battling the effects of Covid-19, our congregation is regularly at about 50-60% of what we would have considered our normal Sunday attendance from two years ago. Apart from the pandemic, like many congregations, people are engaged at different levels with a core inner circle and an outer circle. Our core has held, even through covid. The expected people participate. Even the ones who still feel uncomfortable coming in person to worship, still make their presence felt virtually, with attendance in zooms, texts about sermons, and regular emails communicating questions and comments. However the much larger outer circle, the people who we want so badly to see more, to participate more, to minister with more frequently, has been even more remote.

The Tending our Soil initiative suggested big group gatherings. This approach didn’t fit our needs. Even in the best of times, the outer circle’s stories may have been lost from the conversation. And with covid such an invitation seemed impossible. We wanted to personally invite the whole parish in to share, to dream, to paint themselves into the past, present, and future stories of St. John’s.

One of our group brainstormed chain letters as a method of physically reaching every member. My own household of elementary-aged kids had recently (and many times over the past years) done something similar called “being boo-ed.” Being boo-ed is an October festive passing of gifts. Once boo-ed with a bag of treats, you are responsible to boo two more households within 48 hours with your own bag of treats, secretly left on their doorstep for them to find and enjoy. These ideas launched into a journal passing invitation, for members to pass a journal, household to household, doorstep to doorstep, with invitations to write stories, draw pictures, collage, quote, invoke scripture and dream what is possible in our community through the church of Christ at St. John’s.

Another member suggested an additional option for those members who may not feel like journalling, who may not have their address in our rolls, or may just not be able to participate given the timeline, to create a Kudoboard, an online bulletin board where people can post their answers to the same questions.

Twelve journals are currently circling Olney, due back for Epiphany for us to celebrate our stories. An online Kudoboard is filling up with pictures and stories of the past, present, and future of St. John’s.

We are hopeful that the physical journal, the ease of an online board, and the invitation to see what church members are also our neighbors might bear good fruit in bringing us all a little closer and all feel a little more personally invited and invested into the vision of what God is and can do in our community through our parish.

The Rev. Shivaun Wilkinson
Chaplain, St. John’s, Olney