Author: Brian Emmet, New Covenant School Chaplain
Each day at New Covenant School’s elementary program begins with us gathered as a community in worship. We say about ourselves “before we are a learning community, we are first a worshipping community.” One of the distinctives of our daily worship is storytelling.
Jesus told stories—a lot of them (we now refer to them as “parables.”) Many of the stories that have formed our culture were Jesus’ stories: the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan, the sheep and the goats, a city set on a hill.
Jesus told stories because, as human beings, we are made for stories: we tell stories, we live within stories, and our lives are story-patterned. We are surrounded by stories, immersed in them: every ad we see (and we see a lot of ads every day) invites us into a particular story. The movies and videos we spend billions of dollars watching tell stories, as does much of the music we listen to. Why are stories so vital—why would a school want to include storytelling as part of its daily worship of God?
Stories stimulate wonder and nourish imagination. Stories invite everyone in (“Who wants to hear a great story? We do!”), thereby building and sustaining communities. Stories help impart identity: we are the nation whose founders crossed an ocean to establish a city on a hill … we are the nation that needed to fight a terrible civil war to attempt to cleanse ourselves of the evil of slavery… we are the people who put a man on the moon: we can do anything!
The very best stories root us into God’s Story: as we tell and listen to them, they re-member us, that is, they make us members again within God’s good story. It’s the story of God’s good creation, of humans being given the awesome responsibility to steward that creation into fruitfulness, of humans tasked to be rulers and priests, representing God and God’s kingdom to Creation, and presenting Creation’s gifts in joyful, grateful celebration to God. It’s a story of rebellion, a “fall,” a story of sin and death, of stewards turning into vandals and thieves… of God initiating a rescue operation through Abraham, promising him that God would bless all the families of the earth through Abraham … of the long, complicated story of Israel, a story that comes to a point, comes to its fulfillment, in Jesus of Nazareth … the story of God reconciling all things through a crucifixion—and a resurrection—and a promise of a new heaven and earth. It is the story that answers the prayer, “Let your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Children do not live on bread alone; they need to be nourished by stories that enfold them into the Story of God.