15 April 2020
Bridges through story telling
By the Revd Dr Barbara Glasson
This article first appeared in the Methodist Recorder on 21 February
I am on the train from Andover to Matlock, having been at the tri-service chaplains’ Conference. Here the Methodist presbyters and lay workers appointed to serve in the army, RAF or Royal Navy have been meeting for the past three days to catch up, recuperate and challenge each other and to reflect on what it means to be a pastor to men and women serving in British forces deployed to some of the world’s most conflicted places. They are an impressive bunch!
Naturally we were reflecting on the Presidential theme of story telling. One member of the group noted that stories are often told on thresholds. He recounted how his troops often ‘made confession’ before going into combat. They needed to tell things that they had never disclosed before and to be reconciled in some way in the face of their own mortality. He described his own ‘threshold ministry’.
In a much less dramatic way I have also noted that stories tend to be told on thresholds. Church doorsteps on a Sunday morning being a case in point! But also manse doorsteps or before getting in or out of a car, in the doctors waiting room or at the end of a pastoral visit. And of course, within the ‘thresholds’ of rites of passage - from wedding speeches to funeral eulogies. In this way we tell stories to mark transitions, they act as bridges.
Stories can also act as bridges between people who are trying to relate differently. We don’t usually reason or argue our way into relationships but rather we tell stories that bring points of connection, causing another to nod and smile at the insights a story gives to our shared humanity. This is very much the case for me in my ordinary work at Touchstone as the staff team works together to increase interfaith understanding and respect. We don’t argue the creeds or doctrines with our Muslim neighbours, we simply find space to share human and faith stories which can be received as bridges to help us see each other differently.
Of course, Jesus was up to this all the time, taking potentially confrontational situations and hunkering down to tell stories of the kingdom that he embodied. He didn’t reduce faith to a formula or doctrinal statement, rather opened the door on a new way of seeing things, invited us to stand at the threshold of the kingdom and to step out into the light of God’s love. Such visions will cause us to confess but also to relish the paradigm shift that this relationship with Jesus offers.