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Sacred story telling

Woodhull congregation gathers faith stories, publishes book

August 9, 2013

Emily Enders Odom (center) moderated the workshop “Getting and Telling Faith Stories,” at Big Tent

Emily Enders Odom (center) moderated the workshop “Getting and Telling Faith Stories,” at Big Tent —Danny Bolin

LOUISVILLE

Evangelism could be as simple as telling stories. How difficult could that be? 

It isn’t necessarily easy, but the congregation of United Church of Woodhull, Ill., would tell you the effort has been worth it. 

Cheyanna Losey, pastor of United Church, and a few of the members of the congregation, shared their role in collecting and ultimately publishing the faith stories of those who worship in the church. 

They described producing Everyone Has a Place in God’s Choir, a collection of faith stories of the Woodhull congregation that was self-published in 2012. 

Emily Enders Odom, who moderated the workshop, “Getting and Telling Faith Stories,” at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Big Tent here Aug. 1-3 reminded those in the workshop that “it’s not about technology, it’s about telling the story.” Odom also pointed out growing congregations “are those that are telling stories” of their faith. 

The storytelling at United Church began in 2011, but the process dates back to 2009 when the church’s session and Losey agreed to work together in her effort to earn a doctorate in ministry at the University of Dubuque (Iowa) Theological Seminary. “Through the process of study, prayer and discussion we came to the decision to create a book of testimonies, which has become this beautiful unique book,” Losey wrote, introducing the book. 

The book contains stories from 105 authors in the congregation, but after a little over four months of collecting stories from August through December of 2011, there were only three or four submissions, Losey said. 

Worship proved to be the key element in collecting more stories, Losey said. “For us, it was definitely worship,” she said – that and her tenacity. She continued to ask for submissions and the congregation used worship time to collect stories. 

Losey wouldn’t give up. If someone said they couldn’t tell their story, Losey encouraged them to write it. If someone said they couldn’t write their story, she said, “Talk to me, and I’ll write it.” 

“Everything was based in worship,” Losey said, adding that the she “learned worship was the surest way to connect this project to the worshiping community.” But she also sought submissions through bulletin inserts, Facebook, regular mail and phone calls. 

The book’s more than 200 pages include stories several pages in length and some that are just one or two lines, such as this one in answer to the question: How do you know that Jesus loves you? A little girl responds, “He made the sky my favorite color. He made the sun to keep me warm.” 

To date, the 150-member congregation has distributed 500 books. 

The PC(USA)’s Big Tent, which ran Aug. 1-3 here, celebrated its mission and ministry under the theme, “Putting God’s First Things First.” The event included 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events that marked the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.

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