Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead the whole service in my placement church. Not a big problem – it’s something I’ve done many times. That said, being somewhere new has the added pressures of not knowing what they know, not knowing how recently they may have covered the chosen passage (an advantage of following the lectionary), whether you are about to utterly contradict previous teaching or whether you’re getting too close to personal/pastoral issues. On the plus side, such pressures do help focus the mind and maybe force you to take that bit extra care of how something is worded.
Anyway, it all seemed to go well enough and, despite having two video clips to show (one mine, one for the Christmas Gift Sunday appeal) there didn’t seem to be any technical gremlins. I was preaching from a favourite passage but with a completely different slant on it than previous times I’ve used it (which is why it’s a favourite, there’s always something new in it). That also helped to be more relaxed. Afterwards, at the door, there was the usual encouragement and the usual “lovely service” comments – which are frustrating, but just the way it is. However, there is a small group in the congregation who have been asked to give me more ‘honest’ and constructive feedback and it wasn’t long before I was nabbed for a ‘wee chat’.
Actually it was all good (mostly), with the interesting observation that I appeared much more relaxed and confident while I was doing the all-age talk and preaching than at other times in the service. Probably fair comment – that’s when I feel most ‘at home’ and doing what I feel called to do.
There was one comment though that got me thinking and it’s something I am aware of and struggle with to a degree – anecdotes.
I thoroughly despise ‘canned’ anecdotes. Chances are everyone has already heard them or read them on the internet months before. And, to be fair, I haven’t worked with a supervisor yet who ‘approves’ of them. But I also struggle with personal anecdotes. It’s not an issue of sharing them or exposing my soul or anything like that, it’s just that they’re my anecdotes and I don’t always see how they would be of interest to others. I’m not particularly shy or lacking in life-experience either. I also fully appreciate the value of a personal anecdote – but generally I’m thinking of someone else’s. Such personal stories help illustrate a Biblical passage; they make it more relevant; they make ‘ownership’ of the story easier.
I’m not a natural storyteller (at least I don’t think I am). I’m a ‘teacher’. I can explain and expound; I can (I hope) enthuse and illuminate; but I struggle to tell a story. I can contemporise, giving examples of where one might find a similar situation or come across a similar dilemma or moral issue. But I generally assume (or hope) that in such a process, those who are listening can begin to relate it to their own experience and not rely on mine (or my lack of it).
Students are often told of how important it is to find their own voice. How do I find my hidden story-teller?