It is always exciting to us to hear from those of you in homes and churches who are using stories in creative and engaging ways. On our new site, we wanted to be able to share some of those stories with you! Today we welcome guest blogger Anna Ostenso.
Every Sunday during worship at Nativity Episcopal Church in Burnsville, Minnesota I read a storybook with my congregation, and invite people of all ages to wonder where God is in the story. Rarely do the stories I choose mention God by name, but I believe they are all Sacred.
Why illustrated stories for worship? I believe in the process of wondering and the power of our Sacred Stories: the stories of our Scripture, the stories of our denominations’ traditions, the stories of our own faith journey and the stories found in our culture like the books I read. I believe that in these stories, God is present. As these Sacred Stories interweave, a fuller expression of God is invited into our lives and the world.
I believe as a congregation we are called to respect that children know God in their own way. We are called to pass onto our children our love of our faiths’ Sacred Stories and give them tools like vocabulary and spiritual practices to enable them to explore and articulate their faiths. And, we are called to equip their families with practices to authentically live their faith at home.
Storytime at Nativity is an integral part of this theology.
Storytime is placed in between the Peace and the Offering in the Episcopal liturgy with an invitation to all who want to come forward to be closer to the illustrations. (Calling it “storytime” acknowledges that it is not just for children, but that adult faiths can be enriched too.) As I set my wooden stool in front of the altar, bold children dash up, others bring their parents, teens congregate and an adult or two moves further forward in the pews. A cordless microphone allows my reading to be heard by all throughout our large sanctuary.
Entrusting the children’s ability to understand the Holy, my introduction to the story is simple: “To continue to wonder about what we have heard and experienced in worship today, we will read [book title] by [author’s name] illustrated by [illustrator’s name].”
I turn my eyes to the story and begin. As I read, I employ the same technique Godly Play storytellers use of looking at the story until the end. This practice draws the attention to the story and illustrations rather than to the storyteller. Occasionally, very young children fidget and moves around, but if I do not direct my attention to them others are very rarely distracted by them. As I read, I trust the words and illustrations and lose myself in reading, never offering personal commentary. When the story ends I look at the children and say: “I wonder where God is in the story.”
I do not believe in a “take-home” point because it limits our personal responsibility to look for God in the story. Many Sundays,congregants – youngand old – haveshared their sense of God’s presence in ways that I would not have seen if I had imposed such limits.After we sit with the wonder a moment, worship flows into the Offertory followed by one of our greatest Sacred Stories in the Holy Eucharist. And we are left wondering: where is God in this story?
Anna Ostenso serves as Director of Faith Formation at Nativity Episcopal Church, Burnsville, MN. One of the greatest joys of her ministry is reading storybooks to her congregation, young and old, during worship every Sunday. Anna enjoys reading books with a combination of humor and wonder, especially those by Peter Brown, Mo Willems, Shannon Hale and Lane Smith.