Friday, August 27, 2010

Storytelling As Healing

Pastor George Earle, Jr., senior pastor of the Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church, welcomed me into his office on a spring day, 2009. I remember it vividly.

He had heard the story of New Horizons’ successful reconciliation efforts that had healed a local Jewish/Muslim controversy (See Frederick News Post,August 18, 2006). And, that I had been directly responsible for it. You would have had to have had your head buried in sand not to have known the conflict part. It had filled the pages of the county newspapers for months.

"Wherever two or more are gathered,"
informal conversations can become
healing medicine for systemic change,
However, few knew the story of how it had been resolved. Only that our community-at-large had breathed a collective sigh of relief when "peace" had been announced, right after Thanksgiving that year (Frederick News Post, November, 2006).

I knew the behind-the-scenes story full-well. I had been the one to orchestrate it, bringing together local Jews and Muslims at a time of crisis. Nonetheless, I had not been at liberty to freely discuss what had occurred. And, was willing to speak only cautiously of it then, as we sat that day in Pastor George’s cozy office. It was April, 2009.

The particulars of that story are still yet to be told, And, then only when they can be offered, judiciously, in the service of advantage for the greater good. They await, yet, a more propitious time, not too far off. The behind-the-scenes story is an important one, offering valuable lessons from my personal experience and professional perspectives. Particularly given the present escalating controversy over the NYC mosque. To tell the whole of it requires a full-length book, (“The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard” is in process) to tell it as it just deserves. There are many particulars to the tale.

As with the “Saving Centennial” mission, resolving our local Jewish/Muslim was a process, played out for me on a day-to-day basis like a gigantic chess game. All about strategy. And conversing!

The point in my telling even this part of my story here has to do, not with Muslim and Jews. Or, indeed, any other of the myriad current facets and factions of American life that encourage daily media reports as pulp entertainment, the voyeurs that presently make up society – and our collective obsession with the so-called news.

Rather, my objective is to make the point that storytelling became the essence of the “awe;” the overcoming of polarization in a congregation that was divided. And, led to a congregation-wide systemic change that was "as good as money in the bank.”

The journey began as I shared my, rarely told, story about how I had orchestrated the resolve of our local Jewish/Muslim controversy. Pastor George’s story was about the division presently occurring in his church. By telling our stories, he and I crossed a bridge to one another with a hope that whatever I (and my volunteer team) had done to help our local Jewish and Muslim communities could be done for his church.

This was the beginning of a congregation-wide, strategically guided story-telling process. It went on for almost nine months. It centered on Pastor George, the key leaders in his church, his congregation-at-large -- and the New Horizons’ Small Zones of Peace” Core Volunteers.

During that time, everyone told their stories; stories about their love of this church, their hopes and their dreams for its future. And, of course their concerns. In formal group conversations, at the local coffee house -- and -- anywhere else where two or more were gathered. Storytelling became their medicine.

It caught on – and – became the thing to do to save Centennial. It would heal what was presently broken in his church. And, lead a church that had "little left to give" to money in the bank. It was just that simple. But not easy.

Often it was almost heart-wrenching. Yet, you could -- successfully -- do it yourself, if you are willing to take the time. And, care enough about something or someone.

The divided congregation of Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church did!

No comments:

Post a Comment