Storytelling New Life into Biblical Texts

I read this article and wanted to pass it on. To read the complete article, click on the link below. In the meantime, have you ever heard the Bible stories told to you? Is it different than having them read to you? If so, what is different?

By Sharon Sheridan, Episcopal News Service

Never underestimate the power of a well-told story.

The Rev. Adam Bartholomew was converted to biblical storytelling when the Rev. Thomas Boomershine asked him to serve as his audience while he prepared an audiotape of Mark’s Passion narrative as part of his dissertation at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where both were students in the 1970s. First Boomershine read the narrative. Then he told it.

“I was absolutely astonished at the difference. That converted me,” said Bartholomew, a former United Church of Christ minister and now Episcopal priest-in-charge at Church of the Ascension in Mount Vernon, New York .

Bartholomew went on to help Boomershine, an ordained United Methodist elder, launch the ecumenical Network of Biblical Storytellers International. The organization offers resources, a certification program for storytellers and master storytellers, and an annual Festival Gathering for tellers of biblical stories and those who enjoy hearing them.

Biblical storytellers perform the narratives — and even the epistles — of Scripture in many venues, including worship services, conferences, workshops, retreats and Lenten programs. Their foundation is the words of the Bible.

But the experience of hearing the story told is entirely different from hearing it read, The Rev. Dina Ferguson said. “A book puts a barrier between the person who is reading and the rest of the audience. Storytelling is a very intimate kind of an experience where that person stands in the middle and engages in the experience in the telling.”

Not everyone embraces substituting storytelling for reading the week’s lessons.

“There is a lot of resistance in the clergy because we’re educated not to do this,” Bartholomew said. “In no other part of the liturgy do you want to do something in as deadly a manner as we tend to do Scripture, and it’s a sad waste of not only a resource but the most important resource we have in the church, the most foundational resource.”

The Academy for Biblical Storytelling offers a one-year storytelling certification, with an option for a second year to earn certification as a master storyteller, explained Tracy Radosevic, professional storyteller and academy dean. Most study occurs remotely, with students reading books, writing papers and submitting videotapes for critique. Students meet face-to-face twice a year, including for three days after the annual festival gathering.

So far, a few dozen storytellers have been certified. Six became master storytellers, and four more are in the master’s program, Radosevic said. Cost is $2,000 per year, which includes registration and seven nights’ accommodation at the annual festival.

This year’s festival theme was “How Many Times: Stories of Forgiveness” and will include the study and telling of three Bible stories about forgiveness. More than 200 storytellers and story lovers attend the annual gathering each year, Radosevic said. They represent a fairly equal mix of men and women, clergy and laity, members and “newbies,” and a range of denominations, she said. They range from pastors to church school teachers to grandparents who want to make sure their grandchildren know the stories “and realize telling is more engaging than reading.”

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