“I am from a world full of wondrous things with diverse, kind people everywhere.”

“I am from a steel mill town.”

“I am from a place where the smell of seaweed, wild beach roses and horses mingle. Where open fields and well-worn paths all take you to the sea. Where the sky is the bluest blue. Listen carefully and you will hear bagpipes in the distance… over the cries of gulls and the pounding of the surf.”

The above statements are just a sampling of story sharing at the 2018 Spring Conference, held Saturday, May 18 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salinas. Attendees from across the diocese learned about the power of story sharing, how it differs from storytelling, and how stories can be used to make connections, share God’s love and more.

“Stories are a great way to build community, to create relationships,” said the Rev. Hershey Mallette Stephens, Project Coordinator for Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care for the Episcopal Church. Stephens is currently working with the Presiding Bishop’s Office of Evangelism to collect the stories of Episcopalians around the country as the project lead for the Brave Listening Campaign. She was joined by fellow “storyweavers” Parker Garrett and Brandon Lee Stuart to guide the interactive conference.

The trio encouraged attendees to put prayerful effort into remembering and telling their stories, as they can “be a wellspring of spiritual wisdom and become an effective tool for evangelism and reconciliation.” The speakers led the group in small group exercises called “Where I’m from” and “Story Circle training.” In the latter, small groups split into pairs who shared individual stories and then relayed those stories to the group using the voice of the original storyteller. Other learnings included instructions for “listening out loud.”

“Our life experiences are uniquely ours, and stories of our faith help us to claim that our experience with God is uniquely ours,” said Stephens. “The stories that we tell inform us and they talk truths. They can get us thru apprehension and tough times.”

The trio explained that storytelling is typically one-sided — designed to shape understanding, to persuade or convince — while story sharing is relational, engaging and builds an inclusive environment.

“It was beautiful to walk into this space and be met with excitement, enthusiasm and openness,” said Garrett after the conference. “We got to play together and get vulnerable and be creative and imagine all sorts of ways to use stories in different contexts.”

“I hope people walk away with the understanding that anyone can use a story to get to know the people in their community,” she added, “to get closer to people you think you’ve known for years, and to transform the way you see the world.”