Incorporating Storytelling and Expressive Arts in Worship

Aug 2, 2022 9:00:00 AM / by Rev. Carla Wilson

During the summer, the congregation I serve has a tradition of taking the children’s sermon out of the service. After all, faith formation isn’t meeting and we don’t need the message presented in a way we will reinforce later. Why not shorten our time in the pews so we can get back to the sunshine of summer vacation? As we have resumed meeting in person and have had a chance to receive more informal feedback, our leadership team was surprised to learn that not only our children, but also our adults deeply miss the chance for applied, storytelling-style reinforcement of a biblical message, particularly our members from traditionally marginalized communities and immigrant backgrounds. Conversation revealed that in many, if not most, global traditions, ritual and learning are deeply connected with storytelling and the expressive arts. Traditions that are centuries older than Christianity have used dance, song, recitation, and theater to deepen and reinforce learning in ways that are easy to remember and more likely to be passed on and shared across generations.

Many Lutheran congregations and youth leaders are well aware that physical action that’s connected to learning creates pathways in the brain that help young children across developmental phases understand and integrate new concepts. We don’t just learn the name of a biblical figure; we sing a song with their name, or we color a picture or make a craft that keeps the story memorable. To make our practice culturally meaningful as well as brain- and body development–oriented, I invite us to explore the traditions of Native American and other Indigenous populations. 

Turning toward the Yoruba and creole tradition of my own ancestors, percussion and unison dance (often barefoot or outdoors) builds community and reinforces our connection with the earth and God's creation. Art is perceived as creative expression and also as prayer. The act of making is sacred. The materials are blessed and prayer that the Holy Spirit inspire us in the making is vital to the process. Storytelling is a form of communion. When we retell the stories of our ancestors, we honor them and remember we remain united with them in God. How would your process, preparation, and activity selection be affected if you used craft and storytime as sacred rituals that likely have deep cultural roots and special impact for immigrant or multicultural communities? How might we make learning spaces even more intentional and Spirit-filled? I invite you to celebrate the rich well of our many diverse heritages as you shape your upcoming program years. May the ancestors’ prayers continue to bless you!

Topics: worship

Rev. Carla Wilson

Written by Rev. Carla Wilson

Still a professional diversity trainer and cultural competency consultant, The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson also serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA. A former Poet Laureate of York, Pennsylvania and an adoring dog mom, Carla lives in Lancaster, PA with her family.


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