At Gilead Church in Chicago, storytelling is central to worship

The Christian Century  April 9, 2019

Rebecca Anderson, a Disciples of Christ pastor, got an idea after attending a packing Moth event: ‘Do we not have a true story to tell in community?’” The former stand-up comic did her booming preacher impression when describing that epiphany. The insight eventually led to Anderson joining with her friend Vince Amlin, a United Church of Christ pastor, in starting a church in which telling stories is central.

Now in its third year, Gilead Church has met in several different venues, including a bar.

Emma Alamo telling a story during worship at Gilead Church in Chicago. Photo by Celeste Kennel-Shank / Christian Century.

The storytelling often begins after the opening song and welcome. A second story is told later in the service, before the prayers of the people and the sermon. The liturgy is not especially different from that of many UCC or Disciples congregations formed in recent decades. “We haven’t invented anything whole-cloth,” said Amlin.

After each story, the pastor says, “The word of God for the people of God,” and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” Gilead Church believes that everybody’s story is a God story. Amlin sees two parts to that claim: that “every person’s story is holy—no one is excluded from that. But also that every part of each person’s story is a God story.”

Susan Haarman, a former campus minister who is part of Gilead’s leadership team, connected the kind of storytelling Gilead does in worship to the element of anamnesis in the Eucharist—it’s about remembering and reliving at the same time.

“By remembering where grace moved in my life, I’m able to channel it and bring it into the room again,” she said, “and extend it to the people who are listening.”

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