Choosing, Telling and Bringing Stories to Life in Worship
Offered as part of the 2015 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly., June 25, 2015. (Recordings are available to GA 2015 registered participants here, and to non-participants for a fee)
Stories are a powerful tool in worship, especially multigenerational worship. Laden with images, metaphors, playfulness, and truth, story provides a common language and shared experience across different generations and theologies. More than just teaching storytelling skills, our workshop will focus specifically on how to integrate meaningful stories into worship. See below for resources to use in your own congregations.
Top Ten Folktales
Ten excellent folktales for use in Unitarian Universalist worship. (With a Big Question highlighting theological or philosophical themes)
Water Bearer's Garden (UU & Me, p. 41) Origin: India
A man ferries water in two pots, one of which is cracked and leaks. Over time, though it carries less water to his final destination, it waters the flower garden he has planted along his route, offering great beauty.
✯ Big Question: Beyond what is expected of you, what is your real work in the world?
#imperfection #limitations #acceptance #purpose
The Retiring Carpenter (author unknown) Origin: unknown
A weary carpenter is commissioned to build one final house before retiring, cuts corners, and is then given the house as a gift.
✯ Big Question: What would help you bring your best self, and full presence, to the tasks before you?
#integrity #purpose #intentionality
The Empty Pot (retold by Elaine Lindy; popularized in the picture book The Empty Pot, by Demi) Origin: China
The Emperor holds a gardening contest and discovers that all but one small child is willing to lie to win. The child’s honesty earns him the throne.
✯ Big Question: When are you afraid to tell the truth? What helps you tell it anyway?
Water, Not Wine (Doorways to the Soul, ed. Elisa Davy Pearmain, p. 66; full multigenerational service available online, from Story, Song and Spirit, by Erika Hewitt, p. 1) Origin: West Africa and China.
When the whole community is invited to a feast and all they need to bring is wine, one man reasons that if he contributes only water no one will notice. Unfortunately, many others have the same plan.
✯ Big Question: How do our choices and behavior change when we understand our actions matter?
The Three Questions (Tolstoy; popularized in the picture book The Three Questions, by Jon J. Muth) Origin: Russian
A wise man helps a king interpret his lived experience to determine the answers to three significant moral questions.
✯ Big Question: What helps you remember to be present and kind, giving the gift of your attention to the matter or person at hand?
#morality #mindfulness #kindness
Buried Treasure (Doorways to the Soul, ed. Elisa Davy Pearmain, p. 29; Also at uua.org as The Farmer's Legacy) Origin: Sufi
Four lazy brothers are excited by their dying father's claim that there is buried treasure in their fields. The treasure they find is even more sustaining than they expected.
✯ Big Question: Where is the best, most sustaining place to put your energies?
#working together #effort #sustainability
Rabbi on the Train (Yom Kippur Readings: Inspiration, Information and Contemplation, by Dov Peretz Elkins and Arthur Green, p. 77) Origin: Hasidic
Two travelers deride a poor man on a train only to find out that he is actually a well-regarded rabbi they were traveling to visit. When they beg his forgiveness, he tells them forgiveness is not his to give and directs them back to the poor man they insulted.
✯ Big Question: How do you make amends when you've missed the mark? What are the conditions that make forgiveness possible?
Leave Your Name on the Door (Doorways to the Soul, ed. Elisa Davy Pearmain, p. 10) Origin: Middle East
In frustration over a missed appointment with Nasrudin, a man leaves a note for "Stupid Oaf." Nasrudin finds the note and seeks out the man, saying he was reminded of the appointment when he saw the man's name on his door.
✯ Big Question: What steps can you take to keep your anger from coming back to haunt you?
The Caged Bird (Rumi) Origin: Sufi
A caged bird wins her freedom through the clever assistance of a faraway relative.
✯ Big Question: How can you be mindful of your own collusion in oppressive systems? How can you use your privilege for good?
#solidarity #freedom #oppression
The Tree of Sorrows (Doorways to the Soul, ed. Elisa Davy Pearmain, p. 71) Origin: Jewish
People are invited to leave their sorrows in a bundle from the branch of a tree if they agree to take a bundle. After examining all the other bundles, each retrieves their own bundle after all.
✯ Big Question: How can you cultivate and maintain a compassionate heart?
Download a pdf version of the slides from our workshop here
Worship Planning Worksheet
Use this worksheet to help plan worship with your whole program staff team. These guiding questions help focus your efforts to produce cohesive and vibrant worship services.
Image Brainstorming Worksheet
Create spirited worship by cultivating images that bring the message of your service into the hearts and lives of your congregants.
UUA's Worship Web — The Worship Web's story page includes a treasure trove of stories, while the storytelling page features more about using stories in worship.
A Good Telling, by Kristin Maier — In this excellent book, Maier walks the reader through all the steps of preparing a story for worship. Visit Maier's youtube channel for more storytelling tips.
Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World, ed. Elisa Davy Pearmain — Pearmain's book is a fantastic resource not only for excellent stories, but also framing and contextual understanding.
Story, Song and Spirit, by Erika Hewitt — Hewitt's book includes full multigenerational worship scripts to celebrate and mark Unitarian Universalist seasons and rituals.
Rev. Erika Hewitt is a UU minister, a vibrant storyteller, and an enthusiastic wedding officiant. She is the author of Story, Song and Spirit: Fun and Creative Worship Services for All Ages and The Shared Pulpit: A Sermon Seminar for Lay People, both published by Skinner House Books.
Becky Brooks, M.Div. is a religious educator and freelance writer. She has created stories for worship and lesson plans for all ages on a number of topics, including spiritual practices, social justice, and theology. She is currently working on Common Converse, a project to bring thematic ministry out into the wild, beyond congregational life.
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