This afternoon, I was invited to be the guest speaker at a World Community Day Service. If you are like me and hadn't heard of such a service before, it is similar to the ecumenical World Day of Prayer services. A theme is set along with a liturgy, hymns and readings. The job of the guest speaker is to try and say something meaningful which reflects the theme and incorporates the readings.
The theme for 2017 was "Empowered to Proclaim (Love, Liberty and Life)". On first seeing this, I thought it was a very broad theme and wasn't sure where to begin. I then looked at the readings. The first was the story from Matthew of a woman anointing Jesus' head with oil. The second was the raising of Tabitha from Acts. The final reading was the story of the healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath from Luke. This was not helpful. Three huge stories about women. How could I do any of them justice in such a short space of time?
After much pondering, I decided to parallel each story with a story of a significant woman in my life. The three women I chose were vastly different and had effected me in various ways. I chose not to provide any analysis of the stories, but just to tell them with honesty, emotion and a touch of humour. To be honest, I wasn't sure if this would meet the expectations of the group who had given up their afternoon to be there. Having never experienced one of these services, I had no idea where the bar was set.
I needn't have worried. I should have realised the power of a personal story. People were obviously stirred, perhaps by relating part of my story to their own. People recognised their own ordinary stories as sacred, perhaps as a result of my holy holding of my own. As I shared a cuppa with some afterwards, the stories flowed easily between women who had only just met.
I thought I had taken the easy option in telling a few stories, but sharing of yourself is never without some cost. For me, it is much more tiring to share personal stories than to stick to a more removed style of preaching. The process, however, is extremely meaningful. The stories come alive in a new way, not only for the listener, but for the storyteller as well.