Public narrative helps Episcopalians find their voice in mission

July 7, 2009

Through the art of public narrative -- sharing your story and listening to others' stories -- Episcopalians can discern the challenges they are called to confront as a congregation, a community and a church, now and move into action.

"Public narrative is a language of mission," said Marshall Ganz, who teaches the process at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "It is a leadership art … accepting responsibility to enable others to achieve purpose in the face of doubt, uncertainty and challenge."

Ganz provided on July 7 an introduction to public narrative to more than one thousand bishops, deputies, visitors and guests attending General Convention. During the conference, which officially begins July 8, participants will be given the opportunity to learn it in three sessions.

The public narrative project is a direct response to resolution D043 passed by the 75th General Convention in 2006 that called for a dialogue on mission in the church, and is part of a Harvard University research project, said the Rev. Gregory Straub, executive officer and secretary of General Convention.

Diocesan representatives are encouraged to go through the public narrative project training as a group and take the skills home and adapt them to their diocese, churches and communities.

"Narrative, story telling, is how we learn to access the courage to confront the unknown, to make choices to act upon them, choices informed not only by our head, but by our hearts," Ganz said. "Narrative, then, is a way we can communicate our own values, experience the values that we share with one another and find the courage to confront challenges to those values that require action. Through public narrative, we learn to link our own calling to others, and action, in other words, it is a way to put Ubuntu into action"

(Ubuntu, a Zulu or Xhosa word that describes humaneness, caring, sharing, and being in harmony with all of creation, is the 2009 General Convention theme.)

The art of public narrative includes the "story of self," the "story of us" and the "story of now."

"The project doesn't end with General Convention," said the Rev. Michael Pipkin, the project's General Convention coordinator and priest-in-charge of the Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church, Virginia, adding that 200 public narrative coaches have been trained and will be deployed to the Church's 110 diocese to train others.

Conference attendees interested in public narrative are encouraged to attend the following three sessions:

  • Story of Self – Thursday, July 9 from 9:45 – 11:15 a.m.
  • Story of Us – Saturday, July 11 from 2 – 3:30 p.m.
  • Self – Us – Now, Monday, July 13 from 8 – 10 p.m.