November 23, 2011

The Power of Our Stories

In connection with this year’s Annual Council more than 100 world church leaders embarked on an Adventist Heritage/Spirit of Prophecy tour coordinated by the General Conference Office of the President and the Ellen G. White Estate. The purpose of the tour was to deepen the understanding and appreciation of the pioneers and roots of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Routed through the eastern United States—New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont—the tour visited churches, home sites, cemeteries, and locales where significant events in the early Advent movement took place.
A Story Tour
Our guides focused not on dry, sterile facts but on stories. Time and again we heard touching stories of the incredible manner in which God used ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Through stories we experienced the ethos of the early believers in the Advent movement. Stories allowed us to share the pain, pleasure, and pathos of the pioneers who were driven by a deep passion for Christ and a love of His Word.
Each story had its own drama that provided a vignette about the characters who were instrumental in facilitating the early formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Interwoven among the many site stops were profound insights about the ways of God, who uses the providence of place, people, and, yes, sometimes politics to accomplish His will.
We heard stories about the inimical habits of Joseph Bates, his discovery and sharing of the Sabbath; about Ellen White, her siblings, and early-childhood experiences; about James White and his parents; about James and Ellen White, their meeting, their ministry, and their decision to be married; about siblings Annie and Uriah Smith, their birthplace, and one of their homes. Poignant stories were shared about Uriah Smith and his interactions with Ellen White and other church leaders.
Two high points of the trip were a dedication service at the Washington, New Hampshire, Seventh-day Adventist Church (often referred to as the birthplace of Adventism), in which we recommitted ourselves to sharing more widely the distinctive messages of Revelation 14; and a Sabbath worship and Communion service held at the William Miller Chapel in Low Hampton, New York, a focal point of the Advent movement.
Science of Storytelling
Those who study narrative intelligence, or the science of storytelling, share that stories are more than dramas people tell or read. Stories, as a pattern, are a powerful way of organizing and sharing individual experience and exploring and cocreating shared realties. Storytelling forms one of the underlying structures of reality. One reason the Bible remains so popular today is that it is full of stories. Christ taught people through parables and stories (see Matt. 13).
The four-day tour powerfully illustrated the value of storytelling, and led to a new understanding of what is referred to as “story reality,” the recognition that every person, everything has a story and contains stories, and is, in fact, a story. Indeed, we intuitively know that all stories somehow interconnect; that we are all part of the story of redemption that will ultimately end in the second coming of Christ, only to begin a final, glorious, eternal story.
Value of Stories
Ellen White said this about recounting the stories of our pioneers: “Again and again I have been shown that the past experiences of God’s people are not to be counted as dead facts. We are not to treat the record of these experiences as we would treat a last-year’s almanac” (to A. G. Daniells; letter 238, 1903 [Nov. 1]).
The stories of those who lived before us provide insight on how we can better understand and best pursue the mission that inspired our predecessors. It also is a reminder that we, too, have a story to tell, a story of how God has moved in our own lives.
Delbert W. Baker is a general vice president of the General Conference. This article was published November 24, 2011.