Storied People: Narrative as a Means of Communal Healing in the Local Church

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Narrative identity is the process of discovering who we are by analyzing the stories that make up our lives and the stories of how we relate to the world around us. Unfortunately, this process is quickly derailed when unexpected events cause interruptions within the narrative and send our lives into unplanned directions. These interruptions could be tragic, welcome, or they could be anywhere in between. Regardless of the benefit or misfortune of these interruptions, they all require a re-calibration of our narrative to some degree.Just as individuals form their identities based on the stories contained within their own lives, communities are also shaped by their collective narratives, which are made up of shared accomplishments, struggles, and defeats. Each member of the community contributes to its unified story by allowing their own life to shape the communal narrative in some way. This is especially true within the community of a local church, where people share, not only their history, geography, and culture, but they also share a set of values and beliefs that they live out through the practice of corporal worship and collaborative mission. When the collective narrative of the faith community is not easily understood, or when it is interrupted by circumstances that challenge the identity of the community, it is necessary for the community to recalibrate once again proclaiming who they are, what they believe, and why they believe it. Since the days of the early Church, the process of narrative identity has been developed by the telling, hearing, and exchanging of personal testimonies— individual stories of how the community’s shared faith has made an impact on a particular individual’s life. In the case of Pierce Chapel Methodist Church, the church I currently serve as Senior Pastor, the community has been faced with several challenges in the last few years. These challenges include, but are not limited to: a deep divide over how to return from the COVID shutdown, the retirement of two long-tenured pastors, and disaffiliation from a denomination that the church had called home since 1968. In the wake of these events, I have challenged the church to re-discover their communal identity by encouraging them to hear and tell their individual stories. In the summer of 2023, I preached a sermon series called Storied People. The theme of each individual sermon is reflected in each respective chapter of this thesis. After each sermon was preached, I collected the stories of individual members from the congregation as they shared their own testimonies and experiences with each other. And, since this sermon series also took place in the weeks leading up to and following Pierce Chapel’s Heritage Sunday celebration, I conducted interviews for a narrative-based video presentation, to be shown that morning. I include many of the testimonies from that presentation in the following pages. Through this practice, I and the rest of the congregation found ourselves reexamining and better understanding our church's narrative identity.





Akin, Gerald Ray (2024). Storied People: Narrative as a Means of Communal Healing in the Local Church. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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