[column width="1/1" last="true" title="" title_type="single" animation="none" implicit="true"] Tim finds that his two roles as a professional storyteller and minister strengthen each other
As human beings, we need stories to help us understand ourselves. They help us to make sense of our own experience, and to appreciate why others behave as they do. Yet often in modern life, we don’t make time to deeply listen to stories — or to contemplate their significance. I run workshops exploring archetypes and characters in myth, and it’s very satisfying to be able to hold the space for the stories, the ritual, and for meditation in the same workshop.
For a long time, storytelling and ministry seemed separate to me. I found my storytelling had an egotistical element, while ministry happened in a far more sincere and reflective space, not about performance at all. But I found my minister training enabled me, as a storyteller, to speak from a much more grounded place, and to explore more complex themes. It also helped me appreciate more deeply just what a rich repertoire of stories and myths I have to support me as a minister.
They came together beautifully in preparing the story of David and Jonathan. I first worked on this story for the bible studies department of Sheffield University, as part of a day exploring sexual diversity. I’m a straight man, so I talked to LGBT colleagues from my OneSpirit training. They pointed me towards the story of David and Jonathan from Samuel I & II, and they gave me precious insights into how some of their modern-day experiences echoed those of the historical figures. My version of the story of David and Jonathan is interspersed with these shorter (anonymised) modern-day stories of minister colleagues.
This is the essence of storytelling — exploring our shared human experience. I’m now touring with this ancient story, which is more compellingly relevant to the modern world. Hearing about people’s actual lived reality, the audience shares in important universal experiences like anger, loss and grief, and is able to connect with the characters of David and Jonathan. Without my training as a minister, I doubt I’d have been brave enough to explore these tender places, or grounded enough to express a sense of the sacred. I now know that storytelling can be a sacred ritual.
I also help people step back, and touch into what really excites them. For example, the process of academic life in general excludes the whole human being. I’ve worked with PhD students and lecturers who increasingly are expected by their universities to present their research to a wider public. I coach them to include not just their research results and insights, but why it’s important, why they care about it, what led them into the field in the first place. Some say this has totally changed their approach to lecturing. They’re able to bring a stronger sense of themselves into their work, and have greater confidence and enthusiasm.
Taking ownership of one’s life by story-ing it, could work in other fields. I’m fascinated by the possibilities in the realm of illness and health, and social care. We know people find it empowering if they can take ownership of an illness or setback by incorporating it into their personal history. Supporting people to look deeply and tell their own stories could help to bring the humanity back into health care.
Tim Ralphs was ordained in 2013, and lives in Nottinghamshire. Interview and write-up by Rob MacLachlan, September 2015.