wondering aloud

i think i’ve always assumed that it’s people in the church who have the sacred stories to tell. People come to church when they’re “searching”, and we show them (walk with them, point the way) to where they might find salvation (in its broadest, most encompassing terms).

no doubt that’s true for many people … but i also keep being told these amazing sacred stories of redemption, transformation and grace by people “in the world”, who would never use the Christian story to make sense of them (in fact they’re often preceded with the words “I’m an atheist, but…”).

In conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, telling our stories to each other, he made the observation that for both of us our stories of transformation and conversion happened outside the church. Our biggest moments haven’t been in the church, or orchestrated by it. In fact, the major act of redemption in my life happened in spite of the church and the beliefs it proffered (and no, i’m not going to explain that further, at least not in the context of this post!). If that’s been the case for us, why am I so surprised that it’s like that for so many others? How much of our language (even the best language) and how much of our insistence on the Christian story being the way the story of salvation needs to be told, stops people from recognising its unfolding in their lives?

What if we began curating public ‘sacred’ spaces that assume people already have a story to tell – of longing or fulfilment, of agony or transformation… and that it can be told right where they are… that you don’t have to come to church to find it or tell it?

i’m not saying that’s the end point. i’m wondering aloud whether it might be the starting point.

[i wrote this last week… but wanted to put up the Age article first. I want to say that it’s not written in response to this post from Blair…!]


  1. Blair

    I hadn’t assumed my posts were that significant, cheryl 😉
    I reckon it’s a great move to create public spaces for expressing / telling about moments of significance.

    The thing I get out of church is connection with a story in which my individual moments of significance are lifted up and brought into conversation with (what I’m coming to believe is) the eternal story. Not swamped, or over-branded, or hijacked, or dismissed; because if that happens, then that’s abuse. But, lifted up, connected to, perhaps challenged or clarified, within a story that profoundly cares about my story.

    I know I don’t live up to that, even as a fledgling worship-leader myself, but I like to hold that as the ideal.

  2. Cheryl

    well, you said some pretty big stuff…!! and i didn’t want you to think i was being reactionary.

    i think what i’m saying is that the church rarely gives space to hear the stories of ‘others’ in worship, that we assume what the shape of the story should be, and the beliefs that should surround it. it’s probably part of my theology at the moment (which is not about doubt, at all, but about thinking of God’s actions beyond Christianity as we know it…)

    but i like how you define worship, and i look forward to seeing it… no pressure… really… 🙂

  3. I think that’s possibly one of the strongest things about “Alt-Worship” is the assumption that people bring with them their own stories of the sacred, their own experiences and allows them the space to reflect and/or share them with each other. one of my favourite things to do in installation worship is to create spaces where stories can be collected, added to, shared.

    I’m reminded of the ETERNITY display in the National Museum where they’ve got a number of installations dedicated to the human spirit of mystery, faith, fear, joy, dispair, each installation sharing the stories of 4 or 5 Australians who’s stories fit with that theme. At the end of the space are two computers with cameras connected and the invitation for whomever attends to share their story and become a part of the living display there.

    It’s actually interesting that when I hear that someone’s gone to the national art gallery I assume they’ve touched the sacred somehow, or it’s touched them and I ask about their experience, but if someone says they’ve gone to church I don’t automatically assume the same.

  4. Cheryl

    yep. i love the eternity example…

    i agree that the story thing is one of the primary things about alt worship… i’m thinking about the people who will never come to worship. what does it mean to honour their stories, without necessarily layering our meaning onto it?

  5. perhaps street art is an example of people’s stories bursting into the world, i hate using the word “secular” but its a way in which people’s spirituality and story has been able to explode and enter into the secular spaces, interestingly enough only to be pained over and cleaned up by the council before many people can access them.

    i also wonder how much blogging/journalling online has become a space for people to share their spiritual stories without the church, but with a number of strangers and peers and onlookers participating.

    there used to be a really cool show on sbs where a guy with a camera used to walk up to strangers on teh street and enter into conversations with them about their life story, sometimes to be faced with some incredible stuff, just in conversations with strangers on the street.

    i wonder if we could create a wall, a large wall, or an entire building… paint it white and invite people to share their stories on it with paint and stencil and pen for a fortnight, knowing that each week we’d repaint it white and start all over again…

    perhaps we think of a theme “what makes you happy?” or “what was your childhood dream” and allow people to use the space to interact with the question…

    just like one of those teddy bears on which we write meaningful thoughts at birthdays, we’d continue to write and engage with the space…

    sometimes we’d go outside with a camera and take pics, or interview the people participating in the space….

    thatd be a pretty cool community arts project, do it on the inside and outside of a building for 12 months as a massive community arts work, get alongside artists and particularly street artists to do it…

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