Alexus uses art to explore the mystery of how God moves. Her artistic medium is storytelling for adults. She firmly believes that the power of story is what brings us together.
Alexus’ first assignment out of seminary was to be a curator of worship at a UMC church plant in Phoenix, AZ. Her role was to infuse their Sunday morning worship experience with art. She wanted people to hear the message in a different way. However, she did not feel that formal congregational ministry was where she was ultimately called.
She wanted to be home and be able to, in her words, “create what was not present.” She left Phoenix and headed east until she felt like she was in the right place, which happened to be Raleigh, North Carolina. There she founded her storytelling practice called Truth Meets Story LLC. Alexus met with city officials and faith leaders who wanted to host a city-wide monthly storytelling event to help bring people together through the power of story.
She also met with a local jazz club owner who had no Sunday-night programming and agreed to host storytelling events. Adult storytelling is not “adult” in the salacious sense of the word, but as she puts it, “people with a developed context.” Storytellers make no apologies for the use of adult language and the sharing of adult experiences. The name of the event was “Jesus, Jazz, and Dessert Wine: A Night of Faith and Adult Storytelling.” It was sold out, and then COVID-19 hit.
Alexus also obtained a contract with the city to host the virtual event #TheBounceBackRDU, a storytelling event for Juneteenth featuring Black storytellers sharing about a time they fell down but didn’t stay down—they bounced back. Alexus wrote and directed “Call & Response,” a one-act play featured in the NC Women’s Theater Festival. It is based on a childhood memory about a woman who heard the voice of God telling her that she would be married by the end of the year even though she hadn’t dated anyone in years. Is it “faith or foolishness?”
This innovative leader has found that people who are already connected and settled in their faith have many different spaces and places to go. They have their favorite pastor, author, musicians, and others. She is very much concerned about people who are perhaps searching but decide they are fine without God or a church home base. Faith is also for those who seek spirituality in other places, ask bold questions, or who think Christians are goofy. For her, stories are the easiest way into a conversation involving faith with someone because stories are immediately accessible and they do not necessarily put people off by using Christian terms and language. She recounted a story of a dinner and discussion group she joined on Meetup.com where she quickly realized she was the only Christian there. She introduced herself as “a person for whom God is particularized in the person of Jesus Christ.”
Alexus has found operating inside traditional ministry spaces to be very limiting to her. When she hears the word “ministry” she feels that she needs to package herself differently. “Ministry equals pantyhose,” she said, meaning that our traditional understanding of ministry is very limiting, especially for women. While at Fuller Seminary, she felt it would be limiting to pour herself into a system that did not feel authentic for her. She wanted to go into the world and meet needs according to the gifts of her own insight. Alexus met with a spiritual director and was able to gain the insight that she doesn’t subscribe to Christian subculture, which was the affirmation she needed to branch out and follow the leading of the Spirit.
The key practice that Alexus discussed was embracing mystery. She said that no one wants to embrace mystery because it is too unsettling. We want to know. But she feels that embracing mystery is essential. Alexus wants people to realize that God is present in all the spaces we occupy, not just our traditional church spaces, and mystery is essential for this. She learned how to embrace mystery in her own life while going through a difficult period that involved the death of a niece and a divorce in the same year. During this time she found that certainty did not work in her life; she had to embrace mystery. She describes it in more poetic terms like holy anxiety or holy mystery rooted in prophetic imagination. When trying to discover people’s needs in the places and spaces she engages, she tries to give people agency. She wants people to tell her what their needs are and then do what she can to try to provide for those needs. Letting others take the lead in the conversations she has with people is a way to embrace the mystery of the other person.
Story is a powerful medium to bring people together. Stories can provide many different and rich avenues for discussion, building empathy, and finding solutions. Storytelling also creates space to embrace mystery and to hold the mystery of the storyteller. At storytelling events and in organic conversation Alexus makes a point of curating a safe space for the storyteller in order to facilitate the connections made.
Inspiring God, write the stories of your people in our hearts. Help us listen to the stories we hear and become more comfortable with mystery, so that we may encounter the holy mystery of someone else. Help us see ourselves in your story and tell your story in new and powerful ways so that the world may know we are still part of your story. Amen.
Try these practices out in your community with the Seeds Resource, a practice adaptable for online ministry.
About the Author
Timothy Bowman is an ELCA pastor currently serving in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod along with his wife, Allyson. Most recently serving as Associate Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Mankato, MN, he is now serving Grace Lutheran Church in Nerstrand, MN, and also serves as a board member of Crossroads Campus Ministry at Minnesota State Mankato. Tim has an MDiv (Luther Seminary) and a BA (Bethel University). As part of the Seeds Project Tim is partnering with Luther Seminary’s Faith+Lead platform as a Digital Journalist working to share the stories of identified Innovators on Faith+Lead.
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Ministering to Grieving People
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