Saints, Crises and Other Memories that Energize the Church

Dudley, Carl S. “Saints, Crises and Other Memories that Energize the Church.” Presentation to SCUPE Congress, Chicago, IL., April 13, 1988.

Director Carl Dudley of the Church and Community Project contends that congregations engage in social ministry neither on the basis of theological nor policy statements but rather out of the people’s common heritage and story. Reflecting on the insights of James Hopewell, Dudley defines narrative as “the natural language of the parish” and the avenue by which congregations recall their past in order to shape their future. Project findings reveal two elements common to congregational stories and ministry engagement. First, stories mobilize congregations to social action by appealing to sources of authority from its past. These sources include: (1) “saints” or influential people of the church; (2) issues and crises; (3) ethnic and communal struggles; (4) religious traditions; and (5) institutional structures. <p> Second, congregational stories express ministry commitments by exposing how the congregation sees itself in relation to continuity and change in its community. Two pairs of images characterize the attitude of these stories: (1) survivors and crusaders, and (2) pillars and pilgrims. Servant churches combine the best of both models. Servant stories also serve as the common ground for the most effective partnerships among participating congregations. At the same time, partnerships are stronger when the stories of the individual churches are at least similar in source or expression.