Gathering the Abundance: Stories and Transformation

This is a resource for engaging our congregations in telling their stories as a way of interpreting and fulfilling their missions, by Rev. Naomi King~

A good inspirational story invites the listener into an emotionally laden conflict and brings the listener into a place of hope, joy, commitment, and/or encouragement.  When we read stories or hear them, each story reveals its emotional content.  We can only find that if we 1) observe the person telling the story and what emotional signals they are presenting and 2) observe our own reactions to the story and the emotional signals within ourselves.

How may we interpret our mission in the stories of our congregations and our cultures of giving?

First, refresh yourself with your congregation’s mission.  What is the story it is telling us?   What challenges does the mission present us?

Second, What’s the conflict in the story?  For example:

a)  We have not been engaging in social justice activities that reflect our deepest values and priorities as a congregation;

b) We’ve needed people who understand the ways to stand on the side of love and commit to leading the way;

c) We don’t have the money do all that we need in order to accomplish our social justice mission in the world.

Third, how might the conflict be resolved?

a) Offer a new model or alternative perspective as a solution to the problem or conflict;

b) Provide examples of real people who’ve made a difference through their contributions, both in their efforts and their resources;

c) Find donors willing to make matching or challenge grant to stimulate heightened giving and involvement.

Fourth, draft a way to retell a brief and pithy version of the story that uses descriptive language and imagery.  Bring the story to life!
Fifth, how does the story affect our congregation?


The Emotional Arc:  Story and Transformation

Every story has encapsulated within it a conflict.  Every conflict has emotions attached to it.  Inspirational stories invite the listener into emotional identification with the conflict and its heart-warming or hopeful resolution.  Every story has an emotional arc.  Inspirational stories resolve conflicts in such a way that the listener’s own emotions follow the emotional narrative of the story.

Some Emotional Arcs





Transformational storytelling requires the storyteller to discover the emotional arc of the current story, imagine a new story’s emotional arc beginning in the same place as the current story, and offering the new story repeatedly, to guide the listeners into another emotional state.  Some people call this reframing.  Effective reframing begins with the original story’s emotional beginning, but opens to a new possible ending.

For example, a congregation may frame its story in this way:

We are a poor church; we always have been and always will be. 

There are at least two possible arcs to this story which may influence the experience of the congregation:

1)  Pride–pleasure–contentment

2) Shame–defensiveness–resignation

Another example:

Our congregation has survived the tough times through good stewardship and a commitment to generosity.  We have great opportunities and energy; and we’ll find our way through!

The Emotional Arc begins with pride, then moves to joy, then to hope and heightened commitment.

And another;

We have been a church without many resources, but we’re different now.  We have a great program, lots of visitors, and a clear sense of mission.  We are on our way!

The Emotional Arc begins with shame, but moves quickly to hope, followed by confirmation, pride, and excitement.


The Reverend Naomi King is a Unitarian Universalist minister who has served congregations in Maine, Texas, New York, and Florida.  Naomi’s virtual ministry has expanded through social networking to touch the lives of many around the world.

Rev. Naomi King was the recipient of the UUA’s Stewardship Sermon Award in 2005, for her sermon entitled Stand By This Faith,

To contact Rev. Naomi:

Twitter:  @revnaomi


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