When we moved from Holland to the south of Germany, we moved to a very Catholic area. Here in Bavaria the Catholic Church is the dominant denomination with the German Lutheran church at a distant second place. As a result, we’ve experienced some Catholic traditions and fests. Even though our son goes to a public Kindergarten, the religious influence of the Catholic Church is very much present at these fests, but in a positive way.
The story of St Martin
If there’s one thing the Catholics got right, it’s the power of stories. Take St Martin for instant, the famous Roman soldier who gave half of his cloak to a beggar to keep him from freezing to death. He then had a dream in which he encountered Jesus, wearing his half-cloak, recommending him for what Martin had done.
My son learned this story in Kindergarten and when he came home and shared some of it, I actually had to look it up because I didn’t even know it. We’d never ‘celebrated’ St Martin’s day (November 11th) before moving here, it’s not a well-known thing in Holland outside of the Catholic area’s. My son also learned a few songs about that same event, which he kept singing with great enthusiasm.
And when St Martin’s day came, our whole village gathered. All the kids made a tour through the village with self-made lanterns and then we gathered on a field. There the story of St Martin was not only read, but acted out with a ‘real’ St Martin on a horse, encountering a beggar. All the kids were transfixed. We were told that just as St Martin had given half his cloak to someone in need, so should we do as well. It was a very powerful call to love our neighbors, especially the ones in need.
My son is only four years old, but he got the message because of the story. As little as he is, he understood that what Martin had done was special, that it was good to share what we have with people who need it. We actually talked quite a bit about what it meant to be poor, to be a beggar, to be homeless. It was his first encounter with the harsh reality of another world, a colder world.
The power of stories
The Catholics have gotten it right when it comes to the power of stories. As a Protestant, I may not always feel comfortable with declaring someone a saint and I may not agree with some of the teachings, but I wish the church in general would learn from the Catholics and use stories as a teaching tool far more. There are so many stories, old ones and modern day ones, that we could use to teach our youth.
Stories captivate and make even young people sit up and listen, stories are far easier to remember than abstract theories (especially for youth whose abstract reasoning isn’t even fully developed yet) and stories inspire to action. And research has even shown that stories are a powerful tool in building faith that lasts.
So the next time that you prepare an assembly, write a small group lesson or prepare a sermon, why not incorporate a story that illustrates your point?
Do you use stories when you teach? How do you find good stories to share?