A Cincinnati pastor has found a new approach to connecting members of the community who don’t attend church – by having strangers from various backgrounds share their unique stories.
Shawn Braley, a nondenominational pastor and Executive Director of Cincy Stories, came up with the idea in 2014 while he was brainstorming on how to connect unchurched or “de-churched” members of the community, according to Christianity Today. He knew they wouldn’t be interested in religious services and realized that he would have to find another way.
Braley, along with Creative Director Chris Ashwell, know that residents from a plethora of backgrounds – including a transvestite cabaret performer, millennial adoptee from South Korea, prison inmate and city councilmember – live in central Cincinnati and have much to learn from one another.
Listening to podcasts and hearing the stories of people with lives much different than his own made helped Braley consider the community outreach program. Then, Cincy Stories was born, and the first event was hosted in January 2015 at a local pub.
Since then, the community outreach program has expanded and features a website and YouTube channel with archived footage of live events and stories produced from individual interviews.
With the help of a local foundation, Cincy Stories even opened an interactive story gallery over the summer, which showcases stories of the people who work and live in the neighborhood. The gallery houses a “story booth” for recording and provides free coffee, water, air conditioning and conversation for visitors. Cincy Stories sometimes partners with local vendors to provide free meals and periodically hosts listening events.
Braley and Ashwell made it clear that they did not want Cincy Stories to be formally affiliated with a church because they believe that storytelling can bring the community together, whether or not residents attend church.
Storytellers at Cincy Stories are not censored, and anyone holding the microphone can swear and share fragments of their lives that test the audience’s openness to listen. Although some churchgoers are not always thrilled with some of the anecdotes that are shared, the number of those concerned has been smaller than Braley anticipated.
Ashwell and Braley have met people from all walks of life – including homeless people, drug addicts, people living in abusive homes and people without jobs. They keep contact information for health and human services handy to direct visitors to the appropriate resources.
Braley said he is amazed to see people from such diverse backgrounds sitting next to and interacting with one another.
You can check out the Cincy Stories Facebook page HERE.