INDIANAPOLIS – From stories of a sailor and a ring to a Make-a-Wish boy dying of a rare disease to a young man standing next to an Interstate begging for a ride to Orlando to find his sister, the Rev. Rosemary Brown, 74, pastor of two small Nashville, Tennessee churches held the attention of more than 400 Indiana pastors during the recent Our Life Together clergy retreat at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

Brown, a nationally known speaker, worship workshop leader and advocate of global missions, wove personal stories, Scripture and song lyrics in an hour-long presentation to show pastors how to add vitality to sermons.

She said her best example of a storyteller is Jesus, “who taught on Lake Galilee. He taught them many things using stories… Planting of seeds, we are planters of the seeds. Some were rejected; some fell among the thorns. But every now and then one of those seeds will take hold and the earth will fertilize that seed and it will grow. We are storytellers.”

She said, “I weave the secular with the religious for it’s all holy.”

And she uses props to focus the story and hold attention. Showing off her decades old ring given to her by a sailor when she was a graduating senior in high school, she illustrated that the facets cut into the stone reflect the sun light. In storytelling, “we reflect the light of God’s son.”

From West Side Story, she quoted, “I reject rejection… I will use every facet of my life to be reflective.”

Brown also gave her listeners a list of guidelines to draw on when using stories. They included:

  • Tell the truth;
  • Humor is a wonderful tool, but should not be used simply to entertain;
  • Exaggeration is helpful to make your point… Jesus gives us permission as he taught – that is, the hairs on your head are numbered;
  • Metaphor;
  • Parable;
  • Use of visuals to make the story more of an experience;
  • The wearing of costumes or even a simple piece of clothing;
  • Drama, especially the acting out of the text;
  • Dialogue with someone seated in the sanctuary or with a co-presenter;
  • Remember that all of the stories in the Bible are true, and some of them actually happened; and
  • It’s okay to personalize the story, but if you are including someone, make sure it is a positive and helpful story, not one that embarrasses or humiliates.

She also warned against plagiarism. “It is a sin; it just didn’t make the Ten Commandments.”

She continued, “Stories at their best are experiential… loosen up and live into the story yourself, then others will, too. We sing ‘Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear.’ Never lose sight of this reason for telling the story.”

In closing, she was asked about the ring in her opening sailor story and whether she ever tried to contact the sailor on Facebook. She responded that seeking a sailor on Facebook was not a wise idea. “I’m keeping my ring, I had it sized and it preaches.”

Seasoned storyteller and teacher Rosemary Brown speaks to Indiana pastors during the recent Our Life Together clergy retreat in Indianapolis. 

“I weave the secular with the religious for its all holy.”

– Rosemary Brown