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Christians to tell Mark’s Gospel in Peterborough

The Rev. Mary Bell-Plouffe practices telling stories from St. Mark's Gospel to parishioners at St. Barnabas, Peterborough.
The Rev. Mary Bell-Plouffe practices telling stories from St. Mark’s Gospel to parishioners at St. Barnabas, Peterborough. Photos by Michael Hudson

By Carolyn Purden

A special event will take place on Monday, April 14, at St. John the Evangelist in Peterborough. Some 27 people will stand up, one at a time, and without a note in their hands start telling stories from St. Mark’s Gospel.

The event emerged from a biblical literary challenge issued last year by Bishop Linda Nicholls, the area bishop, encouraging everyone in Trent-Durham to read the Bible in 2014.

She sent out an e-mail to clergy saying that as part of the challenge, there would be presentations in each deanery during the year and a public reading of the Gospel of Mark.

This immediately piqued the interest of the Rev. Mary Bell-Plouffe. The incumbent of St. Barnabas, Peterborough, she has been a biblical storyteller since 2007 and has trained a number of parishioners in the art.

“I e-mailed (Bishop Linda) back right away and said what about a biblical storytelling? We could do an epic storytelling and I could coordinate it.”

Bishop Nicholls thought it a great idea and Ms. Bell-Plouffe began to pull together a roster of storytellers. Among the 27 participants on April 14 will be a United Church minister from Montreal, a Mennonite minister and her husband from Toronto, clergy from the Diocese of Huron and a number of lay people.

The storytellers range in age from 10 to 80 and include Bishop Nicholls. The storytelling, which starts at 7 p.m., will take just over two hours.

Ms. Bell-Plouffe explains that biblical storytelling is an art and a spiritual discipline in which narrators learn the scriptures by heart, aiming for 75 per cent accuracy in words and 95 per cent accuracy in content.

Hearing the biblical stories told is a vastly different experience from hearing them read, she adds. Storytellers bring out the living word in the Gospels. “We come from an oral tradition,” she says. “The stories of scripture were meant to be told. When we hear them told (instead of read), we experience them as they were first heard. When the story is told, there is a face-to-face encounter with the living Word of God.” 

The Rev. Mary Bell-Plouffe.
The Rev. Mary Bell-Plouffe.

It takes six weeks to learn a story because the storytellers not only memorize the words, they internalize the story. “You live with the story, the story lives with you,” she says. “After six weeks, it’s in your long-term memory and you can just take it out and dust it off.”

After encountering biblical storytelling in the United States, Ms. Bell-Plouffe joined the Network of Biblical Storytellers International and, along with a United Church minister, founded the Network of Biblical Storytellers Canada.

She often uses biblical storytelling in her Sunday service, and she also holds workshops for those interested in learning the art. Her most recent workshop, at St. Barnabas, attracted 18 people, and six of them are going to be telling the Passion at the church on Good Friday.

To find out more about biblical storytelling, visit the Network of Biblical Storytellers International.