A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

Children at the Well: an Interfaith / Intergenerational Storytelling Venture, Albany, NY

Originally published in The Storytelling Magazine, March/April, 2007.

It is the shared stories that are breaking down the barriers and building community among us.

For more than 13 years, the mission of the Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area (Albany, Schenectady and Troy, NY) has been to be of service to people of all spiritualities and faiths, to use storytelling to honor the richness and diversity of our traditions, to break down the barriers which sometimes divide us, and to build up that which we have in common. We have been especially desirous of involving young people more fully in our mission.

A committee from our circle recently developed “Children at the Well: an Interfaith / Intergenerational Storytelling Venture” to involve youth in learning the art of storytelling, and to encourage them to use the art to deepen their knowledge of their own faith tradition and that of others. We wanted to help them get to know people of other faiths, to promote peace and understanding.

To our delight, our proposal received the 2006 Brimstone Award from the National Storytelling Network. This enabled us to put our dream into action, and last year we ran the inaugural “Children at the Well” program!

We use the informing metaphor of a well in our title because we want to call to mind the age-old custom of young people gathering at a well to draw water to bring back to their families. The image of well water, drawn from the depths, is particularly powerful for us as an agent of sustenance, growth and change. These are precisely the effects that we wish our program to have.

In 2006, 28 teachers and 13 students from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons Catholic School, An Nur Islamic School, The Heritage Class of the Hindu Temple Society of the Capital District, and from synagogues in the Community Coalition for Jewish Education took part. Three interfaith teacher workshops were held, with teachers from the above-mentioned schools and programs, led by Gert Johnson. Through teacher nominations, we chose students from grades 6-9 who expressed a high degree of interest in interfaith storytelling.

Storycoaches for the young people were Mary Murphy and Marni Gillard, both of whom have had extensive experience in youth coaching. They guided the students toward the goal of a community telling, encouraging them to delve into the wisdom of their own faith traditions to find stories to share. This festive event, with 125 in attendance, was held April 30, 2006. The day included the young people’s story performance, finger foods and an interfaith mixer activity, a Hindu story dance performance, and a pot-luck supper. Storytellers at each table facilitated informal story sharing during supper through the use of story prompts.

Project co-director Paula Weiss has assembled a “kit” to help other storytellers and interfaith organizations who would like to develop their own Children at the Well Program. Thanks to NSN, it is freely and widely accessible online at www.interfaithstory.org/children-at-the-well.shtml. Hardbound copies are also available.

As we embark on the 2007 Children at the Well, we can already see some of the differences that this project has made. For one, many of the students, teachers and families have stayed in touch, attending community storytelling programs together. It is a joy to have them with us. They are bringing new life and vibrancy to our mission. They are modeling for us the way to live together in peace.

If you'd like to start a similar program in your area, please see the kit and/or contact Gert Johnson at grsjohnson@aol.com or (518) 374-0637. We'd love to help you learn from our experiences.