A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

'Convener' Gathers Many Faiths for Stories that Lift Up the Spirit

By BRUCE A. SCRUTON, Staff writer

Originally published in The Times Union, December 28, 2004

NISKAYUNA -- Most months, Gert Johnson gathers a group to tell stories. As convener of the Interfaith Story Circle, she organizes the get-togethers and serves as emcee.

These are not tall tales, but stories of faith and spirituality, healing and truth. "We connect with people of all spiritualities and faith," said Johnson, a retired teacher who lives in Niskayuna.

Each meeting is held in a different location. Churches, synagogues, mosques and Hindu temples have hosted story-telling events. The only agenda, Johnson said, is that the stories uplift the spirit.

Johnson, 64, was a lay religion teacher for more than 30 years, first at Notre Dame, then at at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons when the two high schools merged.

She was introduced to storytelling as she was studying for her master's degree in education. "And, I experimented with storytelling, and getting others to tell with my religion classes," she said.

Just over a decade ago, she helped with the founding of the Interfaith Story Circle, which is an affiliate of the National Storytelling Network.

The meetings, while based on a theme with a featured storyteller, are informal, with time for people to "tell" as the mood moves them.

"People often come not planning to tell," said Johnson, "but are moved to tell. You could hear 12 to 15 stories in an evening."

"We are always looking for new people to gather with us around our spiritual fire and share stories of peace and community-building."

Next month's meeting is more structured than usual with a set agenda of eight storytellers from a variety of religious traditions.

"A Winter Lights Telling" will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Jan. 9 at Woodlawn Reformed Church, 1858 State St., Schenectady.

A free-will offering will be taken to benefit Community Hospice of Schenectady.

The story circle is both interdenominational and intergenerational. Johnson is helping 13-year-old Adah Hetko with storytelling techniques. "She'll be one of the tellers," Johnson said with pride.

Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area