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Students Find the Power of Biblical Story

In a “concert of Mark,” 11 School of Ministry graduate students took to the stage for the dramatic conclusion of an intensive, one-week course in biblical storytelling. One by one they presented their passages from the Gospel of Mark, having not only memorized the Scripture but also having wrestled over its meaning and its application to their lives. 

It was a demanding process, with pre-course homework and classes Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4:30. “But that one week of classes was the most gratifying I’ve had,” concluded 71-year-old Queen Byrd. And she has plenty of schooling for comparison. She earned her bachelor’s degree in ministry from PBA in 2016 and her master’s in counseling in 2018. Experience a video reprise here of Byrd’s presentation from the 11th Chapter of Mark.

“My whole life changed” thanks to that chapter, Byrd said. She suggested that people don’t understand Jesus used a metaphor when He told his disciples they could move a mountain by speaking to it. From her study and grappling with the text, she heard this message: “Go after your passion. Have faith and speak to the mountain that’s in the way.” So she now pursues her passion to become a chaplain.

“In biblical storytelling, when you internalize the text, you poke at it a little bit and provoke it,” said Dr. Kathy Maxwell. “And when you do that, the text provokes you. It pokes back.”

Maxwell, associate professor of biblical and theological studies, recalled the first time she shared biblical storytelling methods with Palm Beach Atlantic students. In 2012, with students she took to London, she assigned each student a portion from the Apostle Paul’s letters. After the students performed their pieces, one told Maxwell, “You know, I’ve read those words 100 times, but when my friend looked me in the eye and said those words, for the first time I felt like they were really being said to me.”

Maxwell belongs to the Network of Biblical Storytellers. She arranged for Dr. Philip Ruge-Jones, a friend and fellow member of that organization, to come teach the one-week intensive course here in January. He is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and taught theology at Texas Lutheran University for 18 years.

“The PBA students were wonderful,” said Ruge-Jones. “It was a great group.” He’s a storyteller who can relay the whole Gospel of Mark by heart. “And still, in the midst of the conversation and the performances with students here, new things come out in the story that I’ve never noticed before,” he said. “And it’s because the students are attentive and persuasive in the way they’re presenting what God has given us in the Word.”

Hearing the Scripture from someone who has worked through the passage intensely and thought through what it means “allows for a very engaged form of hearing,” Ruge-Jones said. “I believe this was the way people experienced it in the early church, when 95 percent of the people couldn’t read.”

As those 11 PBA students performed their pieces in a Graduate School of Ministry chapel, some of the hearers experienced it on Zoom. “When Queen told her story,” Maxwell recalled, “I got texts from several people who shared fire emojis, saying, ‘Queen’s on fire!’” Byrd would tell her listeners, “Everyone who wants to be in ministry should take this course.”

Maxwell incorporates biblical storytelling into several of her courses, as do other faculty. “I’m convinced that we are storytelling creatures, and we often communicate best by telling stories,” she said. “And Scripture is a pretty amazing story.”

After Maxwell recorded the “concert of Mark” on her phone, Ruge-Jones created a one-minute clip with an audio phrase from each of the 11 students linked to the pose that performer chose for a group photo. Experience their voices below.