In Hawaii, when friends gather together, they “talk story”. Talk story is informal conversation that always generates story-telling. The stories told are rich with history, culture, family, people and place. They can be funny at one moment and heart-rending at the next. They are the narratives upon which relationships were built. They give substance to experience. Those stories gave me windows into others, and perhaps most remarkably, traveled through the windows of my own heart to leave their imprint deep inside. Shared stories have a capacity to connect us not only with the story teller, but with our own narratives. And those connections build relationships.
I love hearing people’s stories, and am amazed how asking one simple question and then listening deeply opens sacred, shared space between us.
In the few short weeks that I’ve been at St. Paul’s I’ve already heard some amazing stories, and want to share one. Perhaps it could be titled, “Hidden in Plain Sight.”
The church received a very generous gift from the estate of a former member. Being new to the congregation, I asked Becky, our secretary, to tell me a bit about Elizabeth “Betty” Page and her parents, Katharine Hottel and Guy Anderson Benchoff. I was delighted to see photos of all three of them on the wall just outside the church office.
One of those pictures had a pipe organ in the background. I asked where that photo was taken, since we don’t have a pipe organ at St. Paul’s. To my utter surprise, Becky told me it was at St. Paul’s and quickly took me on an excursion to view the organ’s pipes which are behind a wall in our sanctuary. They are amazing, each carefully labeled, the whole thing a work of skilled artisanship right here, hidden in plain sight, and without talking story I might never have known!
The music we enjoy each Sunday morning depends in part on those hidden pipes, their ongoing maintenance, and the talents of skilled organists like Emily Koon and Derek Ritenour, accompanied by the combined voices of each person present.
Perhaps most delightful of all was learning that Mr. Benchoff was a musician, taught music at Massanutten Military Academy, and played the organ. My great-grandfather, the son of German Moravian missionaries to Labrador, was a music teacher at Sewickley Academy in Sewickley, PA, and a church organist. My mother inherited his talent and taught piano and was a church organist for years. I feel a certain kinship to the congregation, the Benchoff family, and our organ, all because Becky and I talked story.
I can’t wait to talk story with you! Only God knows what might emerge!