ROAD TRIP: THESTORY.CA
My wife and I took a trip to the Great White North (okay, it was really only a little north and a little east) to visit a church community in Sarnia, Ontario called TheStory. TheStory was founded about 6 years by a team of people that wanted to create a different expression of church for people interested in exploring the Gospel of Jesus in new ways. As Lisa and I are moving along in our own journey as church planters we wanted to connect with others who have gone before us.
Our friends and neighbors, Darryl and Laura Silvestri (Darryl founded TheStory along with his old youth pastor, Joe Manafo, and best friend from childhood, Nathan Colquhoun), invited us to their hometown to spend a day experiencing TheStory and talking about church planting with their core team. We had a great day and their rhythm of doing church really resonated with Lisa and I.
TheStory meets in a storefront space in Downtown Sarnia. This area reminded me a bit of what Flint could look like a little further down the road. Their space was surrounded by coffee shops, thrifts stores, retail spaces, and restaurants. There were also a lot of vacant spaces but in general it seemed like they had located themselves in the heart of a community where people live and work all around them.
When approaching the door of the church a sign read “Sacred Space. Community Venue.” TheStory’s building serves as a place of worship and as a multipurpose space that is made available to the community. Bands use the space for rehearsals. Families rent it out for special gatherings. They regularly host art exhibitions and other events as well. Two businesses are also run out of the space during the week; a woman creates specialty baby attire for her Etsy shop, and a print shop and design company called Storyboard Solutions is also housed in the building.
I love that the church space is utilized throughout the week and serves as a connecting point for the community and the church.
Once we got passed the door we walked into an open, inviting space filled with thrift store couches and a few tables with chairs around them. The couches and tables focused around a large area rug where stools and instruments were set up along with a small laptop stand in front of a large whiteboard wall. A kitchen was set up at the back of the room.
It felt more like a cafe or lounge than a typical church. It was very comfortable. My 2 and 1/2 year-old daughter loved the couches and made herself at home trying all of them out before choosing the pink one to plant our family on. My wife and I sat down and took in the room. It felt restful and we commented on the sense of warmth the environment provided.
Another standout at TheStory was the evidence of creativity all around us. From the art hanging on the walls to the choice in songs for worship, we witnessed a fresh expression of the Gospel. It seemed that great care was taken to tell the story of God in a way that connects with the culture. Near the entryway of the space hung three commissioned mixed-medium art pieces representing each of TheStory’s key values; Rooted. Tabled. Risked. Along the edges of the whiteboard wall hung several unique paintings representing the communities rules for group discussion as a reminder of the way they hope to engage with one another as a church body. Even the coat rack was beautiful, an art installation used to help illustrate an earlier teaching given at TheStory. We are a visual people and TheStory is working to connect this concept with the story they are telling.
We visited on the fourth Sunday of the month which is a day set aside for common prayer and liturgical reading in their rhythm of life together. The readings were lead by a layperson and the service included at least a dozen people up front. A handful of people led worship with music, the prayer leader led the liturgy, several community memebers read scripture, and members of the lead team led a time of prayer for their pastor who is preparing to go on a two-month sabbatical to recharge after 6 years of going strong.
During musical worship the song leader invited the children to come up front and grab the percussion instruments that were placed on the rug and jam along with the band from their seats. My daughter Claire was stoked to get to play with a cool shaker thing. It was a fantastic way to engage the young people in the service without making it a big deal.
Another compelling part of their weekly rhythm is that they have a potluck after every service. The entire community (about 60 people when I visited) has lunch together every week rather than running out to various restaurants! It seemed like people didn’t start to leave until an hour had passed. They obviously loved each other and valued their time together.
TheStory is a beautiful expression of the what God is up to in this world. The leadership has been working to contextualize what it means to follow Christ as a community of people in Sarnia, Ontario.
Spending a day with them was a very restful experience for my family. It is my hope hope that with our church plant project we will be able to continue to learn from TheStory and figure out what a new expression of church should look like in our own community.