A couple of years ago, Halloween fell on a Sunday. We wanted to harness all that dress-up energy towards some faith formation, so we created our first annual Saints Dress Up Day. The kids chose their favorite saint, we provided all the costumes, and we had the very cutest cloud of witnesses join our gospel procession.
Our little parade of saints is now a beloved tradition at St Luke’s, but there was a noticeable disconnect in representation. The diversity of our children’s ministry isn’t reflected in the largely pale-skinned, European-born saints that are presented in most church literature for kids. St Luke’s, which serves as a vibrant cultural center for multiple East African-born communities, needed some East African saints in our rotation.
Last year, our church leadership visited Kampala and had a moving encounter with the shrine of Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan Martyrs. These 45 young men were tortured and burned to death for refusing to renounce their Christian faith. The depictions were gruesome, yet every time we brought up our visit with one of our Ugandan hosts they would say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Christian church in Uganda.” All over the country, there is a solemn pride in the revival that followed the faith of those men, and it would have been hard to find a Ugandan student who did not know the name of Charles Lwanga.
Josephine Bakhita is a similarly familiar name in Sudanese households. Kidnapped into slavery as a child and eventually brought to Italy, Bakhita, or “fortunate one,” was given her name mockingly by her oppressors. When she found her freedom with the Cannosian sisters, she reclaimed her name, Bakhita, feeling indeed fortunate because of the transformative love of God.
These, and others, are the stories that have contributed to the faith of our congregation, and we would be amiss not to integrate them into our church culture.
So started Our Saints Day. We partnered with six of our own congregants to write six new Godly Play-style saint stories. Our saints included Charles Lwanga (Uganda), Josephine Bakhita (Sudan), Christophe Munzihirwa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Martin de Porres (Peru), Frederick Douglass (USA), and Sojourner Truth (USA). Each coordinating St. Luke’s collaborator- Doreen Tuhebwe, Katherine Bom, Joseph Ekyoci, Apolo John Jok, Odesma Dalrymple, and Sarah Hankins- had a personal connection to these stories: a shared birthplace, experience, or passion. On Sunday, October 29th each of our collaborators introduced their saint for us, along with their personal and family stories that connected them. Then our all-ages congregation broke into six small groups, where each collaborator told the story of their saint and facilitated discussion.
When the congregation reconvened, there was a hum in the room, as if the saints themselves had joined us. Thanks to the passion, skill, and vulnerability of our storytellers, the conversations were rich and fruitful. For some, the stories were new. For some, there was pride in telling familiar stories to new people. The day helped us live into our ambitious mission statement, “to create spaces for God’s grace to form life-changing relationships with Christ and each other across lines of prejudice and privilege.”
We hope to continue creating these stories, and already, more collaborators have come forward with personal connections of their own to a new set of saints. Our prayer is that these stories spread past our own church because we can all look to these saints for inspiration and camaraderie, finding ourselves in their stories. Indeed, we are all made from the same dust, heading for the same glory.
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