Alum Stories

Storytelling as Spiritual Practice

Everyone Has A Story Concept word written under torn paper.

By Rev. Grant Showalter-Swanson

For LGBTQIA+ Christians, living into our authentic selves, let alone our vocational call, is often a journey of struggle and pain. Many discriminatory barriers are setup within our Church structures and community expectations to prevent LGBTQIA+ young people from finding wholeness in Christ through their church homes. In many ways, my own story reflects this journey: finding a path to wholeness in Christ despite the voices and messages around me saying that no such wholeness could exist between the identities of ‘gay’ and ‘Christian.’

Having confidence in the knowledge of who we are as God’s beloved creations is essential to our survival and flourishing as LGBTQIA+ Christians. From an early age, creative writing and journaling was a lifeline for me to access God and to hear the clear voice of the Holy Spirit speaking truth and life into me. As a result, it is clear to me that personal storytelling and testimony is a vital spiritual practice of self-care that enables us to prayerfully explore ourselves, prepare ourselves to engage with an unjust world, and discover ways to thrive and flourish.

Throughout my journey, God has worked miracles. I am joyfully married to my husband Connor and serve as an ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church. I also have the honor and privilege to work with people across the globe who are discerning a call to ministry as Recruitment Coordinator at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

One of my favorite parts of the job is that it affords me the opportunity to speak with people who are actively doing the reconciliation work of their faith, sexuality, and call to ministry. I have the privilege to be a source of affirmation, a conversation partner, and a resource sharer for folks in ways that I did not have as a young person. Through these discernment conversations, we have the Spirit-led opportunity to imagine what God’s call to Christ’s radically inclusive Gospel might look like in our unique contexts. We discuss how to pray, listen, and follow where God is calling us in the Church and the world precisely because of who we are as beloved LGBTQIA+ children of God, not despite of it. We celebrate who we are as God’s beloved children. What an absolute gift it is to do this work as the Recruitment Coordinator at Garrett!

One way that my vocational discernment work as the recruiter at Garrett has intersected with my work as a Deacon is through my passion of creative writing. When I was working on my master’s degree at Garrett, I started a student group that made space for storytelling and creative writing. The power that we experienced as a community to express ideas, call stories, lament, joy, and other feelings demonstrated not only the power of storytelling as an individual spiritual practice of self-care and self-understanding, but also a communal practice.

During the height of the pandemic, I was reminded of the personal and communal power of creative writing as I adapted vocational discernment conversations to a distance format and worked with groups online. I began to understand more fully the ways that the Holy Spirit can provide discernment opportunities through creative writing.

Urban Village Church E-Zine Magazine Fall 2020
Cover of the e-zine magazine with a collection of creative writings from members of Urban Village Church

Most recently, this realization manifested itself as a virtual creative writing small group that I led through my home church, Urban Village Church, during the pandemic. I created a curriculum that utilized different writing styles, genres, and prompts as spiritual practices and vocational discernment tools. The outcomes were moving to witness. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in our individual preparation time, as well as in our group discussions, leading us to new, clearer, or expanded insights about ourselves and what it meant for us to follow Christ in the world. Plus, we were writing fantastically creative and personal pieces together. Participants volunteered to lead different writing activities that were meaningful to them. It was truly a collaborate, creative, and life-giving experience.

I took these learnings from our wonderful group and created mini workshops that I implemented as the recruiter at Garrett, adapting the activities into a ‘Vocational Discernment as Spiritual Practice’ curriculum. Prospective students have expressed joy at the opportunity to engage with God in such a creative, intimate, and hands-on way. I look forward to exploring this work of storytelling as a spiritual practice of self-care and vocational discernment in my recruitment work in the future.

Finally, this meaningful and clear movement of the Holy Spirit within spaces of creativity has inspired me to pursue further study with the very professors and faculty who have formed me and the work that I do. This fall, I will move to part-time work as the Recruitment Coordinator and start the Doctor of Philosophy in Theological and Ethical Studies program at Garrett, pursuing further research into the prophetic nature of creative writing and poetry, the movement of the Holy Spirit within the works of queer and indigenous poets, and listening for what the Holy Spirit is telling the Church and the world through the mediums of poetic writing and storytelling. I could not be more excited!

As a conclusion to this meandering pride-month thought journey, I want to offer this benediction poem in closing:

You are called –

precisely because of who you are –

in all your fullness and fabulousness –

as God’s beloved creation.

Go forth in love and wholeness –

explore the Holy Spirit’s creativity –

in and through you –

and write voraciously.

Grant Swanson

Rev. Grant Showalter-Swanson is the Recruitment Coordinator at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and is an ordained Deacon in the United Methodist Church who serves at Urban Village Church. Grant holds a Master of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a Master of Arts in English from the Middlebury College, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from North Central College. Grant lives with his husband Connor and cat-daughter, Nessa, in Chicago.