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5 Minutes with New Missional Storyteller Jelani Greenidge

This month, longtime Companion columnist Jelani Greenidge joins the Marketing Communications team as our new missional storyteller. We asked him why storytelling is important to the church and what his vision is for his new role.

Can you tell us about your journey that led you to this role?

Well, longtime readers will know me from my columns for The Covenant Companion that date back to 2012.

But yeah, I’m a nearly lifelong Covenanter, and I’ve been in church work for most of my adult life. I’m a third-generation pastor and worship leader and grew up in one of the Covenant’s first intentionally multiethnic churches, planted by my father, Henry Greenidge, in the late 1980s. That said, I’ve always viewed myself as something of an outsider because I’m neither licensed nor ordained, and also because living in Oregon and Washington, I’ve felt somewhat isolated from the rest of my Covenant sisters and brothers in North America. Taking this role was an opportunity for me, not only to reconnect with some of the folks I met during my North Park years in Chicago, but more importantly, to get a better understanding of what Covenanters across the board are going through. As a columnist, my job is to share a slice of my perspective on life and ministry. As a storyteller, I want to flip that around—to receive the perspectives, stories, and experiences of others and share them widely. My hope is that together we might all be enriched, emboldened, and equipped for the work God has put in front of us.

Why do you think storytelling is important to the church?

Stories are important because they turn the abstract into the personal.

If I gave you all kinds of facts and statistics about infection and transmission rates for Covid-19 in February 2021, maybe you would be interested, but you might just as easily tune it out as just more noise. But if I told you that my wife and I spent Valentine’s Day driving through a snowstorm to check ourselves into the hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, and that I came pretty close to being put on a ventilator because my oxygen saturation levels were so low, and that I spent about 24 hours rethinking all of my life choices while trying to figure out the entertainment system in my suburban hospital room…well, that changes things, doesn’t it? Now it’s not just story that I’m telling you, but it’s my story.

Stories activate us, they move us toward action, and they help us to remember that behind any position, policy, or perspective is a real, three-dimensional human being made in the image of God. We need stories to keep us grounded to what’s real, as well as to help us move toward a future where all of us can thrive.

What’s your vision for storytelling that serves the entire Covenant?

Well, the goal for this role is to tell stories that represent the Covenant Church in all its diverse expressions. And representation is a big deal right now. When people say, “I want to read about someone like me” or, “I want to see someone like me in TV or in the movies,” it’s not just an ego thing or a way to keep score. It’s a way for us to be reminded that we’re not alone, that there are others who go through similar struggles. And even though we’re all different, we all still have certain things in common.

So yeah, I want to find stories from many different places. Of course, I want the stories for the big events and campaigns that we’re known for, such as Midwinter, Unite (formerly CHIC), Gather, CovCares, etc. But I also want to find stories in the nooks and crannies of Christian life, places where you wouldn’t normally think to look. We want stories that reflect the diversity of our denomination, not only racially and ethnically but geographically, age, station, and vocation. I want stories that celebrate our victories as church and ministry leaders, but I also want stories that affirm the dignity of the human struggle, from people who don’t just speak of their challenges in past tense. If we as the editorial team do our job well, we will create opportunities for Covenanters to see themselves in each other’s stories.

What movie or TV show did you most often recommend to others in 2021?

Oh my goodness, there are so many I don’t even know where to start. That said, one of my favorite TV shows from 2021 was Rutherford Falls. It’s created by sitcom veterans Sierra Teller Ornelas (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Happy Endings, Superstore) and Michael Schur (The Office, Parks & Recreation, The Good Place). It’s the story of larger-than-life characters whose conflicts regarding the inner workings of their small town reveal layers of buried trauma and provide opportunities for healthy reorientation. It’s thought-provoking, and very, very funny.

What else should readers know about you?

I’m a Gen-X hip-hop head and comedy nerd. I like to play video games and fly drones. I still love playing video games, but I’m not as competitive as I used to be because my reflexes are slowing down, so I’m hoping I start an XBOX-Over-40 group where I won’t get completely destroyed by 16-year-olds with more fast-twitch muscle fibers.

And if you read something where it looks like I’m trying to stir things up, it’s not because I thrive in chaos. But rather, when it’s done in a healthy manner, questioning things can help us understand what we truly believe and sometimes calls us to new understandings. Over time, I’ve learned to lean into difficult dialogue rather than away from it. Because no matter how it might look or feel, God isn’t through with any of us yet.

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