Whether she’s using storytelling to build a bridge between cultures or tapping into resonant images or Bible stories to unearth personal narratives of community and connection, Laura Hudson brings her full heart to everything she does.
An anthropologist turned Presbyterian pastor, Laura smiles often, putting others at ease with her welcoming presence. Since she was young, Laura has always loved to write and was drawn to storytelling as a way to understand the world. Story sustained her through her service in the Peace Corps, working in Bangladesh, and time spent in both Guatemala and Alaska. On her travels, storytelling was “a thread of welcome and warmth” through which she built relationships and community. It made the distance from home bearable, and helped her find common ground with all she met.
As a graduate of the Hearth’s Storytelling Certificate program, Laura’s approach to storytelling is, characteristically, all about making connections. That means deliberately cultivating a space for storytelling within her faith community in LaGrande. The Presbyterian culture, she says, is not focused on evangelizing, but she sees the value and importance of sharing stories of faith and bearing witness to them. That’s why she often begins sermons with a story prompt, walking around the church with a mic and an open invitation for the congregation to share.
“At first it was like pulling teeth,” she said. But she kept at it, and now she has no trouble evoking stories from the community. With the clear message that “your story matters,” she has created a place where people can freely contribute their own narratives to the larger story of the faith community. She also invites people to bring images related to a common theme and tell stories connected to that image. Sometimes she’ll even reach out on Facebook with a prompt, asking for stories to inform that week’s sermon.
Through these stories, she’s seeking connections and listening for ways to be of service. And, Laura reminds us, stories can be found in unconventional and unexpected places, if we’re willing to sit and listen. She’s found that fostering a culture of storytelling goes beyond the joyful occasions into the solemn and sorrowful as well.
“Funerals are some of the most important spaces for story,” she said.
Her process for a funeral begins with a gathering of those closest to the deceased, where they will select a Bible passage and a hymn or song that evokes the departed loved one, and share their stories and memories. Laura’s role is to take all these disparate elements and weave them into a cohesive, meaningful whole. This act is inspired and informed by the work done at The Hearth, where, after a night of community storytelling, a final speaker from The Hearth will tie all the evening’s stories together, finding resonant themes to create a narrative of community.
Everything Laura does is infused with story, and her work as a spiritual director is no different. She’s found spiritual directing is unlike her work as a pastor and the training she received in the seminary. There, she was engaged in intensive theology, mining the stories of the Bible for meaning and purpose. But in her work as a spiritual director and a faith leader, she’s also “mining people’s lives as though they were stories of the Bible.”
“The Bible gave us a fixed set of common stories to share, but God never stopped interacting with God’s people,” Laura said. As she speaks about the stories she’s witnessed—narratives of connection and courage that she calls the testimonies of the divine—Laura’s face lights up with sincere and infectious joy.
But it’s not just the positive, uplifting stories that resonate with Laura. It’s also important to witness testimonies that carry failure and heartbreak, to hear stories of struggle and suffering. That’s why she creates safe spaces where people can share moments of shame, pain, and anger, whether it’s a group setting in her faith community or one on one pastoral care. Even funerals can involve difficult themes and conversations, particularly in the case of suicides.
“It’s important to acknowledge that we don’t understand, to live with the difficult truth, and yet be trusting and be with people in places of suffering.”
As a deeply creative person, Laura utilizes a variety of techniques to help people share their stories. One of her favorites is image work, which she says can “go right to the heart” and ground people in a theme or memory. At times, she’ll even use tarot cards or other image based decks as a way to tap into deep cultural archetypes and help people frame and understand their stories. Whether it’s tarot cards, the Bible, or the language of artistic expression, she sees the importance of bringing forward common themes and stories that are broadly known but also open to interpretation, to help storytellers frame their own experience in the larger cultural narrative.
“These are the narratives that keep bringing us back together,” she said.
It’s a natural choice for a woman who “never stopped being an anthropologist.” Her innate curiosity is evident in the excitement on her face when she talks about culture and community and how stories shape our actions, ideas, and relationships. To Laura, each person’s story matters deeply, and she’s not shy about sharing that message.
Cultivating a space and discipline of storytelling for her faith community has been a labor of love, driven by her conviction that, as she puts it, “the thread that makes a community function is the capacity to authentically share stories.” Her work in story and her stalwart belief that each person’s testimony matters have opened up a world of connections where she is by turns a pastor, a spiritual director, a writer, an anthropologist, and more.
“Everything I do is connected in some way,” she said. “I am never bored.”
Keep up with Laura’s work here
Learn more about Laura’s Resilient Spirit Story Circle coming up Oct. 28 at 4:30-6 PM Pacific, online via Zoom. It’s FREE!