“Bold Yet Seldom Told”

A couple years ago, Lowell Johnson and fellow church member Karen Johnson from First Congregational UCC Brainerd attended a “100 Cups of Coffee” seminar led by Wilder Research. Both were struck by learning how far the people who make policies usually are from the people most impacted by those same policies.

That important knowledge sparked a journey that led to more than 100 one-to-one conversations with people from marginalized backgrounds. Those conversations resulted in the publication of a book, “Bold Yet Seldom Told: Crow Wing Community Stories.”

Lowell says they first brought the idea of hosting conversations to a group that is working on the church’s designation as a W.I.S.E. congregation (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged in the mental health of the community and wider world). After getting a thumbs up, they trained ten interviewers to conduct 105 interviews with people often farthest from decision making: those with mental illness, addiction, and disability; those who had been incarcerated; Black and brown people; and LGBTQ folks. While they didn’t set out to publish a book, Lowell said that while they were interviewing they had an “empathy stretch.”

“While listening to these stories, we thought maybe we could improve empathy and compassion in the community by telling these stories,” he says. “We started asking people if they would be willing to write a story, and they were. Most of the stories have elements of hope and transformation.”

Project leaders connected with the Crow Wing County Jail to obtain artwork for the book. According to Lowell, all of the art was created with golf pencils, the drawing tool allowed in the jail. They also did a video series with ten of the stories and wrote a grant to the Opioid Settlement Fund that allowed them to purchase and distribute 450 books to people in the community working with the populations reflected in the book.

“We know that systems are broken in many ways, but there are also stories about how systems do work because people have gotten the assistance they need,” says Lowell. “I’m a story guy and I know people learn through stories. So, can this book help us as a community promote what’s working?”

Project leaders are following up with those who received the book to understand its impact. “We want to know if they are using it in their work,” says Lowell. “Is it promoting discussion and transformation or helping them take the next step? We know that when people process and think about something, it generally leads to greater empathy and compassion.” The evaluation is scheduled to be completed this summer.

Lowell imagines other churches would find value in engaging in a similar interview process and sharing the resulting stories, in any format. “If we can do it here in Brainerd, others can, too! It takes work and perseverance but it’s worth it.”

“Bold Yet Seldom Told” is available for purchase through a local Brainerd bookshop. LEARN MORE

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023