Duke Divinity’s White to illustrate how holy friendships can challenge people, faith institutions for ILS


As storytelling has always been a part of human relationships and flourishing, it’s no wonder that storytelling is just as vital to the concept of holy friendship.

“Stories are how holy friends can speak hard truths in love,” the Rev. Victoria White wrote for Faith and Leadership. “This holds not just for individuals but also for institutions — especially, I believe, for Christian institutions and those who lead them. Whether for individuals or institutions, holy friendship is a tall order.”

White would know — she literally wrote the book on holy friendship: Holy Friendships: Nurturing Relationships that Sustain Pastors and Leaders, published this March by Fortress Press. She’ll be giving her presentation on the topic as part of the Interfaith Lecture Series Week One theme, “Holy Friendship: Source of Strength and Challenge” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

White is a writer, pastor, designer, coach, facilitator, teacher, and the managing director of grants at Duke Divinity School’s Leadership Education. There, her work focuses on cultivating and supporting innovative Christian institutions and their leaders. 

As scholar L. Gregory Jones — who wrote the forward to White’s book — noted, “Holy friends challenge the sins we have come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim and help us dream dreams we otherwise would not dream.”

That honesty is important, White wrote. It opens people — and institutions — to growth, though it may be uncomfortable.

“Having others name our sins is painful, of course. So too, for some, is having them affirm our gifts and give voice to our hidden dreams — especially when that highlights how short we have fallen,” she wrote for Faith and Leadership. “Even so, we need to hear difficult truths about ourselves in order to grow into the people God created us to be. When holy friends couch these truths in stories, they make them easier to hear and our need to change easier to accept.”

Stories and holy friendships are plentiful in both the Old and New Testaments, but it’s really just one story, White wrote: God’s story of love for the world. 

Holy friends help to re-narrate old stories.

“Holy friends can help locate these stories within God’s larger ongoing story, opening our eyes to see where we have, in fact, grown and changed. Similarly, they can help us write new stories for the future, of what and who, with God’s help, we can become,” White wrote. “The same is true for institutions. A church or other Christian institution can cling to old stories and become stuck in tragic events, moments of human brokenness that happened generations ago.”

But naming sins and facing them allows for repentance and forgiveness.

“Holy friends, whether for individuals or institutions, use storytelling to speak difficult truths we might otherwise not be able to hear,” White wrote in Faith and Leadership. “In so doing, they help us grow and flourish in our unique individual and corporate roles in God’s ongoing story.”


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