EDMONDS — Kelly Peterson addressed the congregation at Edmonds Lutheran Church from a spot where a pastor might ordinarily elucidate the Gospels.
The 20-year-old wasn’t there to deliver a sermon, though, at least not in any traditional sense. She read a true story about driving a friend to Seattle so he could score drugs. Her narrative, involving brushes with disaster on the freeway, was taken from the pages of the life she led before getting sober and escaping a ferocious addiction to alcohol.
“It hurts. It’s like ripping a scab off,” Peterson said of the writing process. “But after that I get to heal.”
Peterson was part of a group of former and current Scriber Lake High School students invited to the church’s Sunday service Oct. 25. The pupils from the alternative high school in Edmonds had used narrative writing to help transform their lives.
Far from being taken aback, church members drew inspiration from the stories about confronting adversity. They heard about teen pregnancy and poverty. About the death of a best friend. A father’s suicide attempts. And coming to terms with being gay in a family that wasn’t prepared to accept.
“They’re finding hope, strength and renewal through offering their stories” said the Rev. Tim Oleson, who invited the group to read at the church. “That caught me right away, because as part of our faith journey at our church and within the Lutheran Church, we believe that there’s a lot of power in naming our pain and being honest and open about that. That brings healing.”
The Scriber Lake Writing Program was founded by English teacher Marjie Bowker and memoir author Ingrid Ricks. Students published their first book, “We Are Absolutely Not Okay,” in 2012 and finished their most recent collection, “We Hope You Rise Up,” this past spring. A new group of students is working on the fifth book to date.
Students also have been preparing stage adaptations based on the stories.
The program has attracted wide coverage in print, broadcast and online media.
For Bowker, the narratives not only help students cope with hardship, but have changed the community’s perceptions about who attends alternative high school.
“Instead of the troubled kids in our society, they are now seen as the resilient kids,” she said.
Bowker estimates she’s kept in touch with most of her writing students who have graduated.
One of them is Peterson, who now lives in Kirkland, does one-on-one tutoring with autistic children and dreams of teaching writing some day.
Carolina Mooney also read to the church audience Sunday. Her story was about cutting herself as she tried to deal with past traumas.
The 21-year-old from Brier was part of the class that published the original book. She’s now a full-time mom caring for her 15-month-old daughter, Stella, but wants to become an English teacher, maybe even take over for Bowker some day.
“I really fell in love with it and I enjoy helping other people write their stories,” Mooney said.
Though nervous about reading in church, she found that “everybody was really welcoming and open to hearing what I had to say.”
The writers visited the church on the last Sunday in October, when Lutherans observe Reformation Day. The date marks a pivotal moment from the 16th century Protestant movement. Most of the congregation wore red to mark the occasion.
There was no plan to have the writers speak on the religious holiday. It just turned out that way. That elicited a smile of both humor and conviction from the Rev. Julie Josund, one of the church’s pastors.
“But God doesn’t really have coincidences,” she said.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; email@example.com.