In Surviving Through Faith, Dallas author Zoltan Zsohar uses 304 pages to describe his family’s escape from Hungary ahead of Russian soldiers at the end of World War II.
For a recent audio recording, he condensed a refugee story steeped in “hope, faith, love, devotion, and determination” to about 25 minutes.
“Normally I speak without notes, but because I have to maximize the use of the time in The Booth, I had notes to be sure I did not ramble and covered everything I wanted to cover,” he said.
Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church describes The Booth as a place for people to tell stories of where they have experienced the holy in their lives.
An anonymous donor made it possible for the church to purchase the recording space from the company that supplies spaces used by StoryCorps, whose podcasts are available at npr.org.
StoryCorps travels the nation collecting people’s stories in hopes of building connections and moving toward a more compassionate world.
Similarly, Preston Hollow Presbyterian decided to get its own story booth to build relationships within families, the congregation, and the community.
“We are eager to see what other people from the community might want to use it for,” church member Rick Best said.
Best has been working with the Rev. Paul Seelman, the church’s executive pastor, and church member Rick Wyman to promote the new ministry.
The church opened its volunteer-manned booth at the end of October 2016.
The idea emerged in August as the church’s generosity team was planning for the annual stewardship campaign, when members commit to supporting the work of the church with their time and money.
Nina Rayburn, a young adult on the team, talked about “the importance of being able to share our stories of where we’ve seen God active in our lives and seen God’s generosity,” Seelman said.
The Booth is available for one-hour sessions. Participants get copies of their recordings — either on a compact disc or a thumb drive — and get to decide how their stories are used.
“They have the option of having it completely private for use by their family or sharing it for use with the church staff,” Best said.
The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Matthew Ruffner, has talked with other religious leaders about using The Booth for relationship-building conversations.
“We are not looking for a religious story in every regard,” Seelman said.
Many could involve children asking grandparents about life experiences or spouses interviewing each other.
The theme for The Booth comes from Scripture. Psalm 22:22, (from the New Revised Standard Version), reads, “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
Wyman recently interviewed Joan Curtis, who talked about how enduring grace and the support of church members helped her emerge with a deepened faith after the death of her husband in 1995.
“People in PHPC were there with love to help me time and time again until I could stand on my own feet,” she said.
Preston Hollow Presbyterian, which primarily draws from the Preston Hollow and Lake Highlands areas but also other parts of Dallas including Highland Park, has about 2,700 members, according to Sara Stoltz, director of communications.
That’s plenty of potential stories to share.
The Booth, an 8-square-foot recording space set up in the Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church atrium, is free and available to the community. Visit phpc.org/thebooth for hours.