Finding Intergenerational Community in the Church Book Club

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For the last thirteen years, I have had the privilege of participating in a book club with women from my church. We have read a variety of books in that time, more than one hundred—from our very first selection, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant to our most recent one, Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald. Rather than meeting at the church building, we gather monthly in each other's homes. Each year, we commit or recommit to being part of the group, but we also don’t close our doors to anyone. We have one meeting a year at the church, spreading the word through the church bulletin, as a way of welcoming new members. While our membership has fluctuated over time, the sense of community that we share has not.

When we began, many of us were mere acquaintances, some of us knowing each other only by face and not by name. But over the years, as we have shared our thoughts on the books we commit to reading and discussing together, we have also walked with each other through some of life’s most precious moments—graduations, surgeries, new homes, births, and deaths. We’ve cried together. We’ve laughed together. And we’ve encouraged one another.

What I have found to be unique about this group, and critical to its blessing in my life, is its intergenerational nature. We have members in every decade of life, from their 20s to their 80s. Reading and discussing stories together has bonded us with each other in delightful ways. We not only know each other by name, but now we know each other’s families’ by name. We celebrate each other’s joys and mourn each other’s losses. Through our discussions we gain the perspective of women living life at every stage. 

We talk about difficult issues—poverty, racial reconciliation, the problem of evil—issues that we don’t talk about with many other people in our lives. We can disagree. But we are committed to each other. The sense of accountability and belonging that this group has given me has profoundly deepened my sense of connection to my congregation. There is also nothing like exploring history through historical fiction with women who have lived through that history, or reading about the impact of disabilities on a family with the mother of a child with disabilities. Through their love, their faithfulness, and their hope, they have taught me what it means to be “blessed to be a blessing.”

Nigerian writer Uwem Akpan recently said, “A story is not complete until it has been heard.” I would add that these stories are not only held in books. There are a host of stories in the people in our congregations. We all have stories that need to be told and heard. As those entrusted with stories, we are obliged to share them. As members of the community, we are obliged to listen. I pray that everyone can experience the sense of community that I have found in my book club, community where we are encouraged, challenged, and walk the holy ground of life together before God. It is a treasure all too rare these days. 

How about you? What have been the challenges of trying to run a church book club? What about the blessings?

Twenty of Our Favorite Reads

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Color of Water by James McBride

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

​Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski

Things We Couldn't Say by Diet Eman

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

​Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

​The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

​Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

​The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

​The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

​Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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Great post, Shannon! I think sometimes we try too hard to make intergenerational ministry happen. Yours is a great example of the organic nature of how God works in our midst when we aren't even trying to make things happen.

This is awesome, Shannon! Our church is hoping to launch some interest groups this season and my desire is to see these spaces be places where those who are older and younger can build lasting relationships that open up space for meaningful conversation and story sharing! 

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