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