Contributed by Anita and Richard Norton
On the fourth Thursday night of any month you can walk in the Downstairs Dining Room at Huffman United Methodist Church and find a group of twenty or so people having a pot luck dinner and discussing a book. It might be a book by John Grisham, Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg, John Krakauer or Rick Bragg. It might be a legal thriller, a “chick” book, a memoir, a book of adventure, or a "coming of age" book written by a Southern author. We occasionally even read a spiritual book!
The first meeting of the Hungry Readers Book Group was held in September, 2002. Those of us who sit around the table and discuss are people of various interests and ages. We are men and women—about two-thirds female, and we have several married couples. Most of us are United Methodist; some are not. We have several things in common. Of course, we all like to read. We also seem to like to eat. (Isn’t a pot luck meal a requirement for any meeting in a United Methodist Church?) And we are friends who enjoy seeing each other once a month. We are a "church" book group but we like to say we do not usually read "churchy" books. Of course, we do not read "dirty" books, either. If a member of the group suggests a book – we will usually get around to reading it.
The discussions last 45 minutes to an hour and are usually led by the person who suggested the book. Our first book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and it is also the only book we have read twice. The books that have generated the most interest were The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and Keeping Faith by Dr. Wayne Flynt. Dr. Flynt visited us when we discussed his book and we have had visits from two other Alabama authors, T.K. Thorne and the late Rev. Jerry Sisson. Although we read both fiction and nonfiction, 75% of our books are fiction. We also try to read at least one book considered a classic each year.
If people in our group were asked what they like about the book group, the answers would probably be something like Christian fellowship, the opportunity to better know folks we go to church with, and the opportunity to have community members who like to read participate in an activity in our church. Since we don’t all have the same tastes in books we read books from a number of literary genres, so another benefit is reading books that one would not ordinarily read.
One might ask how a church book group that does not generally read spiritual books increases a person’s faith walk. We touched briefly on the opportunity to meet and get to know people we go to church with – some of those we have met through this group have become very special Christian friends. Some no longer attend church with us but come back every fourth Thursday for book group. This group has also opened up other avenues to each of us which have allowed us to expand our Christian faith. Our discussions inevitably bring up those things in life we all experience – views of God, grief, loss, sin, death, joy, human frailties, religion, family dynamics, change, race, and many more. When Christians sit around a table discussing these things, Christian values are shared.
For example, it is not possible to discuss To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Help by Katherine Stockett, or Extraordinary Ordinary People, Condoleezza Rice’s wonderful memoir about growing up in Birmingham, without discussing race. Whatever someone’s opinion about race, when Christians discuss it we share, learn and grow.
In the same way, it is impossible to discuss a book by Pat Conroy, Jodi Picoult or Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, without discussing family dynamics, love, loss, or the roads that life’s changes and challenges take us down. We share, we learn, we grow – as Christians. And not only do we learn, but in a sense, we witness to each other through our discussions.
When we helped get this group started almost twelve years ago we were just looking for a group of people who enjoyed reading as we do. We have received so much more and our lives have truly been enhanced by this experience. We would encourage others to consider forming a similar group. You’ll be glad you did!