Faithful Readers celebrates 20 years
Editor’s note: Katie Hanson and Dave Crowe teach at Augustana College. For the past 20 years, they have led St. Paul people through a rich variety of reading and discussion. They recently answered a few questions about the joy of leading this particular group.
How did this all begin?
Katie: As I recall, one fall day, in 1997, Peter (Marty) came to our house and said he wanted to talk to us. He wondered if we would be willing to start up a book club at St. Paul. We had three children under the age of 6 and both worked full time at Augustana College. He acknowledged that it would be a lot of work, but we quickly agreed that we’d give it a shot. We started with A Green Journey by the Minnesota writer, Jon Hassler, and we have been meeting eight months of the year on the second Thursday ever since.
Dave: I remember an organizational meeting we held after church one day in the choir rehearsal room. About 80 people came, expressing excitement about reading books about faith – which was both encouraging and frightening. Once the actual reading began, about 30 showed up, and soon it was more like 20. We’ve met with 15-25 every month since, and the members and friends have certainly evolved. There are two or three stalwarts, dear friends who have been with us the whole journey.
How do you select the books?
Katie: We have several specific criteria for our book selection. We know people are very busy, so we incorporate reading short stories instead of a novel for at least three or four months of the year. If we have a longer book, we read it for the September meeting so people can have all summer to read it. We only choose books we have read and know have theological issues incorporated in the fiction. We only choose paperback books that are readily available. We choose high quality literature, but in no particular genre. We mostly read fiction, but some nonfiction. We have read memoir, graphic novels, young adult novels, plays, and short stories. We read widely – Shakespeare and Marilynne Robinson, Elie Wiesel and C. S. Lewis.
Dave: Because we’re college professors, we treat the group like a college class in a way. We open up a discussion and see where it goes, trusting in smart contributors. We try to provide biographical background on an author, and maybe point out features of the story that professional critics would notice. But mostly we just enjoy people’s reactions. And then there’s another college-like aspect of FR: we don’t censor books much. If the stories have violence or overt sexuality or a bit of profanity, we discuss whether it’s gratuitous and what it means for a Christian reader to confront those things. We view our group as sophisticated readers who aren’t surprised much by contemporary culture. So we don’t reject modern books. We do, however, insist that our selections include some genuine discussion of faith or God’s nature or the responsibilities of believers — Christians, mainly, but also faithful Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and others.
Why do you believe FR has continued for two decades?
Katie: St. Paul has so many curious, open-minded people who love to read and talk about ideas. Our group is informal and we have plenty of social moments, but we also always discuss the books or short stories and try to figure the important themes together. Dave and I bring in outside information about the author, time period, and share articles we have read about the book, and then the group is off and running. Discussions are rich and everyone participates as he/she feels comfortable.
Dave: I think the mutual love of books and stories is very powerful, but we also benefit from the generosity of the friends and fellow parishioners who attend. They seem to forgive us our trespasses.