A lifetime of Catholicism, coupled with unsettling news of priestly behavior, compelled Suzanne Strempek Shea to spend every Sunday for a year at a different house of worship. Her only rules were that the services were Christian, open to the public, and in the United States. This book is essentially a journal of those visits, which she both began and ended on Easter (in 2006 and 2007). The array of religious organizations she manages to find is truly impressive, as is the variety of locations around the country. She hears sermons from a few famous individuals as well, like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) and Billy Graham’s daughter. Along the way, she is greeted by regular congregants sincerely welcoming her to the different folds.
She does a professional job of describing each and every chapel, room, stage, auditorium, etc., and notes the average ages, genders and races of those attending wherever she happens to be. Her notes on the discourses are clear and concise, and it is easy for the reader to grasp the particular message of the described minister. The only areas in which she loses her objectivity are those involving homosexual relations and fear-based orations. She is not particularly kind in her judgments of any group that teaches that homosexual relations are sinful, or those that sermonize that God is out to punish you, so you best be on His good side.
As the year progresses, we read of some of her personal problems, but not in great detail. We get to know some of her personal background, a few members of her family and circle of friends, and some really interesting insights about parochial schooling. She manages to allow us glimpses of herself without letting herself become the center of attention, which I found to be enjoyable.
She manages to discover some faith-promoting anecdotes in her various visits that are very pleasant as well:
“The people make the church, not the building.”
“A church is a hospital, not a museum.”
“Problems do not defeat you; perspective does.”
Rated: None. Only a single mild term she quoted from a parishoner’s lapel button.