Recently I’ve been hearing about colleges who assign “common reads” to their incoming students — a single title that is to be read before arriving at college and then discussed in small groups when school starts. It’s a take-off on a program that’s been popular in communities and states for at least ten years, often going under the name One Book [fill in the name of your community or state]. The popular book for college programs this year is The Other Wes Moore.
Seven years ago, Penn Central Conference decided that we would begin a “One Book: Penn Central Conference” program, and our first selection was The Practicing Congregation by Diana Butler Bass. We have done at least one and sometimes two books every year since 2004-2005.
This year we chose the book called The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris. One member of our Sacred Conversation on Race Ministry Team came in very excited after reading this book. The rest of us read it as well, and we found it both moving and challenging. So we decided to recommend it to the whole Conference as our “One Book” for the year.
We always work to buy from the publisher, which allows us to offer the book to our congregations at an excellent price while preserving the author’s right to royalties. We started with a hundred copies and we are so glad we did. Soon groups from local churches were reading the book, and more surprisingly, we had entered into a conversation with Michele Norris, the book’s author and a popular NPR host. Michele has started a website and project related to the book that includes an exercise called “Race Cards.” It challenges people to distill their insights about race to six words and send them in to Michelle’s website.
One thing led to another and we were so very blessed to have both Michele Norris, and our own UCC staff person Waltrina Middleton, with us for our Penn Central Conference Annual Meeting. People brought with or bought copies of The Grace of Silence for Michele to sign, and we found in our new friend a gracious human being, willing to help us learn and grow. One of the most exciting parts of the weekend was a plenary where Michele and Waltrina answered questions from our youth.
Now, we’d like to challenge the whole United Church of Christ to read The Grace of Silence. We think it’s an important book, and an accessible way to re-start the “Sacred Conversation on Race” in the United Church of Christ. What if churches, Associations, and pastor’s groups everywhere began to read and discuss this book? What if they began to submit “Race Cards” to Michelle? We gave her nearly a hundred to take home from our Annual Meeting!
Michele and Random House believe in this idea so much that they are willing to make this offer to UCC congregations: If your church would like a complimentary copy of The Grace of Silence to consider for a community-reads, Anchor Books would be happy to provide one. Please email your request to Jen Marshall at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Give it a try, and then send us an email about your
experience at <email@example.com>. We’d love to hear how it’s going for
you. Hey, maybe next year we can all
read The Other Wes Moore…
The Rev. Marja Coons-Torn is Conference Minister of the UCC's Penn Central Conference.