The Church That Reads Together Thrives Together
Image: Breather / Unsplash

Many of the toys from my earliest childhood years are in near-pristine condition. Even at that age, I loved books and preferred them over toys. I never imagined, though, that 40 years later, this love of books would turn into a career. As editor of The Englewood Review of Books, my work revolves around reading, reviewing, and writing books.

Yet it’s a job that would never have existed without my church community: Englewood Christian Church, located in the urban Englewood neighborhood of Indianapolis. Not only does the church consist of many readers, who enjoy an exceptionally broad range of books, but it also recognized my passion for books and created the opportunity for me and a few other members to do good work in the publishing world.

Englewood is not a highly academic congregation. We do have one tenure-track assistant professor of education and a handful of professionals (including a doctor, a dentist, a pharmacist, and two engineers). The majority of members, however, have an undergraduate degree, and a sizeable portion do not have bachelors’ degrees. But our church, which was founded in 1895, has a long history of taking Scripture seriously and reading it together as a community—through preaching, Sunday school, and more.

Our history of taking Scripture seriously led us into practices of grappling together with the interpretation of Scripture, and ultimately, into diverse habits of reading and conversation: habits that lead us into deeper engagement with one another and with our neighbors. Our reading helped us to better understand what God is doing in the world, to discern the complex realities of our urban neighborhood, and to imagine new ways of working and being together.

Meeting (and Reading, and Interpreting) Together

One of the biggest shifts in Englewood’s history occurred about 20 years ago, when we gave up our Sunday evening worship service in favor of simply meeting together for conversation about the shape and direction of our Christian faithfulness. Those conversations helped us move beyond simply reading Scripture together. Now, we were beginning to interpret it together.

We began with the question, “What is the Word of God?” Almost immediately after diving into this question, we realized our members had a broad range of answers to it—and like the deeply divided culture of our day (consider the political hostilities between Right and Left or the widening gap between rich and poor), we weren’t well-equipped to talk about our differing convictions. As a result, the earliest years of our conversation were extremely volatile. People yelled at each other. Responses were sarcastic. Some people dropped out of the Sunday evening conversation; others left our church altogether.

Those who remained, however, stuck with the Sunday evening practice, and we continued reading and interpreting Scripture together—moving on from the initial question to wrestle with other disputed scriptural terms: salvation, gospel, church, kingdom of God, and more. We spent five years or more grappling with the interpretation of these basic terms at the root of our faith.

But reading has still continued to be a vital part of our Sunday conversations. Sometimes we’ve discussed a particular book. Other times, people chime into the discussion with something they’ve recently read: a thought about theology or the original Greek of a New Testament passage, an idea from an essayist or social critic, or even a line or two of poetry or a piece from a novel.

July/August
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The Church That Reads Together Thrives Together