The Church has a long history of supporting the arts. During the middle ages in Europe, the church was responsible for the education and formation of the people. During a time when the majority of the people lived with the ever looming threat of starvation, the church provided a home and a livelihood for young people who wanted to commit their lives to the study of knowledge or higher learning.
During the middle ages, the church was one of the only places where a woman (especially a peasant) could hope to be taught to read. The convent offered a place where a woman could learn to unlock the mysteries of the written word, that is if she was willing give her life to Christ and commit to a life of celibacy.
John Wesley’s Book Club
Despite the fact that people no longer need to depend on the church for education and entertainment, the practice of Christians committing their faith to writing remains.. According to this article from Intervarsity press, each year, “the sheer quantity of Christian books published each year is staggering.”
United Methodists and other members of Wesleyan traditions have a particularly special connection to the propagation of knowledge.
Did you know that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a member of a book club when he was in college? While attending Oxford, John and his brother, Charles, started a book club known as the “Holy Club.” They met on a regular basis to engage in careful reading and study of the Bible. They also read and studied books that were related to the Bible and classical texts.
Other students at Oxford mocked the Wesley brothers for what some people might consider their “nerdy” or “geeky” practices. They looked at the Wesley brothers and said, “Look at those guys, reading all those books when they could be having fun!”
Where We Get the Name “Methodist”
The other students at Oxford even came up for a derisive name for the Holy Club. They called the members “Bible moths,” and mocked their “methodical” study of the Bible. That is where we get the name, “Methodist.”
John and Charles took the negativity that they received from the other students and turned it into something positive. Today, we are proud of the emphasis that our particular flavor of Christianity places on the careful and methodical study of the Bible.
Wesley encouraged Methodists to continue reading. He even helped to edit and publish books that he thought would be edifying for Christians to read and study. The money earned from the Methodist Publishing House was one of the main ways that the Wesley brothers raised funds in order to support their ministries.
Today, the Methodist Publishing House remains one of the leaders in the publishing and distribution of quality Christian texts for individuals and churches. You may be familiar with two of the major imprints of the Methodist Publishing House: Abbingdon Press and Cokesbury.
The Tradition Continues
At the church where I serve, we are carrying on the tradition of reading and learning started by the Wesley brothers over two hundred years ago. Our Book Club is known as the “Books and Beans” and we meet monthly at a local coffee shop.
Everyone is invited to join us. We discuss books from a variety of genres that address the richness of human experience. Our current read is entitled, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This novel follows the saga of twin brothers who were orphaned by the death of their mother and forsaken by their father.
I absolutely love reading and talking about books. That is part of the reason why I started this blog. The “Books and Beans Book Club,” is one of my favorite ministries of our church.
Although the books that we read together are not explicitly “christian” or “inspirational,” they all deal with deeper themes that impact the lives of all people. I’m proud that we continue to carry on the long standing Christian tradition of supporting the arts and broadening our world view by reading together.
Do you have any recommendation’s for my church’s book club? Let me know in the comments!