From Publishers Weekly
It's a fascinating project: attend 52 different churches in one year and report your first impressions. Shea, a New England novelist and former Catholic, engagingly writes of her initial visits to all kinds of churches: Shaker and Baptist, evangelical and mainline, African-American and Caucasian. Sometimes, these well-written first impressions yield intriguing analysis, as when she notes the total absence of children at the Mother Church of Christ, Scientist. But more often, the book's quick verdicts reinforce the idea that public Sunday worship is just one part of what makes a religion tick, and that it may be unfair to judge churches solely on this basis. Shea seems comfortable enough criticizing other people's intolerance—including that of former president and erstwhile Sunday School teacher Jimmy Carter—but myopically fails to see her own judgmentalism, as when bemoaning the Mennonite presence on a Hopi reservation or taking easy shots at televangelist Joel Osteen. Also, the book has some small factual errors; for instance, Mormons do not believe in the Holy Trinity, as Shea attests. Although the portraits are appealingly personal and often funny, readers may wish for a more rigorous examination of these churches than Shea's impressionistic approach is able to provide. (Apr.)
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*Starred Review* Cradle Catholic Shea was told that Protestants were going to hell, and so were she and her friends should they ever step inside a Protestant church. She felt no urge to visit such churches until after a personal health scare and the death of John Paul II, when the passion of the mourners on her streets and TV impressed her. She had drifted away from the church but, fascinated by and a little jealous of the mourners’ intensity, began wondering about what lay beyond other churches’ doors. Her curiosity eventuated in this book. For one year she attended different non-Catholic services across the country—Methodist, Shaker, Quaker, Seventh-Day Adventist, interfaith, Mormon—in buildings ranging from unadorned chapels to huge megachurches. She wanted to learn what makes the denominations differ, and different from the Catholicism she was raised in. She visited Baptist churches in New York and South Carolina, a “cowboy” church in Colorado, a Quaker meetinghouse in Philadelphia, a Greek Orthodox church in Rhode Island, an evangelical church in New Hampshire, an Episcopal church in Hawaii. She stopped in at Barack Obama’s place of worship, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, as well as 320-year-old King’s Chapel in Boston. It was for her and is for readers a captivating trip into the heart of non-Catholic Christian America that reveals the amazing diversity of one complex faith. --June Sawyers