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Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith Hardcover – April 1, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807072249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807072240
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,190,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The best spiritual stories are the stories of people all around us -- what journalists like to call "real people," as if media professionals normally exist in a realm of plastic replicas. And, perhaps that's the problem with a lot of what passes for American media, these days, isn't it?

Writing as a journalist for more than 30 years, as someone who has circled the globe and also poked around America's most obscure corners -- I understand how rare this kind of book project truly is. As much of American media shrinks, resources to undertake major projects like this year-long pilgrimage through our quirky religious landscape are growing scarcer with each passing year.

And yet -- this kind of pursuit is what defined our greatest writers.

I'm not arguing that Suzanne Strempek Shea claims Mark Twain, Walt Whitman or Jack Kerouac status with this book -- but she's a fascinating memoirist in that noble tradition. This book takes us from New York to Hawaii -- and from Texas to the last holdout of Shaker worship in Maine.

Truth be told -- I didn't have time for this book, but I opened the morning mail and was lost for the next 2 hours! I kept coming back to this book, again and again, as a first choice among a stack of urgent reading.

Here's an easy way to make your choice about this book. If you're a fan of NPR, enjoy Bill Moyers, occasionally chuckle along with Garrison Keillor -- and, especially, if you recall Charles Kuralt with a smile -- then buy this book.

A final tip: It's a great spring read as you're planning your summer, because you may find yourself jotting down details about some of her more intriguing stops.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a sometimes-interesting read by a rather bored (or jaded?) Catholic writer in search of a more fulfilling church. The writing is not bad, and there is some good information for people who have ever wondered what other American church-goers are experiencing each weekend. The author only visits congregations that would have some claim to greater Christianity, including those as diverse as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Adventists, Mennonites and others. Celebrity-type churches are also attended during the one-year project, including those made famous by Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Jeremiah Wright and President Jimmy Carter.

In her quest for the ideal church. the author is most satisfied with churches that emphasize social-justice, multi-culturalism, and an emotional/spiritual "feel-good" experience. She also values art and decoration in her perfect worship setting. From my reading, I didn't think Shea is very interested in issues such as the Biblical truth, accurate teaching of Scripture, evangelism, or the importance of living for Christ. Where many Christians seek ways to please God, the writer seems more intent on finding a place where God can please her. Shea seems to desire a church where "tolerance" is a key virtue, but she can be rather intolerant herself of preachers who espouse traditional church values.

Ms. Shea hails from Massachusetts, and fully one-half of the churches reviewed are in greater New England/New York/eastern Pennsylvania (including five in the New York City Metro area). Only about a quarter of the churches were west of the Mississippi. The reader slowly becomes aware that Ms. Shea prefers her Christianity on the liberal side.
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Format: Hardcover
Mormons and mennonites; Quakers and Shakers; Baptists and Spiritualists. A Fifty-two week journey featuring a different religion every Sunday. This was quite a task to undertake, but Suzanne Strempek Shea stays right on course and takes the reader on a yearlong journey across the country as she seeks to understand both the similarities and differences between the ways Christians worship. Attending both megachurches and places of worship where most of the congregation consists of ghostly presences, lapsed-Catholic Strempek Shea also rediscovers what is important to her in a spiritual sense. The book is witty and passionate, and Strempek Shea doesn't shy away from what turns her off and why, and what fills her with the spirit. It took me a bit of time to read this book, as too many religions in one sitting is a bit overwhelming, but each chapter contains both personal and public observations that clue the reader in to what the author was feeling on the day she walked into each church. I like this writer's energy and commitment to her task. I've never read anything quite like it, and I enjoyed it very much.
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Format: Hardcover
This was a book I had to keep reminding myself to slow down and savor - it's so engaging and so delicious - yet I kept wanting to read on and discover more. After all, this could not be a more timely topic. At a point in history when we are surrounded by spiritual starvation - people leaving churches in droves - and faced again and again with religious fundamentalism at home and abroad, Suzanne Strempek Shea's response is a personal one - she goes out and actively samples church services around the country, experiencing what they have to offer and asking herself if this is what it is all about, truly.

By the end of this book I felt I had not only traveled roads to outlandish and inspiring places, but I also felt I had reached a personal revelation of what spirituality could be, whether or not it was tied to a religion, a creed, or a parcel of dogma. As I read I was amused, astonished, and sometimes shocked by the types of worship she observed, and ultimately I had to admit I was profoundly moved by what she showed me about faith and belief. For when we witness others' faith, we allow our own to grow.

I cannot think of a book that is more relevant to spirituality today in the USA. I shall be giving copies to those friends I know who are sampling churches and chapels, looking for something that feels genuine.

We should be profoundly thankful for this book.

Allan Hunter
Author of "Stories We Need To Know: Reading Your Life Path in Literature'
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