Bookstore in church?

The anonymous author of the UK Unitarian blog praises the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Poconos for opening a bookstore. OK, I think, if it is a second-hand store for fundraising, or if combined with a coffee shop, again as a fundraiser or as a community focus point, then fine. But the economics of such a shop leave me wondering.

But British Anabaptists have a string of nineteen resource houses, to complement in essence the London Mennonite Centre, covering the United Kingdom pretty well, leaving northern Wales, northern Scotland and islands deprived. Anabaptists in Holyhead, Aberdeen, and Lerwick take notice. Portsmouth, too, for good measure.

How about these for a model? One is even hosted by a Chris Walton, Philocrites‘s real name.

Anabaptist Resource Houses

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

14 thoughts on “Bookstore in church?”

  1. Ah, the Englishness of my name is revealed! As if anyone were in doubt. My real, really real name, incidentally, is Christopher. The middle initial’s referent shall be my only remaining secret.

  2. Looking further I see “Books to be sold will be obtained from Beacon Press and Skinner Press, in Boston, headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the fellowship’s national affiliation. They will include literature on the denomination’s history and philosophy, as well as fiction and poetry.”
    Nice to do, every UU church should do this (if they dont already!) Indeed every church should sell (or giveaway) their denomination’s books…

  3. I’ve seen the bookstore phenomenon before, and it raises yellow flags for me (red flags if the church bookstore pushes copies of things written by the pastor). There can be more than a whiff of religious consumer culture to such a thing (and if the pastor is an author, it also smells of the cultivation of a cult of personality).

    I like the idea of second hand books sold as a fundraiser for a specific project or church group. But what I would love to see more of are church libraries. And not libraries full of members’ 20 year out of date, donated books. But a church library that stocks classics of the particular faith tradition, a good stock of relevant new books, and quality children’s books that match the values of the given church.

    -Derek

  4. I can’t speak for the English Chris Walton, but I am sorry to report that my father’s geneaology obsession has yet to turn up any relation to Izaak Walton. I am pleased to report, however, that I also appear to have no relation to Sam Walton. My Waltons are famous for nothin’.

  5. Derek, what’s wrong with selling pastor’s writings or making them available at a church bookstore? It says, “We think our minister’s writings are worthy to be heard beyond the small group of worshipers that were here on that Sunday morning. We think they deserve to be read and passed around to friends and discussed.” If that’s a cult of personality, we could stand to have a bit more of that in the movement. It might encourage more of us to take extra care in the crafting of sermons and writings.

    Given that there are so few books on theology written by UUs (we tend to produce more of the “100 Days With Ralph Waldo Emerson” type of thing, or those poetry/meditation manuals), well-researched, thoughtful and passionate sermons are how we’re doing theology these days. I, for one, want to produce a published version people can take with them. Of course we don’t charge for them; they’re part of the ministry of the church.

    There’s nothing more depressing to me than walking into a coffee hour and seeing a pile of beat-up, 20 year old books on display. I love books. Books excite me. Our DRE puts out a big table of NEW books every Sunday — they’re shiny, they catch the eye, they generate conversation, people borrow them and recommend them for book group — and we also have a church library full of older things.

    I understand your caution about consumer culture but for heaven’s sake, it’s BOOKS we’re talking about, not selling thongs with the name of the congregation on it. After all, all the great cathedrals of Europe have gift shops, which I hardly think is a degradation of their cultural contribution. When I buy a book in a gift shop I can actually learn more about a faith tradition, a building, or a congregation.
    I think of the selling of books not as a capitulation to consumer culture but as a part of lifespan religious education outreach.

  6. PB – Books are special, and I’ve got a soft spot for them. I have way too many of them for my small 800 square-foot home. I also serve a church with another pastor who is well known as a liberal Christian author, and his books do attract new visitors. I have a certain respect for his gifts of written ministry.

    But my yellow flags come out of an experience I had as a regular visitor to a certain large Unity Church in the Detroit area. The pastor/author did cultivate a certain personality driven fellowship with her regular sale of her own books to the congregation. The church in question seemed to become more of her own fan club, than a house of worship. It is not automatically evil to sell books in church. As you point out, and as I must agree with, books are excellent vehicles for lifespan RE. But there are temptations our eyes should be open to. The small temptation is the commercialization of religious writing, in a place where the ideal should be more co-operative and less mercantile. The big temptation (if the pastor/author is both good and prolific) is to use the combination of church and book sales as a vehicle for self promotion. Lastly, my wish was merely that more churches had excellent libraries visitors, members, and friends could use without consideration for their ability to purchase. Most of us don’t need to own a book, to learn from a good book.

    If my current partner in ministry were not as careful as he is about self promotion at our church, we could easily have a church where he is followed instead of God. To paraphrase something I heard from a Catholic friend, “Church should never be about who your priest is. Your loyalty should be to the Body of Christ.”

  7. For the record, my objection — if that’s not too strong a word — to church bookstores is economic. Large churches that have a study groups where a Beacon or Skinner House book is a required text might make a profitable go at local book sales. For just about everyone else the more cost effective option — considering the value of volunteer time and the risk of soiled books — is direct sales.

    I’ve throught about this a lot at my Day Job, which is in associational book sales.

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