by Joe Bollig
OLATHE — What’s better than a good read? A good read shared, said some parishioners at St. Paul Parish here.
When he was assigned to the parish three years ago, pastor Father Michael Hermes decided to launch a community read ministry. The simple yet effective idea was that parishioners would form groups according to language — Spanish, English and American Sign Language — and everyone would read and discuss the same book.
The first book for the “community read” was “Rediscover Catholicism,” by Matthew Kelly.
The original plan was for the groups to meet in the fall and spring on a temporary basis. As soon as the “community read” finished the assigned book, most of the groups disbanded.
Some groups, however, wanted to continue.
Parishioner Holly Thomas leads one of the permanent groups. Her husband Scott, “the quiet partner,” helps with snacks, setting up chairs and passing around the handouts.
“My husband and I went to another person’s group but, in the spring, he couldn’t lead anymore. And I felt God calling me to lead the next program Father Michael wanted,” said Thomas.
In addition to reading assigned books, the groups also have the flexibility to view videos, conduct Bible studies or read other books of members’ choosing.
This past spring, the “community read” focused on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.
The group led by Thomas (it has no name) meets at her house on Tuesday mornings from 9:15 to 10:50 a.m. Some of the members first go to Mass at the parish. They usually meet weekly during the fall and spring.
They don’t read the assigned book when the class meets, because people do that on their own. Thomas leads the group of eight in a discussion guided by a series of questions she writes.
“I make sure the Bible is a part of the study,” said Thomas. “I also make sure we study the Catechism [of the Catholic Church] for each topic or book that I’ve chosen.”
Thomas’ group is almost finished with “Divine Mercy” (Threshold Bible Study), by Stephen J. Binz.
“Holly is so knowledgeable and spiritual,” said group member Cindy Gamber. “We go places I’ve never dreamed of going. She has such insight. She’ll come in with an angle that I wouldn’t even think about.”
“[The group] has broadened my understanding of a lot of things,” she continued. “We discuss our different perspectives. We come from different walks of life and backgrounds. It’s fantastic to expand the different approaches and ideas.”
One aspect that makes the group enjoyable — as well as educational — is the fellowship.
“It’s a nice group,” said Barbara Bergman, who as been a part of the group for 18 months. “It’s good to get together. We have a little time before the [Bible or book] study to socialize, and after. It’s just nice getting together with other people and get different outlooks on things.”
Why do people keep coming back? For group member Mary Heiman and her husband George, it’s because of the learning and friendship.
“We want to further our education in the church and want to keep learning,” said Mary Heiman. “Holly has been really good about coming up with good, thought-provoking questions. This [group] has been a good education.”