I really enjoyed this book. A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley is not the first thing that I've ever read by Gulley. Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister and a writer of both fiction and nonfictional thoughts, mostly on Christianity and church life. His portrayal of and insight into church life, both fictional and nonfictional is so very accurate and wise and funny that I can't help but love everything he has written. And, of course, there is also the added benefit of the books being very, very well written.
The Harmony series is about a fictional series (although I think there's a lot of truth and almost-true events in the books) about a Quaker preacher and his wife and two sons who move home to Harmony where Sam, the main character, grew up. There, Sam takes over preaching the small, fundamentalist, Quaker church where he spent his childhood. Throughout the series, we are introduced to a number of characters in this small town-from the sensible church ladies on the Chicken and Noodles Committee to the raving conservative, Dale Hinshaw who manages to alienate almost everybody. I'm sensing another post about this series coming on...
Anyway, this series is a spin-off of that series. In this series, Sam and Barbara (his wife) are about to experience a change. They have to leave their town of Harmony and Sam's pastoring position after an uproar occurs. The Unitarian pastor in Harmony asks Sam to conduct a blessing at the end of a wedding. To Sam's utter shock, the couple is gay. And to add to the problem the local newspaper reporter is there. When this news gets out, the church creates a complete uproar, fires Sam, and hires a fly-by-night pastor.
With no job and two sons just sent off to college, Sam and Barbara get ready to leave for new in Hope, Indiana, respectively, at a congregation of 12 people, and the school library. They are happy there at this new church, with kind people and, of course, the few malcontents that accompany any church. And this is the start of a new series.
I knew that I was going to like this book. Philip Gulley is a very funny writer with a sense of the charming foibles and quirks that accompany church life. It also makes me laugh at how universal some parts of church life are. For instance, take this quote from the chapter in which Sam is being interviewed by the Search committee:
"'Now I'm clerk of the Limb Committee,' Hank said. 'Limb Committee? What's a limb committee?' Sam asked. 'Just like it sounds. I'm in charge of making sure th tree limbs get picked up. Got a lot of trees here. If we didn't have a limb committee, the yard would be a mess.' 'What other committees are there?' Sam asked. 'Well, let's see, we have the limb committee, the pie committee, the roof committee, the snow committee, the lawn-mowing committee, the kitchen committee, a funeral committee, a parsonage committee, and the pastoral search committee,' Hank Withers said. 'Don't forget the peace committee,' Norma Withers added. 'And technically, we have an elders' committee, but it doesn't meet regularly.'"
This sounds ridiculous to the average ear, but this passage so funnily captures that church-wide phenomenon of, "Have something to do? I know! We'll start a committee and stick a couple of people on it."
This is the brilliance of Gulley's writing- capturing the mundanities of church life and showing the true hilarity of some of the situations.
This book has also been rather controversial (at least, GoodReads seems to think so), because, by the end of the book, it's pretty obvious that Gulley is in favor of the church becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, something that, at least in the US, the majority of people are not. I appreciated how he dealt with the topic with grace, humor, and kindness to both sides of the argument, something that is not often done.
This books is obviously a niche-novel. It's written for a certain set of the population and the majority of the jokes are good-church-people jokes. That said, if you've ever spent any time in a church setting (and, really, it can be pretty much any church), then I would definitely recommend this book. It's a funny, kind, gentle book and a very fast read. I enjoyed picking it up and reading about half of it over a lunch break and then the other half that evening. I highly recommend it.