Bowen, M. A. (2001). Church Folk. West Bloomfield, Mich: Walk WorthyPress.978-0446615389
In 1961, Memphis Reverend Theophilus Henry Simmons finds himself emotionally drained after preaching a revival in Mississippi. Wanting a break from the demands of church, Theophilus heads for Pompey’s Rib Joint, “which had the best rib tip sandwiches around – not to mention being known for hosting some of the best blues artists in the region” (Bowen 2001). Not only does Theophilus discover the truth about the goodness of the food and music but he sees the cook, Miss Essie Lee Lane. Immediately, he is attracted to lovely, no nonsense, Christian, diamond in the rough. Essie is drawn to Theophilus as well even though she wants no part of being a preacher’s wife. After a long distance “courting,” Theophilus and Essie marry and Essie becomes the First Lady of Theophilus’s Memphis church, Greater Hope. Human flaws as well as church politics and civil rights are seen as they play into the relationship of the Reverend and Mrs. Simmons.
Church Folk is a publication of the Walk Worthy Press, part of Warner, whose target audience is Christian African-American (May 2007). Most, if not all, characters are African American. Since it is set in the early 1960s South, Civil Rights play a big role in the book. Protagonists seek direction from prayer and Bible study in how to move in gaining equal rights. For the most part, main characters determine early in the novel that African Americans must love each other before they can move forward in Civil Rights. This means cleaning up the acts of ill-behaving preachers and “walking the talk.”
The protagonists in this novel are definitely prayerful Christians. When the protagonists commit sins, they do confess to God and fellow Christians, and ask for forgiveness. Bowen has created a morality play in this novel and she holds her characters accountable for their foibles. God and The Bible drive the action of Theophilus and Essie among many other “good guys.”
However, Bowen does break the cardinal rules of Christian Fiction. Bowen mentions sex on the very first page of the Prologue. “Sex below the neck” does take place in Church Folk (May 2007). In numerous cases, characters having sex outside of marriage is mentioned but not described in full detail. While a forgiving tone exists, having unmarried sex is definitely not condoned by the author. Usually, characters suffer bad consequences for these actions. Also, some characters do use “bad language” but this is a device the author uses to help readers identify hypocrites among badly behaved clergymen.
My mom picked up Church Folk at the library and found the novel refreshingly honest and realistic. Immediately, she encouraged me to read it as an example of Christian Fiction because the people acted like people and not sanctimonious goody-goodies. We both were chagrined to see the “African American” sticker which the library put on the spine of Church Folk. Although neither Mom nor I are African American, we are Christians who enjoyed reading the book. Bowen illustrates Christian characters so well that anyone should be able to enjoy Church Folk. I really liked the down to earth Theophilus and strong, smart cracking Essie as well as Essie’s family and Theophilus’s mentor, the Reverend Murchison James. Additionally, the good characters all possess a good sense of humor and they say the funniest things. This humor makes events memorable and enjoyable for readers. Characters such as the uppity Saphronia McComb, crazy Glodean Benson, and the crooked Reverends Marcel Brown and Sonny Washington are despicable as well as recognizable.
I would most assuredly recommend Church Folk to readers who want realistic Christian Fiction. As previously mentioned, readers can tell from the first page about the sexual content of Church Folk. If a reader finds this offensive, then he/she can move on to another book. I believe audiences of Historical Fiction or those interested in Civil Rights Movement would appreciate this book, too. Also, readers who like to read funny stuff would enjoy Church Folk. Last but not least, this book would attract readers of Romance.
Four and a half Out of Five Pearls.