Earlier last month, we learned our church library would be shutting down.
The church library has been there for me ever since I began attending this church at the age of six. It was one of the only places I picked up books to read and is almost wholly responsible for guiding my reading journey.
Worries of it closing have been around since 2020. But ultimately, even though our budget was removed, church members still stepped up to keep it running solely through donations.
The reasoning behind closing it down is to make room for another ministry, which is an idea I don’t mind. Every church has to choose which ministries to support. If it had been simply an issue of one ministry over another, I don’t believe it would have hit as hard.
However, it has become evident through meetings and the way the situation is being handled, that the library is not considered a ministry at all. It is to be swapped out for a smaller resource library made up of nonfiction books only.
But as I shared with one of the librarians there, fiction has done more for me than nonfiction ever has. In the years our church has had the resource shelves (of nonfiction) and our library (of all genres), I have never once used their resources, despite the fact that I have struggled with many topics those books might address.
When I am struggling, I typically look for a story.
I discussed some of this in a post years ago when these threats first began circulating. (Read here) But some of them are worth going through again. Because despite popular belief, fiction is a ministry. And it is just as powerful, if not more than, a resource library full of nonfiction books.
Of course, there are all sorts of people. Some people may seek out a nonfiction book. But as a general rule, fiction is more accessible. Nonfiction tends to use language and illustrations that just don’t connect with the reader (although many authors are working to change that). While I can sit and read a novel in a day, often I can only manage one chapter of a nonfiction book at a time, sometimes not even that much. In some cases, nonfiction can’t do as much good, simply because it’s not getting to people. We get tired of slogging though footnotes and definitions, and look for something easier. We have enough hard things to deal with.
But shouldn't we try hard things? Absolutely. As I said, nonfiction has a very important place and fills very specific needs. However, being accessible or easy to slip into doesn't tend to be a superpower of that genre.
And that leads us to seek out the escape that is fiction. Stories are an escape, and that’s not bad. Escapism is often presented as a problem, but it’s not. If someone is living day in and day out in survival mode because of something they’re going through, a story, fiction can be the only few moments in a day where they aren’t simply surviving, rather than a nonfiction tome that’s just another thing to do.
I’ve been through hard things, just like everyone else. And while I do sometimes seek out a nonfiction book on the topic that I need help with, more often than not, I’ll instead look for stories with representations of a certain issue. Or, because we humans like to deny that trouble exists, I would purposely go in looking for something that had nothing to do with it, because I needed a space where I didn’t have to think about it anymore.
But most importantly, fiction brings people together.
Even though we will no longer have our library, we’re seeking out ways to keep our regular patrons together and in contact. Many of the patrons are older ladies, some of whom say the library is where they feel the most heard. It’s not just about books, it was about a unique way of connecting with people who otherwise would be lost in the shuffle of traditional church structure.
Fiction contributed greatly to that. It was easy to start a conversation based on whatever book we were returning, how we liked it or disliked it. We’d ask each other for recommendations, and when we read those recommendations, we weren’t just enjoying a great story, we were learning a little bit more about the person who recommended it to us.
Fiction and a reading community saw many of us through terrible things—death of spouses or family members, serious illnesses, and trauma. Not only were we able to see ourselves in the stories we chose, but we were able to see ourselves in the people we interacted with at the library, people we might not have interacted with otherwise.
Fiction brings people together in a way that nonfiction simply can’t. A nonfiction text is objective. It comes in, it states its message, it leaves. It is essentially a list of dos and don’ts, or it is an argument for a particular case. While this is important in its own right, it doesn’t build the connection that fiction does.
Meanwhile, fiction is subjective. Fiction means something different to everyone. One person may connect to the protagonist, while one connects more to the supporting character. One may see a certain aspect of the story in their own life, while another has never experienced, but comes away with more knowledge on the topic.
These are just a few thoughts of mine, scattered though they are. And they’re all reasons that I will miss my church library. I wish we had had the chance to prove just how much of a ministry we were. Then again, maybe we had nothing to prove.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!