An Honest Look at Life in the Church by James R. Coggins

I will start at the rather ordinary beginning and assure you that the more extraordinary matter later on is worth waiting for.

I first met Dawn Miller by mail many years ago. I was an editor with a church denominational magazine called the Mennonite Brethren Herald. Dawn was a volunteer “church reporter” for her local church. Her role was to submit news from her local church to the magazine—birth and wedding announcements, obituaries, pictures of baptisms, etc. Never one to “color within the lines” or limit herself to her prescribed role, from time to time Dawn would also send in thoughtful reflections on church life and the Christian life. We received dozens of such submissions every week—from professional writers, theologians, seminary professors, and pastors—and also amateurs such as Dawn. We rejected about 99 percent of these submissions. There just wasn’t room in the magazine for all that we received. But Dawn’s submissions often made the cut. We published several of them over a number of years.

So, when Dawn contacted me about a year ago and asked if I would publish her autobiography through my Mill Lake Books imprint, I readily agreed.

What Dawn had in mind was a short memoir to pass on to her family and friends. But what she wrote was a thoughtful little book (110 pages) deserving of a much wider readership.

Dawn’s life has been intricately bound up with the church. Her grandfather was a Methodist preacher and her father a United Church minister, and she herself has served in a number of church roles from pianist to Sunday school superintendent and Bible study leader. She started out in the United Church but gravitated to a Mennonite Brethren congregation, in a sense returning to the evangelical roots of her grandfather (hence the title of her book, Granddaddy’s Granddaughter: My Life in the Church). Her life has been a spiritual journey of discovery.

Dawn’s book is not a traditional biography with the focus on herself. Instead, it is a recounting of her life through the lens of her interaction with the various Christian churches she attended. The book thus offers a fascinating look at the church—but not from the usual perspective of a theologian or pastor looking down on the church from above. Instead, it presents a view of the church from the bottom up, through the eyes of a little girl, a restless teenager, and an ordinary church member.

Therefore, Granddaddy’s Granddaughter presents a frank and realistic picture of the church, warts and all. And yet the book is in one sense a tribute to the church. In spite of their imperfections (and maybe even because of them), Dawn found the various churches to be purveyors of truth and meaning and purpose and sources of comfort, healing, encouragement, and community.

Beyond that and along the way, Dawn offers insightful comments on what churches have done right and how they can do better. This book can thus be a useful tool for church leaders to read and ponder. Among her insights are the following:

• “I will always be thankful to that church. Everyone there treated me as a valuable, lovable little person. They built me up.”

• “Children need more than entertainment and teaching. They need to feel loved. They need to feel useful and important. We must include children in the everyday work and mundane operation of the church. Programs and worship times are only a small portion of what the church family can offer children when they are young.”

• “Future life storms would rock my life. However, [that church] helped me build inner strength and purpose so I would never completely disintegrate in times of strife.”

• “Often, some children come into Sunday school or church activities and present various problems to the leaders. I am convinced that churches must genuinely seek to adjust their programs to suit the needs of each child and family.…The main thing that churches need is not fancy media, but individual love and concern.”

• “I’d later learn that not all ministers were as willing or as gifted as Dad, to be able to involve themselves with other people’s struggles. His passion for people made me see that it was important for everyone within a congregation to carefully watch for people who are suffering hurt, confusion, or pain.”

• “Many people have been hurt in various ways by church people. However, within that same church, others can offer compassion and healing.”

• “Churches are not perfect. However, it is even educational for our young people to see Christian people wrestle with problems together. In time, churches resolve many human errors.”

• “A strong connection to the church is essential in maintaining and strengthening a personal connection with God.”

Granddaddy’s Granddaughter is distributed by Ingram and is available via online retailers and local bookstores.

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is
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1 Response to An Honest Look at Life in the Church by James R. Coggins

  1. beemama5 says:

    This sounds like an honest and amazing book. Having attended many different denominations over my lifetime. I too can see that there are many things that can be learned from those experiences. Dawn seems to have really gotten down to the meat of the matter. I look forward to reading this book. Thank you for bringing this book to the forefront.


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