instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Grace: A Memoir

Guidelines for Book Groups

The book opens with Cartledgehayes questioning what things, if any, are sacred. How does this question serve to frame the narrative socially and theologically? Were you surprised to find that clergy ask such questions? If so, why?

Why do you think the author chose to use salty language in a book about God, spirituality, and the ordained ministry? What does the language contribute?

How would you categorize this book? Is it a memoir, a spiritual autobiography, an odyssey, an archetypal American success story, a story of mid-life transition?

Embodiment is a major theological theme. How is this theme revealed in the author’s relationships? What do you make of the therapist’s comment that all relationships have a sexual component?

Why does the piano have such an impact on the author in the scene where Chris Flynn tells the congregation that he has only a 20 percent chance of survival?

Cartledgehayes’s creativity erupts in classrooms, at the piano, and from the pulpit. What do you think is gained by having a high level of creativity? What are the costs?

Do the experiences of women in the ministry seem inherently different from the experiences of women in other formerly male-dominated professions?

Regional influences often shape not only the narrative but also the style of a writer. Cartledgehayes lived in northern Ohio for the first twenty years of her life and in the South for the next thirty years. Is she a Midwestern writer, a Southern writer, neither, or both? What elements in the text cause you to think so?

While this book is clearly written by a woman with feminist leanings, men love reading it. Why do you suppose that is?

In the midst of the activity and grief that surrounded the publication of Grace: A Memoir in 2003, my energy evaporated before I could write the acknowledgments page. Here, at last, it is.

This book exists because of the generosity of a cloud of witnesses who sustained Fred and me during his illness. After Fred’s death on April 4, 2000, they also walked the stony road back to life with me.
Within the United Methodist Church, I thank A. Clark Jenkins, J. Lawrence McCleskey, and Amy Stapleton, each of whom offered me breathing room.
At Crown Publishing, I thank the brilliant Betsy Rapoport, who said yes to Gareth Esersky of the Carol Mann Agency, and Steve Ross, who said yes to Betsy. Thanks, also, to Stephanie Higgs and Kate Harris for their enthusiasm for and dedication to this project.
My deepest gratitude goes to Mary Flowers, Terry Smith, and Brian Mallory for their unfailing devotion and passion;
to the Flynn family for their generosity in letting me tell their story;
to Lisa Knopp, Lee Gutkind, Leslie Rubinkowski, and Philip Gerard of Goucher College for showing me the beauty, and to the late Christine White, who not only coached me through my thesis but sent tulips the day I finished it;
to Joe and Nancy Turner, for teaching me to hear the hidden notes;
to the world’s finest readers and friends: Nicole Oost, Julie Hilton Steele, Lisa Creech Bledsoe, Bill Howell, and Nancy A. Hardesty;
to the honorary presidents of my fan club: Jeanne, Judy, Jeanette, Patsy, Jill, Mary, Sue, Nancy, Deb, and Cathy;
to my late sister, Amy Thomas Reidling, for insisting, “You gotta believe;”
to The Cousins and Larry, for being themselves;
and to Tara and Jennifer, who light my life with their beauty and grace.

From Publishers Weekly
This breathless, pulsating, sensual memoir by a Methodist minister demonstrates a poetic mastery over language and breaks open stereotypes about Methodists, ministers, feminists, grandmothers, musicians and all the other roles Cartledgehayes embodies. The book is a brisk excursion through her unusual childhood on a small island, her early pregnancies and failed marriages and the dramatic miracle that propelled her into church, a loving relationship and the ministry. Cartledgehayes steers the reader firmly through life as a woman in a conservative divinity school and into her post with a struggling congregation. This is not a Pollyanna story about how the maverick but plucky outsider wins the hearts of a skeptical, resistant community; it is a mosaic exploration of how hard it can be to love a community (let alone please everyone in it). Cartledgehayes lets readers glimpse the exhausting, give-it-your-all world of creating sermons without deconstructing or diminishing the spiritual power that gives them life. She flips with ease between the daily grind of ministry and connections with the divine; the Zen-like moments she enjoys holding her grandbabies and the healing sex she shares with her husband. She swears liberally and loves passionately. The memoir also dissects the issues that eventually propelled Cartledgehayes out of the ministry and into piano lessons, hence the many piano metaphors sprinkled throughout the book. Somehow Cartledgehayes turns herself inside out in this memoir without turning the reader off; it is a dense and juicy book that moves both heart and mind. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
As we quickly learn, Cartledgehayes never does anything half-heartedly. She is also full of surprises, which helps explain how she--middle-aged, twice divorced, with children--decided to be an ordained United Methodist minister. Indeed, there is nothing ordinary about her. Consider her moment of conversion: in November 1980, on her way to work from the dry cleaners, she shifted into third gear on a four-lane road when the roof of her car became transparent, and a shaft of light bathed her in a golden glow. In keeping with that event the rest of her story is entertaining as well as powerfully moving, and she is outspoken, opinionated, and controversial as well as compassionate and humane. When she finally leads her own congregation, things do not always go as planned, but at home or in the pulpit, her personality shines out, making this most unusual memoir by one of the most memorable recent memoirists funny, earthy, and poignant. June Sawyers. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved