I was very excited to receive my copy of Blueprints for the Little Church by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker in the mail. There was once a time I could indulge in picking up a book and reading it straight through. Those days are pretty much gone, at least for now. One day..! But having to read this book in short snatches over many days was really better because I was able to ponder each section before moving on.
First of all, there are a few general things I would like to note. Number one: stationed right at the beginning is an admonition to ask your priest if you have questions about specific traditions in your jurisdiction, about your personal prayer rule, fasting rule, etc., and any other questions. Yes! This is a fantastic book, but a book isn’t a spiritual father. Never confuse the two. Number two: throughout the book, in every section you will find quotes from the Church Fathers and saints of the Church. Orthodoxy isn’t something that is reinvented for every generation. God, in His mercy, has provided us with luminaries to light our way. We don’t have to blunder about in the dark!
Blueprints for the Little Church is family-based. Our homes really are little churches, and the parents are the heads of those churches. Topics covered include praying as a family, setting up an icon corner/prayer space, getting children to (and through!) church services, fasting, almsgiving, and the reminder to pay attention to one’s own private prayer life. The assumption is that you are starting from the beginning. Even if you are not a new convert to Orthodoxy, with dramatic changes in your life (addition of children, career change, moving away from family, etc.) you may find yourself floundering around as the practices that used to work so well, just don’t anymore. At each stage of the game you have the opportunity to reassess and get back on track. Truthfully, there are probably many of us who, while we excel in one area, such as attending services, could do with a nudge when it comes to other things like fasting or almsgiving. Wherever you are, Blueprints can help you round everyone together and head back in the right direction.
Each section also includes anecdotes from each of the authors, and from other Orthodox Christians. They share their own experiences and what measures they have taken to organize their little churches. You can see by example that no family is exactly alike and that different situations call for different solutions.
I really can’t say enough good things about Blueprints for the Little Church. It is accessible without being condescending, gentle without being lenient. While it’s a wonderful beginning place for those new to the Faith, it is no less useful to those who have more lengthy backgrounds. Consider giving this as a gift to newlyweds, to couples having their first child, or to families just joining the Church. In addition, give this to your children and your godchildren, but above all, don’t forget to get a copy for yourself!
*Disclosure: I was sent a free copy of this book, but that did not influence my review!