Over the summer, our talented summer interns put together a program for Commonweal readers to gather in person to discuss issues covered by their favorite magazine. Like a blog comment thread, but nicer. So far we have nine such groups from California to New York. The first Commonweal Reader Community met earlier this month in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the home of Gene and Marjorie Audette. They were kind enough to invite me for an evening of lively discussion, lots of laughter, and the best oatmeal cookies I've ever had.
About a dozen of us took seats in the Audettes' lovely living room. There were former priests, a retired Methodist minister, a practicing theologian, a few dabblers in the theological arts, educators of various sorts, a retired lawyer, a director of liturgical music. They lent me their ears while I discussed my route to an illustrious career as a Commonweal editor, the mysterious process of turning a manuscript into a publishable article, and the lucrative world of Catholic publishing. We talked about Syria, Joseph Bottum's recent smash-hit article on gay marriage, the role of Commonweal, Pope Francis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, local church-reform efforts, the sad state of the Minnesota Twins, the sadder state of the Chicago White Sox--you name it. Then I shut up and let the group hammer out the details: scheduling, hosting duties, discussion leadership, et cetera.
If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times: We have the best readers in publishing--the smartest, funniest, and best-looking. We editors spend most of our days in front of computer screens. Letters to the editor give us a good sense of what our subscribers are thinking. Blog comments can enlighten. But nothing beats meeting the people who read what we put out. And I meet lots of them, usually at conferences. But those entail brief conversations, not extended ones. And this one was hugely rewarding. We're grateful to the members of the St. Paul group for putting in the time, and especially to Gene for getting it off the ground.
If you've ever wanted to sit down with other Commonwealers to talk about Commonwealish issues, click here to see if there's a reader group in your area. And if not, why don't you drop us a line? We'll get you started.