This reading group guide for One Sunday includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Carrie Gerlach Cecil. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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Alice Ferguson is the definition of a self-made and morally ambiguous woman. She built a successful career as an assistant editor of a tabloid magazine; launched her own Hollywood gossip website, Trashville; and pulled herself single-handedly out of poverty and anonymity. But Alice’s LA-centered world is turned upside down when a charming Southern gentleman not only gets her pregnant but dares to fall in love with her, too. Forced to move to Tennessee for her health and the health of her unborn child, Alice gets to know her African-American neighbors, Pastor Tim and his wife, LeChelle, who begin to open her heart and mind to the impossible idea that God may love her despite her painful, self-inflicted life choices. After years of hiding from her troubled and rocky past, Alice faces her demons, learning forgiveness and, ultimately, finding satisfaction and letting real love into her life. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. “Once again, I was kinda listening, kinda not. Only this was my wedding, which should give an indication of my laissez-faire ideology regarding commitment” (page 2). How does this initial moment in the novel—Alice’s wedding—depict her as a main character? Did you like her? If not, did you come to like her? In what ways does Alice change as the novel continues?
2. Do you think Alice was truly unhappy with the way she was living her life in Los Angeles? Do you believe that unhappy people can change and find joy with the help of God and Godly people?
3. The South—in particular, Nashville—is the main setting for this novel. Why do you think the author chose to set the novel in Tennessee?
4. Revisit the scene on page 44 when Alice recalls dancing with her parents in the kitchen. Why do you think Alice spent twenty-five years avoiding this happy memory?
5. Discuss Alice’s collection of religious and spiritual paraphernalia. Why do you think she has amassed this collection? What does her interest in these items imply about her journey toward discovering Christianity?
6. In what way or ways does Alice’s mother’s illness affect her daughter? Do you think the early loss of her mother somehow led Alice to a career as a tabloid publisher? How is family—or a lack thereof—central to Alice’s sense of self-worth?
7. In your opinion, why did Alice agree to marry Burton?
8. Why do you think the author chose to make Alice a Caucasian woman and the Jackson family African-Americans? Do you believe that true reconciliation can exist between races in the South?
9. Consider the figure of Alice’s mother, who visits Alice shortly after her death. In what ways is “The Occurrence” an omen for what is to come in Alice’s future? Turn to page 135 and discuss.
10. “At once, I understand. An understanding that I’ve never been more confident about, coming from a source not of this world. My tears stop. My sadness is wiped away by peace” (page 137). Do you think this is a definition of faith? If you were to define faith for yourself, how would you describe it? Is your definition similar to Alice’s?
11. Discuss Tim and Alice’s friendship. What does Tim symbolize for Alice? Does he fill a void for her? Do you believe Tim could be the spiritual father in place of her real father who died? If so, how?
12. Do you think Alice’s transformation could have happened in California, or did the new landscape of Tennessee contribute to her change of perspective?
13. On page 195 Tim describes his son’s kite with the following metaphor: “You are not the string. You are the kite...The string is God’s purpose for your life—and He holds the string.” Before meeting Tim, is Alice a kite without a string, “Gettin’ tossed and turned” (page 194)? List with your group the ways in which Alice’s life choices seem purposeless. In your opinion, what gives Alice a purpose, a direction?
14. A central theme of the novel is family and, in particular, parenthood. Discuss the ways in which parenthood and family affect Alice and the other characters. Consider Alice, Alice’s parents, Burton, and the Jacksons in your response.
15. Is Alice’s accepting of Christ’s love a sudden awakening or a long-term process?
16. Do you believe that Alice’s journey toward faith is a real yearning to belong to something greater than herself or just another passing religious fad for her?
17. Do you believe that faith and walking with God can heal wounds caused by death, abandonment, shame, or addiction? Have you endured any of these trials? If so, do you believe that God loves you?
18. Why do you think the author chose to make Bethel church a mixed-race congregation?
19. On page 250 Tim tells Alice that she ought to look up Proverbs 31:10–31, because that is the kind of woman Alice will want her daughter to become. Read the passage aloud to your group (you can find it at www.biblegateway.com). Why do you think Tim references this passage? Do you think Alice shares any characteristics with the woman described in the Bible? If yes, which? If no, do you believe that through Jesus Christ she can be like this woman?
20. In the end, how does Alice discover her happiness? What is her purpose? What purpose have you been called to fulfill?
21. Discuss the significance of the title. What happens “one Sunday” that so alters Alice’s life? Consider the many layers of this title’s symbolism in your response. Enhance Your Book Club
1. One Sunday
is about the love and forgiveness of family, neighbor, oneself, and God. The Jackson family embodies these values, and, as a group, they practice what they preach. At Ava’s birthday dinner, Alice is witness to the family tradition of “speaking life into someone” (page 28). Play this game with your book club. Have each member give a “one-line affirmation” (page 28) to the other members. Afterward, discuss how this felt. Why do you think this tradition is called “speaking life into someone”?
2. Alice’s transformation took place largely because of her relationship with Pastor Tim and his family. Read aloud the prayer Tim gave to Alice—A Prayer for Hope—on pages 65–66. Discuss the importance of the prayer and why you believe it touched Alice so deeply. Did you feel similarly? Share any favorite prayers, spiritual practices, or poignant life moments with your group.
3. Alice finds joy in the comfort of Southern food throughout the course of the novel. Have a dinner night with your book club. Over traditional Southern comfort food, such as fried okra, mashed potatoes, ribs, and peach cobbler, discuss with your group the ways in which sharing a meal is a form of God’s love. Why do you think Alice loves to eat with the Jackson family so much? A Conversation with Carrie Gerlach Cecil 1. In the epigraph you write, “Although this novel is fiction, I believe we write what we know.” How much of this story is fiction and how much is true? Would you classify this story as fiction based on personal experiences, or personal experiences peppered with fiction?
I wouldn’t classify this book as either fiction or nonfiction, as it is both. Honestly there is a lot of Alice’s emotion in my soul, but unlike Alice, both my parents are very much still alive and well. I write of familiar places and people that have come across my path, and I try to create characters that embody a motley crew of real people in real circumstances. I tried to take levels of joy, pain, laughter, and shame that all people share, me included, and pump it up to extreme levels to make it compelling. I want to change lives; otherwise, what’s the point? 2. Why did you decide to write this story? Describe the journey from conception to publication.
In 2005, I was in my house in Los Angeles. I was relatively new to the Christian faith but was on fire for Jesus. I was praying and meditating, waiting for a sign or a moment of clarity before deciding what to do for my next project. I literally felt God in my heart say, “Write the book.”
It wasn’t that moment in Field of Dreams
, when Kevin Costner hears the voice, “If you build it, they will come.” But it was my own private version of that. The problem was I didn’t know what book to write and I was fearful to write this one. But over time God opened my heart and put people into my life to help encourage me to pull this story out and put it on the page. 3. Were any of the characters based on people you have known in your life? Or yourself? Do you relate most to Alice? Why or why not?
Alice is a grittier, more morally bankrupt version of myself. Although I wouldn’t make a lot of the choices she made, there were plenty she did make that came from things I did, so she is closest to my spirit. The other two main characters, Tim and LeChelle, are based on my friendship with Pastor Tim Johnson and his wife, Le’Chelle. They are my spiritual parents. Everything that is kind and accepting and gentle in Burton is pulled from my husband. There are others, but I’ll keep them a secret! 4. What would you name as the major theme(s) of the novel? What do you hope readers will take away from the story?
The major theme of this book is HOPE. Thematically, the book is about change, reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption through the love of Jesus Christ. I want people to take away from this book that you are never too broken, tarnished, or sinful to turn to God and have Him forgive you, accept you, love you, and make you new! 5. Discuss the significance of setting in the novel.
Setting the novel in the South was premeditated. I believe it is a wonderful part of the country, rich in history and diverse people. I wanted to showcase a region historically filled with racial tension and demonstrate that African-American and Caucasian people had differences, but we are united in our love of Christ and humanity. I love showing God’s colorful tapestry of people. 6. Who is your favorite author and why?
My favorites are Anne Lamott and Stormie Omartian, as they both keep faith real to me. They are unabashedly honest and inspiring in their writing. 7. How did you come to be a writer? Like Alice, do you feel inspired by God to write?
I started writing in the sixth grade as an outlet for my emotions. My teacher, Mr. Eisenfield, recognized my gift and put me in an advanced creative writing class—and I’ve never looked back. God gave me the gift of writing, but I did not realize that until about six years ago, when I had the epiphany that my purpose in life was to use that gift to reach others and help them to love themselves and to love God. 8. What does Alice’s baby girl symbolize?
The birth of Alice’s daughter prefigures Alice’s rebirth as a Christian. She is a clean slate with new hope and new life and endless joy. 9. How did the experience of writing this book differ from your first book, Emily’s Reasons Why Not? How was it similar? Emily’s Reasons Why Not
was a fun chick-lit book without a true purpose. I loved writing Emily because she made me laugh out loud, and women in the dating world could relate to her. One Sunday
is more meaningful and soulful to me. I felt led by something greater to write it, and it has more layers and ideally evokes change in people. 10. At what point in your writing career did you decide to write about faith and God?
I decided to write about faith when I realized God is real. When I knew I was changed and couldn’t put into words what exactly had changed me. As a writer, I found it daunting and exciting to try to tell a version of that story. In the beginning, I was afraid to write about real faith that exists in damaged people. I thought faithful people had to be perfect. Perfectly behaved, perfectly dressed, and perfectly mannered. I suppose I had more of a religious
viewpoint than a Christian outlook. It wasn’t until I had actually been saved from my pain that I realized the best stories of redemption come from the darkest places—and I knew I could articulate that in this story. People want to debate religion all the time, but what they cannot debate is a human heart change. My heart is changed. 11. What is next for you as a writer? Will Alice be making a comeback in any future novels?
I am working on two nonfiction books and a television show at the moment and want to get them to the marketplace, but Alice is haunting me. So many Christians come to know the Lord but do not get the support and foundation and teachings to keep moving forward on their walk. They end up back where they started. I’d like to show Alice at the next stage of her faith, facing the obstacles thrown at her as a new believer. Tests that will shake her belief, friends who will doubt her sincerity, the love that will sustain her on the journey...Alice is ready to hit the page. I’m just letting her enjoy the moment for now.