The Saints of Whistle Grove

The keynote plenary speaker at this year’s “Katie Retreat” was, appropriately enough, Mrs. Katie Schuermann, herself an LCMS pastor’s wife and a well-respected author of half-a-dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction. I was pleased to attend the Katie Retreat with my wife, LaRena, and very much appreciated Katie’s presentation. She spoke eloquently and poignantly about the life that we live together in faith and love within the Body of Christ. In particular, she described the sort of care – the listening ears and words of solid evangelical comfort – that can be most helpful to those who are grieving or suffering in a variety of ways in this life under the Cross.

Along with her excellent presentation, Katie’s most recent book, The Saints of Whistle Grove (Kloria Publishing, 2023), also piqued my interest, not least of all because it was inspired in part by Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Decatur, the congregation where I was privileged to do my fieldwork several decades ago (and where Katie’s husband, Michael, also did his fieldwork). I purchased a copy of the book at the Katie Retreat, and earlier this month I enjoyed reading it out loud to LaRena over the course of a week or so. It actually didn’t take us all that long to read through it, because we could hardly put it down each night. We both absolutely loved it.

Simply put, The Saints of Whistle Grove is a fabulous book. I found it reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Bo Giertz’s Hammer of God, maybe even Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. It is a captivating read, engaging, edifying, and entertaining from start to finish. The book is beautifully crafted and well written, without a doubt, but its real power is in the characters themselves, in their interwoven stories, and in the evangelical faith that animates them all and their relationships with each other (despite their various weaknesses and failings).

I especially loved Katie’s depictions of the several pastors included in the course of the book, in particular the narratives and dialogues of their pastoral care. There is genuine wisdom embodied in these fictional but realistic encounters and exchanges, written from the perspective of one who has received and relied upon the ministry and care of the Gospel in her own life under the Cross. Along similar lines, notwithstanding the theological warmth and intention woven throughout the entire book, the “saintliness” of the saints of Whistle Grove is not artificial, contrived, or overly-sanitized, nor at all of the “plastic” variety so common in much Christian fiction. The characters are rather believably flawed and down-to-earth, yet sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.

The Saints of Whistle Grove is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to pastors and laity alike. It has an appeal and value for both young and old, though it does deal with some weighty situations which may be more than some young readers or listeners are ready to receive and process. But for teens and adults, men and women, it would make a marvelous and salutary gift.

On a final note, LaRena and I enjoyed The Saints of Whistle Grove so thoroughly that we have now moved on to reading Katie’s “Anthems of Zion” series, and we are finding it to be a similar delight and blessing. If you’ve not already discovered these wonderful works of faith and love, do yourself and your family a favor and check them out. You won’t be disappointed.