Women’s Faith Sharing Groups Focus of ‘Come and See’ Event

Laura White discusses “Walking with Purpose” at a “Come and See” event Sept. 15 at St. Thomas More, Allentown. The morning session invited women of the Diocese who are interested in starting or enhancing a faith sharing group in their parish. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

“God will send women to your table – it could be 80 that you need or 12. Give him the freedom to do his will and hang on tight,” said Laura White, Pennsylvania regional coordinator for Walking with Purpose: The Modern Woman’s Guide to the Bible, encouraging women of the Diocese of Allentown in their efforts to begin or augment their parish faith-sharing groups.

Wright shared these thoughts as one of the speakers at a “Come and See” event Sept. 15 at St. Thomas More, Allentown. Women interested in starting or enhancing a women’s faith sharing group were invited to the morning hosted by the Diocese of Allentown Commission for Women (CFW).

The free program, which drew 62 women, took place 9 a.m. to noon in the parish center.

One of CFW’s initiatives is to assist parishes to form parish women’s faith-sharing groups. This event featured representatives from Walking with Purpose, Women of Grace and Women in the New Evangelization (WINE), organizations that provide resources for women’s faith sharing that may be used in a parish.

Their representatives gave an overview of their programs and tools to help foster a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. They presented their programs, displayed their materials and answered questions about forming a group.

Other speakers were Susan Brinkmann of “Women of Grace” and Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE.

Wahlquist is a Catholic author and speaker, and assistant director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

WINE is a creative and inspired ministry to invigorate women’s groups and parishes through encouraging, supporting and nurturing women in the Catholic faith, and by equipping and mobilizing women as intentional disciples of Christ.

Wahlquist was a keynote speaker at “Women: Hearts Afire – Be Who God Made You to Be,” the second annual Diocesan women’s conference May 5 at DeSales University, Center Valley.
Bernadette Barski, facilitator of Women of Grace at St. Thomas More, also offered a brief presentation.

“Momnipotent” information was also available. Momnipotent validates the dignity and importance of motherhood and helps women recognize their uniquely feminine strengths and see how to use those strengths to find peace, balance and joy in being the woman God created and called them to be.

The Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization also had a table to display additional resources.

Those attending included Mary Fran Hartigan, secretary of the Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization; and Kim Stella, chair of the CFW subcommittee establishing faith-sharing groups in parishes. CFW stands ready to assist women of the Diocese in establishing or enhancing their faith-sharing groups.

Walking with Purpose

White encouraged women to begin with a six-week pilot program, “Living in the Father’s Love” during Advent or Lent – or both – and then launch the full 22-session foundational course “Opening Your Heart” in the fall. Doing a pilot session will help the coordinator gauge how many women may sign up for the full course.

“When the Holy Spirit moves, he moves,” White said, referring to one group that attracted 281 women as members.

Subsequent courses include “Touching the Divine,” a 22-week course on the Gospel of John; “Discovering Our Dignity,” on women of the Old and New Testaments.

The newest course is “Fearless and Free,” a study of the Book of Ephesians “diving into healing and wholeness,” White said. “This is a six-week course, but lots of groups spread it over 12 weeks; it’s absolutely beautiful.”

“Grounded in Hope,” a study of the Book of Hebrews, will begin in January 2019. The “Opening Your Heart Young Adult Series” is for women in their later high school years to their early 30s who are specifically married with no children. “Keeping in Balance” is coming soon for young adults, and “Blaze” is a middle school girls’ ministry.

White said when thinking about what Walking with Purpose would look like in their parish, “Think of the next steps. Think about what God is asking you to do.”

Through a visit to the Walking with Purpose website, potential coordinators have access to their expansion team. The team will answer questions on how to start the group in parishes and how to talk to the priest or pastor about beginning the group – the support of the pastor is key.

"There is an application process to make sure you have all you need and will be successful,” White said. “Don’t worry, you’re approved.” There are many resources available on the website.

“We have beautiful printables, templates and flyers, everything you need to promote and support a program,” White said. She added there is a one-on-one mentoring relationship with the regional coordinator, and a monthly coordinators conference call to connect and share ideas and experiences with the group.

“Over the past year the Holy Spirit really moved in our hearts,” White said as she reviewed the newest programs.

Weekly meetings usually last two hours if held in the morning, and one and a half hours in the evening.

“Anyone can go online for small group leader training,” she said, noting the courses use videos and downloadable workbooks.

“I’ve seen this program be beneficial in all seasons of life,” White said, noting it can attract women of all ages.

White said the monthly “Connecting Coffee” brings all small groups together and “brings a commission of sisters in Christ together.” The monthly meeting is held the same time as the weekly meeting.

She said there are 30 parish programs in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and four in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Women of Grace

Brinkmann said she was happy to have been working with founder Johnnette Benkovic Williams – who has spoken in the Diocese of Allentown – for a decade.

Brinkmann revealed she was “a birth control popping staunch feminist in the early 1970s,” but secretly, her “perfect life” was akin to the TV show “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.”

“God brought me back to the Church through a series of strategic coincidences,” said Brinkmann.

“Feminism was full of slogans, but when you looked there was no meat there.

“God chose to send his son into the world through a woman because evil entered the world through a woman – Eve. That’s why Mary is referred to as the New Eve.

“Mary represents humanity that belongs to all of us.”

“How did I miss all this? I went to Catholic school for 12 years and church every Sunday. No one is teaching this and it’s foundational for women,” Brinkmann said. “In Women of Grace they learn.”

In Women of Grace, small groups of usually 10 to 12 women but never more than 24 meet weekly or monthly in an environment that’s safe. Meetings are weekly, biweekly or monthly, usually on a Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. They have a facilitator and include videos and sharing.

“Feminism is a rock hard place and it’s empty. Christian women were the first liberated women. Christian teaching on women liberated women,” said Brinkmann.

Brinkmann noted Jesus said the man and woman were both capable of committing adultery, which was unheard of in his day. “Jesus’ prohibition on divorce liberated them – women were mostly left in poverty when their husbands divorced them.

“Today’s progressive woman may be stubborn but not stupid. Show her what she really is. Feminism loathes anything maternal, but women are called to be receptive to life.”

Referring to the “female genius,” Brinkmann said, “God gave us all the equipment we need to change the world. Everything in Women of Grace revolves around getting out this message.

"Today’s women getting their education on campuses with progressive ideas are not hearing about authentic femininity.”

“Women of Grace exposes women to the full breadth of Catholic prayer – there’s much more than the Our Father and Glory Be,” Brinkmann said, noting, for example, contemplative prayers.

She pointed out that obedience has nothing to do with subservience – it’s ultimately a quest for guidance.

“Learn how to experience the Eucharist as your strength and hope. Learn to bring your wounds to Jesus and be healed. Learn how to forgive,” Brinkmann said.

“We help women find out who they really are … and what it means to be authentically feminine.”
There is also a program for teen girls beginning at age 13, “Young Women of Grace: Embrace Your Femininity.” Women of Grace is also available in Spanish.

As Barski addressed the group, she said Women of Grace at St. Thomas More brings “the bonus of friendship, inspiration is ignited, lives are transformed, and we learn what it means to be Catholic.” The group welcomes single and married women, with or without children. All women are welcome.

Women in the New Evangelization (WINE)

“God is thirsting that you would thirst for him – how cool is that,” said Wahlquist.
“When I hear rebuild my church, I hear heal my body. We need to heal the Body of Christ.

“Women are created radically relational. We need to elevate them in their giftedness.
“In WINE we rejoice in the gifts of others.”

Wahlquist recalled Mary’s last words in Scripture at the Wedding of Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.”

“It’s so easy to do God’s will if we do it together,” she said.

“We have to invite. One invitation can have an eternal ripple effect. Someone invited Mary to a wedding and look what happened.”

Wahlquist said WINE is not a program. “We want to enhance programs out there, or you can start with WINE and build on it,” she said, adding WINE also has a book club.
“We have to fix our eyes on Jesus.”

All women who may have interest in joining or starting a parish women’s faith-sharing group were welcome. Women’s faith-sharing groups that already exist in a parish were also encouraged to attend so they could hear about resources they could potentially use.
When women gather to discuss their Catholic faith, it provides an opportunity to deepen their relationship with Christ and can foster relationships with other women as they journey together.
A continental breakfast was provided.
For more information visit: Walking with Purpose: The Modern Woman’s Guide to the Bible https://walkingwithpurpose.com/; Women Of Grace http://www.womenofgrace.com/en-us/default.aspx; Women in the New Evangelization (WINE) https://catholicvineyard.com/; and Momnipotent http://momnipotentstudy.com/.