Eight hundred years ago, Christ said to St. Francis of Assisi, “Rebuild my Church.” Today, he’s saying to women, “Heal my Body,” according to a group of Catholic leaders who are responding with a new ministry aimed at bringing women of all ages together to grow in faith and use their gifts to heal and support Christ’s body, the Church.
“‘The Body of Christ is battered, bruised and broken, and I need you as women working in the beautiful gifts I’ve given you to be nurturers, to be caregivers, to be receptive, to be compassionate and to heal my body,’” said Kelly Wahlquist, founder of Women in the New Evangelization (WINE), conveying what she and the women have heard in prayer.
Taking its name from the Gospel account of the Wedding Feast at Cana, and with the Blessed Mother as a model, WINE seeks to invite women into community, help them encounter Christ and discover their place in the New Evangelization, said Wahlquist, who also serves as assistant director for the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The new ministry, which is being introduced in several dioceses around the country, will offer templates incorporating a variety of existing resources for conferences, parish small groups, women’s ministries and ongoing leadership training, as well as online options.
“It’s a matter of opening up a conversation and an invitation,” Wahlquist said. “If you haven’t been to church in 20 years but you feel your heart is longing and you feel at home with these women come talk to us.”
Wahlquist started thinking about a ministry several years ago when she discovered, while speaking around the country, that women are relationship-oriented and yearn to deepen their relationship with Christ and bring others to the Faith. She also saw that dioceses were duplicating each other’s efforts.
In 2013, she and 16 woman leaders from around the country developed the vision for WINE, which Wahlquist said is a movement of Catholic women who want to support their parishes and priests.
The first diocesan WINE conference, held at a suburban Minneapolis parish in February, drew 1,000 women. The pilot event featured speakers, Mass, confession, book and other vendors, and lunch.
The conference was co-sponsored by the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, which has partnered with WINE, said Jeff Cavins, who directs the office.
Women are really relational, so some of these events that they’re coordinating are to foster relationships and to bring women into more interpersonal relationship where they can begin to talk about Christ,” Cavins said.
WINE is greatly needed, said Lisa Hendey, a California-based Catholic author and speaker who founded CatholicMom.com and is a WINE board member. “It’s a program primarily to lead you closer to Christ in your own walk and then to help you share that with the people that you love most in your life.”
Strength in numbers
The name WINE is fun but really focuses on the sacraments and Scripture.
“That whole aspect of ‘do whatever he tells you’ is the key,” Wahlquist said. “Everything about WINE is doing the will of God, and that’s hard to do alone.”
For Katie Warner, a writer and speaker based in Santa Clarita, California, the name suggests relaxing and building relationships with Scripture over wine. “There are so many times when wine appears in the Bible, and there are powerful messages for women there that we have the opportunity to unpack together and see how he’s calling us to love him better and know him better through that.”
Women can’t do God’s will if they don’t have a solid relationship with Christ and the Church, Hendey said. “That’s why I think a huge part of the apostolate for women is being able to find the space in your heart — the silence in your life — to be one with Christ and the Church.”
At the Minnesota conference, 85 women expressed a desire to enter or return to the Church, Wahlquist said. To follow up, WINE is offering events for women this spring and summer both online at CatholicVineyard.com and in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, where it also plans to launch up to 40 parish groups this fall.
Parish groups will focus on a deeper relationship with Christ through study of Scripture, the Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit and prayer, Wahlquist said. This summer, WINE will offer an online study of Hendey’s book, “The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living” (Ave Maria Press, $15.95).
Dioceses in New Jersey, Florida, California, Texas and Wyoming are considering or planning to offer WINE events in the near future. WINE will provide marketing, support, speakers and other materials that dioceses can adapt to their needs, she said.
The diocese of Austin, Texas, is considering offering a WINE conference that would be adapted to serve the diocese’s 40 percent Latino population, said Sharon Perkins, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.
Perkins likes the ministry’s simple structure and follow-up programs. “It’s not just about a hit-and-run, nationally sponsored event,” she said. “It uses that event as a springboard for other kinds of local initiatives that are sustainable for women on the parish level.”
Connecting with others
One of WINE’s charisms is unity, Warner said, adding that women can participate together in the New Evangelization.
“Women can really provide the New Evangelization with a fresh approach to bringing disciples together to pursue their goals of drawing closer to the heart of Jesus Christ and bring a very heartfelt approach to surrendering to the Holy Spirit.”
As many question the role of laywomen in the Church, Hendey said she appreciates how WINE reinforces every woman’s call to the New Evangelization. It also gives women who are busy caring for others a chance to care for themselves and their faith life, Hendey said.
WINE hopes women will make in-person connections, but stay-at-home moms with fewer opportunities to share faith with others will appreciate the ministry’s national outreach through its website, community building and online book study, said Warner, who stays at home to care for her young son.
“It gives young women even in those moments when we can’t get out [the chance to] foster that connection with other women through the national online movement.”
WINE is unique and will grow, Hendey said. “It’s going to definitely bless the Church, because there’s nothing else like this out there right now, and women are hungry for it,” she said. “They want to love and support and uplift the Church.”
Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.
|Ministries Reaching Out
Jeff Cavins is director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, but he says his role in this position is not to evangelize. That’s where groups like Women in the New Evangelization (WINE) come in.
The creator of “The Great Adventure Catholic Bible” study program and former Relevant Radio host is instead fostering evangelization opportunities for independent ministries — like WINE.
“It’s not the responsibility of the archdiocese to evangelize,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the members of the Church in the archdiocese to evangelize.”
Evangelization looks different than it did 40 years ago, Cavins said, adding that it’s still relatively new for laypeople to start ministries. “We have to be aware of that and figure out, ‘How do we gain entrance into the lives of people who need God desperately?’”