By Maria Wiering
CROWNSVILLE – “For the first time in 49 years and after Catholic School education, I am reading the Bible – really reading and trying to understand its meaning and application to my life,” the note read. “I have found a group of women who care about each other’s spiritual journey and who encourage and comfort each other when we have doubts and fears, all of which makes Christ’s presence in my life so real.”
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, 43, reads testimonials like that all the time, the fruit of a women’s Scripture study program she founded in 2008. “Walking with Purpose” is now in 37 parishes in 15 dioceses.
The program is designed to connect women’s heads to their hearts, Brenninkmeyer said.
Brenninkmeyer leads a Walking with Purpose chapter at her parish, Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville. Group leaders are mindful of creating an atmosphere where members feel welcomed and loved, she said.
A mother of seven ranging from 8 months to 19 years, Brenninkmeyer grew up in an evangelical church and converted to Catholicism before she married her husband, Leo. After their wedding, Leo’s work took the couple to Germany for five years and Mexico for five more. Lisa led Bible studies, but did not grasp “the riches that were around me” in the Catholic Church, she said.
The family moved from Mexico to Maryland, and Brenninkmeyer started leading a women’s Bible study at St. Andrew by the Bay in Annapolis in 2002. She studied the Catholic faith more intensely so she could explain church teaching, but found the women were not coming to learn theology. They were looking for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Unsatisfied with available materials, Brenninkmeyer developed her own curriculum which emphasizes a personal relationship with Christ and the importance of growing in faith within a small-group atmosphere.
“We’ve developed this really wanting women to discover this relationship with Christ in the context of their community and their parish,” she said. “What we want is for them to get excited about their faith, and then realize ‘I’m not alone in this.’ ”
A parish in Greenwich, Conn., asked to use her materials, and the program spread to other dioceses by word-of-mouth. In November, Brenninkmeyer was honored by the Wayne, Pa.-based Catholic Leadership Institute with the Award for Outstanding Catholic Leadership.
Her program includes weekly at-home reading, small-group meetings, sharing prayer requests and a monthly “Connect Coffee” talk on a program theme. Parish leaders receive training at an annual conference, and Brenninkmeyer and Walking with Purpose board members offer them continuing support.
“We want to make sure the women coming feel cared for, and that the leaders themselves feel cared for,” she said.
The program was designed for all Catholic women, Brenninkmeyer said, but she especially hopes it attracts women whose interest in faith is wavering.
Most Catholics who leave the church simply “fade away,” she said.
“That to me shows that lack of community,” she said. “If you’ve gotten to know people, and they begin to notice that you’re fading … they call you back,” she said.
Women who participate in the program describe the relationships with God and each other as “life-changing,” and say the program has positively affected their marriages and children, Brenninkmeyer said.
Some women report it has transformed their parish, she added.
“People are getting engaged, and they’re associating this with their parish,” she said. “They want to give back since they’ve received, so it’s been a great thing for the parishes.”
Interested in starting or joining a group? Learn more at walkingwithpurpose.com.
Copyright (c) March 20, 2013 CatholicReview.org