Books, Encyclical, Mass Reflection, Parish Ministry, Women's Ministry

Growing a Study Group on a Shoestring Budget

I recently did a book signing at a Catholic women’s conference and had a lot of lovely but brief conversations as I scrawled short messages on the inside covers of copies of Joyful Momentum. One question that women asked me several times was:

“How do we have a Bible study with no money?”

As one young woman pointed out, some faith study or Bible study books can run upwards of $40 per book, and this is not do-able for all communities. In talking to this woman, I could sense the urgency and sincerity in her voice — she wanted to grow her study group but could not afford to buy books. In a women’s group, sometimes the women themselves don’t have money to invest in study materials. Other times, the parish is in a difficult way and can’t support the group.

While funding is helpful for a study, we can’t allow a lack of funding to become a barrier to our essential work to spread the Gospel.

I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation these past few weeks and about how to grow a study group on a shoestring budget, or zero budget at all.

Here are some free, or nearly free, ideas to incorporate into your women’s group so that you can grow in faith and friendship without breaking the bank.

In these days of social distancing, you can very easily implement most of these ideas in a free online format such as Zoom, Facebook Live, or FreeConferenceCall.com.

  1. Look to e-books.In this Covid-19 outbreak, a lot of publishers have hugely discounted their e-book collections. Ave Maria Press has discounted Joyful Momentum to $8.99, but they also have some titles available for as little as $1.
  2. Do the weekly or daily Mass readings and meet to discuss them. The daily Mass readings are available for free on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Plan to grab coffee and chat about your insights from the readings.
  3. Listen to a podcast together and meet up to discuss your key takeaways. Some of my favorite podcasts are Girlfriends with Danielle Bean, Lisa Hendey and Friends founder of CatholicMom.com, and the Abiding Together Podcast. I also enjoy the Word on Fire podcast and Ave Explores.
  4. Find books for free!Dynamic Catholic has a variety of free books and CDs that you could use for your women’s group. Rediscover Catholicism, for example, is offered for free from Dynamic Catholic (there is a shipping and handling fee). Maybe your local Buy Nothing group has something – it’s worth asking.
  5. Go take a hike! Get out in nature with your Catholic gal pals. Sometimes a bit of fellowship and fresh air can be as helpful as hours spent with a Catholic book or Bible study.
  6. Upcycle, Recycle, or Swap. Sell your old studies and use the money to buy materials for your group. Look for deals on Amazon, Ebay, or even a Buy Nothing group. Not too long ago, I snagged a pre-owned copy of the Catholicism series for only $24 on Ebay. In my 12-person faith study, our video was only $2 per person. Does a neighboring parish have a women’s group? Maybe another nearby group would be willing to trade book studies with you?
  7. Make a pilgrimage. Visit a nearby Cathedral or religious shrine. Most religious sites are free to visitors, especially during Mass times. Consider visiting a site near you.
  8. Practice new devotions together. Since many of us are self-isolating, this is great time to hop on a Zoom Call with your friends and pray a new devotion or novena.
  9. Plug into Online Events. Many dioceses and ministries are hosting free online gatherings. The Military Council of Catholic Women is hosting author talks on their Facebook Group during these Covid-19 days. There is also a free Be Not Afraid conference on line.
  10. Look to the Vatican website for resources. The Vatican website contains digital copies of scads of church documents. One of my current favorites to read in a women’s group is Christus Vivit, which is the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation to young people and to the entire people of God. Work through an apostolic exhortation or encyclical as a group.

With so many free or low cost ways to have a study group, I hope you feel equipped to gather with friends in your community. As your group grows, you may need to re-visit this list of ideas, or come up with some of your own. What are your favorite women’s ministry freebies?

Dignity, Encyclical

I See You; You Matter

**Elizabeth here – I’m very glad to share with my readers that my dear friend (and fellow redhead) Erin Raymond is contributing to the blog this week.  Erin is a gifted speaker, former stand-up comic and speaks frequently about Catholic theology of the body. Her wit and wisdom make her a very compelling speaker to young adult and college age audiences, in particular.  This reflection is from observations she made when we attended a large Catholic conference earlier this spring. Enjoy!** 

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This is my very first blog, which seems a little weird in 2019, but there you go. I may have never attempted this had it not been for a near-midnight bar conversation with some Catholic authors at the Mid Atlantic Congress in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Said one man author to a table of women: I need some contributors for my blog – anyone interested? 

Woman author #1: It’s always kinda awkward to write a blog for someone’s page. 

Woman author #2: IKR? Who wants to hear what I have to say? 

Me: Are you kidding? Who doesn’t want to hear what I have to say? (said in a joking but not really joking manner).

I may have been joking, but the self-doubt in these talented women was palpable.

Do you recognize yourself in those comments? You have a desire to share the message that God has put on your heart, but somewhere in your psyche there a lack of confidence, fear, maybe even self-loathing?  There’s a chance that the insecurity demon may have jumped in and answer that question for you. 

If you’ve ever thought, “No one wants to hear what I have to say,” I want you to say very loudly, “GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!” Discouragement is not of God.

You are a beloved child of the King, and God would never speak to you that way, or permit you to belittle yourself. God loves your thoughts and ideas and wants you to share them wherever and whenever appropriate. 

Several years ago, I had the great fortune to take a class on St. John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens, with Msgr. Brian Donahue at West Point, New York. (And thank goodness! – I could never have worked through it all alone!) It’s the first time I’ve really understood the value of overtly recognizing the dignity of another human being. 

In the encyclical, St. John Paul II helped me learn to look someone directly in the eyes and tell them, “I see you; you matter.” You – the person who has experienced one bad break too many and now finds herself in the soup kitchen line – I see you! 

You are a beloved daughter of God. You – the man who is so tired from working two jobs just to feed his family, and one of those jobs is cleaning the bathrooms at the airport – I see you and you are a beloved son of God.

And I say to you – reader of my very first blog: I see you. And I want to know your story. And I want to hear your thoughts. You are overflowing with the dignity of humanity, and you bring that dignity with you every step of your day. You bring the dignity to your job – don’t ever expect your job to bestow dignity on you (shout out to JPII for that nugget of wisdom). 
One of my favorite saints, St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world.” I challenge you to look out with those holy eyes, and see the world as God made it.  Look at others with compassion. See their dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God. I especially challenge you to start with your own dignity, worth, and value. Look at yourself in the mirror with God’s eyes. What do you see?