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?

Army Life, Mass Reflection

Lessons from the Laundromat

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in too much hard stuff . . . like there is so much going on in your life, that you can’t possibly do anything else?  In the midst of these hard moments God often gives us opportunities to reach out to others because in doing so, we lightened each other’s burdens.  

This summer, my friend Mandie and I traversed some hard stuff – not bad stuff – just hard.  You see, we are both Army wives, and each of our husband’s received orders to relocate from our homes on the east coast, to Washington State. 

Adventurous and dutiful, we bid farewell to friends, packed our minivans, kids, pets, and husbands, and trekked across country.  But upon arriving to Washington, we hit some hard stuff.  We learned that each of our housing plans were delayed and we would spend about five additional weeks living in a hotel room.

Now initially, driving across the country and having a family slumber party in a hotel is fun. After 50 days, however, everyone in my household grew a little cranky.       

During our transition, Mandie and I reached out to each other.  We met for playdates at local parks, took our kids out for Happy Meals, and even timed our weekly trips to the laundromat together.  While doing laundry, we helped each other swap loads, kept eyes on our young kids, and enjoyed each other’s company.  

This may seem strange, but our weekly laundromat link ups were highlights of my summer. While I don’t prefer folding my families’ unmentionables in public, our laundromat link ups were full of genuine, unfiltered, honest conversation with a friend who understood exactly how I was feeling because she was walking a similar path. 

One day, while folding laundry, Mandie and I chatted about how much easier our work was together.  Mandie texted that evening, writing:  

“You know, sometimes we miss the chance to help others with their hard stuff because we can’t see past our own hard.  We feel so overwhelmed by whatever we are going through and don’t feel like we have anything left to offer, but if we can find ways to help despite our own hard things, then we can lift each other up.”

Her words capture a key lesson from today’s Old Testament reading that is poignantly relevant:  seeing past your own hard stuff to help another person changes everything.  

In today’s reading from Exodus, Israel is trudging through hard stuff.  They are waging war with Amalek, and everyone has a difficult job. Joshua and his men fight the battle. Meanwhile, Moses stands on the hill above the battlefield with the staff of God raised in his hand. As long as he keeps his hands raised, Israel has the better of the fight, but as he grows tired and brings his hands down, the enemy begins to prevail.

Aaron and Hur climbed the hill with Moses.  After reaching the top, I imagine that they were tired and inclined to tend to their own duties, but when they saw Moses crumpling from his burden, they helped him! First they gave him a rock to sit on. When that was not enough, they lifted his hands to support him and stayed with him until the battle was won.  

Imagine how this battle might have gone differently if Joshua’s men did not join him in the fight because they were too preoccupied with their own lives.  How might the battle have ended if Moses had gone up the hill alone, or if Aaron and Hur decided that they were too tired to lend help to Moses?

While we are tough and strong, and gritty, and can do a lot independently, God puts us in community with each other so that we can help each other with the hard stuff.

Looking back on the summer, by sharing our hard things, Mandie and I accomplished more than getting the laundry finished; we renewed the joy in our spirits. In the midst of our individual work, we put rocks under each other and raised each other’s arms.  As St. Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).