There’s no use reinventing the wheel.
That’s why Kelly Wahlquist founded W.I.N.E. — Women in the New Evangelization — a women’s ministry geared toward bringing women together in unity and leading them closer to Christ.
In her years traveling the country working with Catholic women’s Bible studies and faith-sharing programs, Wahlquist noticed talented, passionate and yet incredibly busy women trying to help other women know and love Jesus and learn the truth about their dignity and vocation. She also noticed that these women were doing much of the work themselves in spite of their very busy lives and host of other responsibilities.
“I realized that all these women have the same passion and the same heart to make Jesus known and loved among other women,” she said. “But they were all reinventing the wheel. What woman has time for that? So I started thinking, ‘Let’s get all these women together and see what works and what really brings us into a special relationship with the Lord.’”
Wahlquist’s next step was to gather a group of women who could help her brainstorm and discern how to go about making her dream a reality.
“We prayed about it, and we talked about it. Then it came to me in prayer: Whereas the Lord had told St. Francis to rebuild his church, what I was hearing was that the Lord was telling us as women, ‘Heal my body. The body of Christ is battered, bruised and broken, and I need you as women, working in these beautiful gifts that I gave you as women, to be nurturing and compassionate and to heal me.’”
“As women, we’ve lost the beauty of our womanhood and of those great gifts that make us different from men, and we should complement men instead of trying to be equal to them,” Wahlquist explained. “But we’ve kind of lost that. And I was seeing that with women. So what I want to do with W.I.N.E. is meet women in their need, where they’re at in their lives.”
Wahlquist realized that her new ministry would have to be an instrument of not only evangelization, but pre-evangelization, so that it would encourage women in their gifts and ministries and also reach out to those who are marginally Catholic or even non-Catholic.
In light of that, the founding generation of W.I.N.E. devised a five-point method:
— Gather a comprehensive list of programs and resources that were solidly Catholic, and thus save women hours of research and planning.
— Suggest a successful systematic order for running women’s programs, while at the same time allowing room for the Holy Spirit to guide the group. This also includes leadership support.
— Provide templates for promoting, implementing and growing a flourishing women’s ministry, retreat or event.
— Offer a community of prayer and support to assist, nurture, encourage and train leaders to begin and grow a fruitful parish women’s ministry, lead small groups or become spiritual mentors.
— Present materials specifically created for new W.I.N.E. groups.
W.I.N.E. was launched via a women’s conference on Feb. 14, 2015, in Wahlquist’s home Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Since then, it has been welcomed into partnership with the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Initiatives also have begun in Florida and New Jersey, with inquiries coming from all over the United States and even from Canada and Singapore. It has gained 1,200 new members to its website and continues to grow with about 75 to 100 new women signing up every month.
In addition to the yearly conference, W.I.N.E. also hosts both in-person and online book clubs, a website blog, social gatherings and small groups.
The ministry itself is organized more like a cooperative then a corporation, according to Sharon Wilson of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who has been pleasantly surprised by the wide acceptance and rapid growth of W.I.N.E.
“We aren’t trying to take over any other women’s ministries that might be going on,” Wilson said. “We’re hoping to add to it by promoting all of the good things that we can find and then encouraging the parishes to do a prayer of discernment to see where their group is being led and then utilize the materials we have to offer. That’s our method. We don’t say, ‘There’s one way of doing it in your parish.’ Rather, we hope to be the one-stop shopping for women’s ministry that’s exciting, invigorating and inviting.”
The goal also is to make women’s ministry fun and joyful, thus the play on words between wine the beverage and W.I.N.E. the women’s ministry. Some of their functions, called “Women, Wine and Wisdom,” do take place in bars, along the lines of Theology on Tap gatherings.
But the name actually is biblically based, stemming from the Wedding at Cana — the Church reads this Gospel on the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jan. 17 this year — when the Blessed Mother instructed the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” in reference to Jesus. That is the motto of W.I.N.E. and the guiding force behind all that encompasses the ministry.
Carol Marquardt, of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., also is one of the founding members. She is one of what Wahlquist hopes will be a number of older women who act as spiritual mothers for younger women, a key component of W.I.N.E.
“This is a tremendous momentum for women in trying to find meaning in their faith in the context of the world today,” Marquardt said. “For my part, as an older woman who has been around for a while, I can be helpful by encouraging others to keep going, to not let things get them down, and pray to our Blessed Mother. Mary is the key. Once you understand who she is, then you begin to understand who you are as a woman. It’s beautiful and wonderful.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.
Wedding at Cana photo via Shutterstock; others courtesy of W.I.N.E.