Walking with Purpose is not your grandmother’s Bible study group. Founded in Maryland in 2002 by a young mother and Catholic convert who was looking for material that was relevant to her situation.
Walking with Purpose has evolved into a program that strives to reach out to all Christian women regardless of age, background or marital status. As its website notes, Walking with Purpose “understands how it feels when life is stuck on the spin cycle.” In 2008, Walking with Purpose came to the Diocese of Bridgeport. Today, 15 parishes in Fairfield County offer the program; close to 200 more faith communities across the United States, Europe and Canada are also active. “Walking with Purpose is based on the idea that all people should be loved towards Christ, not necessarily taught,” says Julie Ricciardi, whose home parish is St. Thomas More in Darien. “And if we lead with love—and if we meet women where they are in their spiritual journey—the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps and do the work to lead people closer to Christ.”
Ricciardi not only participates in the Walking with Purpose program, she also serves as the organization’s CEO and board chair. In that capacity, she works closely with its founder, Lisa Brenninkmeyer, who spoke recently to a gathering of Catholic women and priests in the diocese. Brenninkmeyer says the woman-centric nature of the program has a great impact. “I would say it’s somewhat revolutionary in the Church today,” she says. “There has not been a lot of a gentle woman’s voice that is in a leadership position. And I would contrast a gentle voice from a strident voice, a gentle voice that is very much wanting the positions and titles that right now are only held by men.” “This is really a time for strong women who also have a grace in the way that they communicate to step forward,” she elaborates. “That graciousness is something that other women really do engage with because they relate to it. There’s no agenda behind it all. It’s really a belief that where we are right now we have a voice, and if we use it we can have an enormous impact.”
Walking with Purpose is consistent with Church doctrine and uses the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an additional resource; all course materials have received the imprimatur of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The parish-based program consists of small weekly group meetings plus home study. Classes run for about 90 minutes over a 22-week period, September to April. Courses have titles like “Opening Your Heart,” “Keeping In Balance” and “Touching the Divine.” The course description for “Discovering Our Dignity” says it provides “modern-day advice from women of the Bible. Ancient wisdom, sage advice, sorrowful failures and woundedness.” The program also offers monthly gatherings known as Connect Coffee, informal sessions during which women interested in learning more about the program can review course materials and interact with current participants.
Pamela Rittman says she enjoys the upbeat nature of her Thursday night Walking with Purpose meeting at St. Leo Parish in Stamford. “What I really like about the group is the camaraderie of Christian women. We form a sisterhood, in a sense, as we learn more about our faith together. Along with the teaching we share personal thoughts on spiritual devotions and even challenges we face,” she says. “We each read a page from the chapter and discuss the answers to questions we have prepared before our gathering. It is truly amazing, some of the insights we have learned and how exciting the Bible is. At the end of the evening, we ask each person for their prayer requests, and then we pray for each other. We’re not trying to impress each other, we just come as we are.” Walking with Purpose continues on the path to growth and expansion. Coming soon: New courses, a new emphasis on high school and young adult women, and a new program for girls in middle school.
“We’ve been looking at the core issues that women struggle with, and then we’re working our way back to say ‘When did this begin? At what age do women start to struggle with how they define their sense of worth?’” says Brenninkmeyer. “We think a lot of that starts to happen in middle school, and so we want to engage middle school girls before a lot of faulty reasoning has set in. If they’re engaged at that point, many of them will continue to move on to the next level of the program and we won’t lose them.”
By Beth Longware Duff
(More information about Walking with Purpose is available at www.walkingwithpurpose.com. A locator map is available under the Parish Programs tab on the homepage.)