A woman recently asked me how to start a women’s study in her parish. After that a young college girl inquired about starting a Bible study in her sorority. That was followed by a mother wanting to begin one, in her home, with her friends. In the midst of all this I’ve received a number of emails regarding the women’s study that I had moderated for Catholic Exchange. We had originally thought we would be running a third session this year to celebrate Mulieris Dignitatem but it simply has not worked out.
Anyhow, this all got me thinking… How many people would like to start a study but feel it might be more than they could handle? Since I believe starting a study is both painless and yet tremendously rewarding, I thought I would share my various responses in one coherent article. (And gentlemen, you can apply a lot of these principles, too, if you are interested in a starting a men’s study or group, so don’t stop reading!)
Let me assure you that offering a study in your home will be an incredibly rewarding experience. The same premise can be applied if you want to start one for a parish group. What I am presenting here is just some general information to get the wheels turning and then you can ask me whatever you want, or need to, and I will be glad to help you get started, locate faithful resources, etc. My email is BezalelBooks@gmail. com (no spaces).
If you already have a group of interested women, your best bet is to look at your own schedule and offer a couple of options for getting together. I would suggest an hour and a half to two hours, once a week. So, for example if Tuesdays or Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m. work best for you, send out emails or make phone calls to everyone. Let them know these options and ask for feedback. You will want to ultimately go with the most popular choice because the options you gave were good for you, the moderator.
If you do not have a group of interested women (or participants if it is co-ed), ask your church newpaper to put in a small article stating that you are starting a women’s study and also send out inquiry emails to your own friends and family. Ask them to send the email to their friends and family. Let me add that men greatly benefit from participating in such a study because it gives them a real sense of a woman’s worth and helps them instill that in their daughters or see it in their wives, sisters, etc. Many men have found great value in this type of study and can really add to your group with their valuable perspectives. Anyhow, if you are advertising in your church paper or through email, give a “reply by” date so that everyone who is interested knows that you are truly doing this!
Once you have your group, you will give a start date that gives you enough time to buy the supplies. This will include your main study book and, of course, you’ll make sure that everyone brings a Bible. I wouldn’t discourage different Bible versions because your group can have great discussions on different words used in different Bibles and how a simple word can greatly impact meaning. It is usually best when the “leader” orders the resource books and I always suggest that the leader order a few extra books for people who will join the group after they hear how wonderful the Bible study is! My last parenting workshop started with eight people and ended with fourteen! Buying extra books allows people to start right away versus waiting another week or so to get a book. However nice this is, though, it is not a necessity.
Either way, once the group size is known, the leader can order books and collect the money for each book on the first night of the Bible study. All this is, of course, just a guideline. Some Bible studies have participants pay before the study begins so that the leader does not incur hundreds of dollars in book expenses. If four people have signed up, you might feel comfortable buying the books up front. But if you have fifteen people signed up, you’ll probably want to collect the money first. Ordering books through your favorite Christian bookseller is nice because it helps support them, but that is my personal opinion!
Speaking of number of participants, depending on the size of the room in your home that you will use, your group might be as small as three or as large as a dozen or more. Whatever size you as host are comfortable with is the key. Once your Bible study begins, a few guidelines will help to make it successful.
For your first meeting you might provide a light snack and beverages and have a sign-up sheet for the first three or four get-togethers. If you try to sign up too far into the future, people tend to forget. And it is always good to recognize that a reminder email is helpful as we all get caught up in our schedules and sometimes forget these things that nourish our souls! Something that goes out to everyone the day before the meeting and is a simple message like: “Blessings…I just wanted to remind everyone of tomorrow’s Bible study and that we are looking forward to Sue’s snacks…”
Meetings begin with a prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be or anything that the leader might have found and made copies of, like prayers from our Saints) and prayer requests as we count on Christ’s words that where two or more are gathered, so there is He. Then the leader asks everyone to open their resource books to a particular page. The leader may give a little background before reading begins or just delve right in. The leader may read or may ask others to take turns reading. The leader stops at each scripture cited, and everyone finds the verses, someone reads, the leader guides discussions about what these mean to individuals, etc. During my last workshop I had each participant, before we even began, find a verse that would be covered and mark it so that when we got to it, that person was ready. That divided up the session quite nicely.
A study should be quite flexible and very dynamic. The leader can ask questions about anything being read. The following are questions from the leader’s booklet for the CE women’s study: “Why do you think Sarah was jealous?” “How could Noah’s wife have put up with the burden of cleaning the ark?”
What is also important is for the leader to keep the participants on track and know when to help everyone refocus, if necessary. It isn’t uncommon for some participants to sort of take over the floor, so to speak, and the leader has to lovingly acknowledge that person’s contribution and help the group move on. Part of Bible study is creating an environment in which everyone feels great love and support in their journeys and those needs will definitely come out as you read through the resource book!
In the book used for the CE women’s study (Renewing Your Christian Self: Wisdom from the Lives of Old and New Testament Women) each chapter has a small prayer which really makes wrapping up the session a breeze. The activity is “homework” and really helps make the chapter relevant in everyday life. Of course, if you don’t finish the chapter, adjustments are made. This is all up to the leader.
Every session, after the first, begins with a prayer and then a discussion of the prior week’s activity. “What did you find challenging about practicing letting go?” or “What did you discover about yourself?” These questions will lead to great discussions and then the leader will draw the participants into the day’s chapter and begin reading.
Women’s studies make for great times! They immerse you in the Word of God and allow you to help others on their journeys with Christ. With the autumn season upon us, many women find this a time to hunker down and get immersed in the things of God. There is something quite mystical about this time of year. Personally, it is my busiest time in regards to speaking events for women’s retreats. So, I encourage you to answer God’s call to moderate your own women’s study and will be glad to help in anyway.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions as I am honored to help. BezalelBooks@ gmail.com (no spaces) or visit www.BezalelBooks.com.