Practical guide offers valuable
advice on women’s ministry

Reviewer Loretta Pehanich recommends that parishes with women’s ministry or those thinking of starting one should purchase copies of “Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups,” by Elizabeth A. Tomlin. (CNS photo/courtesy Ave Maria Press)

“Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups” by Elizabeth A. Tomlin. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2020). 157 pp., $16.95.

Looking for a great balance of personal stories, Scripture-based motivators and proven tips for starting a ministry for women? Run today and get this practical book. If your parish has a women’s ministry already, buy copies for everyone on the leadership team, too. It will confirm the importance of their engagement.

“Joyful Momentum” by Elizabeth A. Tomlin summarizes why women’s ministries are critical to the hurting Church in our day. When women in faith communities thrive, the whole Church benefits. And who better to know a woman’s spirituality than women?

Tomlin offers suggestions for getting started, discerning God’s invitations, fostering relationships, inspiring hope, practicing impactful hospitality (a real evangelical tool that attracts women’s hearts) and much more.

Secrets to successful women’s ministry are revealed, including the value in building teams. “Just because you can do something independently does not mean it is best for the community,” Tomlin writes.

Women’s ministries foster healing as they gently draw women who were hurt by the Church and who’ve given up weekly liturgy. Women thrive on events run by women and designed specifically for feminine spirituality. Soon women return to more active involvement.

“Always leave room for one more,” she advises. Pay attention to women God brings across your path, greet others at Mass and be active in the parish. “Look for Catholics in the community. We can be a pretty identifiable bunch. Be on the lookout for sacramental items such as crucifixes, Marian medals” and while you’re out and about, “Make yourself identifiable as a Catholic.”

Women excel at relating to others through personal storytelling. By sharing experiences, feelings, dreams and more, women can be sacraments (outward signs of Christ) to one another. “We lift up one another,” Tomlin says, “through listening empathetically, offering encouraging words, expressing love,” meeting women where they are, nurturing holy friendships and forgiving when inevitable conflicts arise.

In eight well-organized chapters, Tomlin offers thought-provoking questions (Did anything surprise you? Are there things you need to stop doing to make room to serve?), saintly role models and “grab ‘n’ go” prayers. Free downloadable documents ought to make group organization smooth and simple.

Many women informally offer one another spiritual direction without realizing they offer sacred accompaniment and listening. This book plants seeds that may blossom into a surge in trained female spiritual directors because the need is enormous, and the ordained are just too busy.

Tomlin employs spiritual tools from St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ministry is a vocation, not a volunteer job no one else stepped up to do. She outlines steps for deciding whether you are called, including forming a specific question, collecting data such as how it will impact one’s primary vocation and consulting mentors. “I wish someone had given me a big hug and said, ‘You’re good enough even if you don’t do it all, because God does not call us to do it all.’“

Ignatian wisdom also appears in the suggestion to ask God for help in paying attention. “Discernment in the Christian life is a continuous spiritual conversation with God, ourselves and spiritual friends or spiritual directors.” Vocation begins with God’s call.

As a founding leader of a strong women’s ministry, however, I disagree strongly with Tomlin’s emphasis on priestly involvement. For years, society told women that we weren’t good enough, smart enough, etc. The subconscious premise that women need a man’s permission stifles Church growth in vibrant ministries.

Besides, Catholic parishes don’t have enough ordained men to expect priests to be involved in every ministry. The Church needs to trust women to minister to women without male oversight. Waiting for priestly initiative or involvement in women’s ministry saps feminine energy and encourages women to continue the ways we habitually diminish ourselves.

I also wonder why Tomlin’s excellent primer for women is constantly using male pronouns referencing God when the author could easily have employed inclusive names such as the Almighty, the Trinity, the Divine, Jesus or Adonai.

While you may disagree with some material, this book is full of worthwhile recommendations for building strong ministries for women, including the importance of leadership succession planning.

People tend to complain about what’s wrong with the Church. This book offers solutions for doing something about it. Women, it’s up to you.

The hour has come. Church transformation depends on laity. Take advantage of the momentum in society now. Live joyfully and draw others to the love of Christ.

Hurry to get this book, give it as gifts, stock it in your parish library, and leave a copy in the back of Church. Let God’s Holy Spirit use it to encourage women in the field hospital that is our Church.

Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer, blogger, spiritual director and former assistant editor for the Diocese of San Jose, California.

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