By Sarah Heidelberger
For The Visitor
Like laborers in the vineyard ready to work, over 250 women gathered in the Great Hall at St. Mary Church in Alexandria Sept. 12. Looking around, I knew I wasn’t alone in the feeling of eagerly awaiting something unknown, but exciting.
It was the kickoff event for the Catholic women’s ministry “Women In the New Evangelization” (WINE), in the Alexandria area with an evening titled “Women, Wine and Wisdom.” The event included hors d’oeuvres, prayer and song, a speaker, fellowship and, of course, wine.
WINE, according to its website, “is a creative and inspired ministry to invigorate women’s groups and parishes through encouraging, supporting and nurturing women in the Catholic faith and by equipping and mobilizing women as intentional disciples of Christ.”
True to the mission statement, the evening was full of encouragement to us women to grow and thrive in our Catholic faith, along with plenty of fun, laughter and a few tears.
While most of the plans fell into place, the women did encounter a few setbacks. One of them was that the speaker for the night, Kelly Wahlquist, the founder of WINE, was unable to attend as scheduled due to illness. Finding this out only hours before everything was set to begin, one of the women from the local group of organizers — Deb Hadley — stepped up to fill in the gap.
It proved to be in God’s design all along, as Deb bravely took the microphone to share her personal story and its unique part in the beginning of the WINE chapter in Alexandria.
Deb began by saying that the Bible tells us over 2,000 times that “in this world you will have trouble” and, yet, when trouble comes so often we’re upset and surprised by it. She reminded us that trouble is normal, expected, purposeful and that the Lord will meet us in our deepest, lowest moments.
Deb shared how she was a “cradle Catholic,” a term she didn’t even know existed or what it meant until just a few years ago. But, at best, she was going through the motions regarding her faith. In 2013, her daughter, Kaylie, passed away unexpectedly, and Deb’s life was shaken as she tried to navigate, looking for outward fulfillment rather than digging deeper inside.
Just nine months later, Deb’s son Tyler was killed in a car accident. It was then, while Deb was at her darkest time, that an old acquaintance, whom she didn’t really know very well, appeared on her doorstep.
The woman, Kris, simply asked if she could pray with Deb. In that moment, Kris prayed the most intense prayer, wrapped her arms around Deb and, while she did so, Deb felt the internal heaviness leaving her body as she left that pain at Jesus’ feet. Deb marvels how Kris stepped out in faith and just “showed up.” Kris didn’t second-guess what God was calling her to do, but was open to God using her.
Over the last several years, Deb’s faith journey has continued to grow and blossom.
Numerous occurrences directed her back to the Catholic Church, igniting a fire within her to continue to nurture her faith.
It was then that she crossed paths with Kelly Wahlquist, who heard her story and asked her to speak at one of the WINE events in the Twin Cities. Deb was amazed at the enthusiasm of these amazing women of faith. A short time later, she and her husband moved from Sleepy Eye to the Alexandria area. Deb knew that was where they were meant to be. Through a women’s Bible study, commitment to eucharistic adoration, becoming an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and involvement at St. Mary’s, Deb found many women alive in faith there.
Last winter, she learned of a WINE event in Burnsville and invited Sue, who coordinates eucharistic adoration at St. Mary’s. Sue extended the invitation to several other women of the parish, five of whom attended the event. Deb said it was there that the women became so excited and lit on fire to bring the mission of WINE to their parish.
After that, all of the pieces fell into place as they presented it to their pastor, Father Steve Binsfeld, who supported it wholeheartedly, and they began planning this recent event. The parish plans to continue to grow the vineyard through many different aspects of WINE, including weekly women’s gatherings, Advent and Lent women’s book/Scripture study and other “Women, Wine and Wisdom” evenings.
I felt abundantly blessed by the evening and the evidence of Christ at work in the church! The words that kept coming to my mind were ‘Rise Up!’
With the current issues that our church is facing it can be easy to respond with a “leave” rather than “lead” mindset. These few hours in fellowship and prayer reminded me that it is not a time to be complacent in the pew, but to dig deep, cultivate and grow in our spiritual journeys.
The next Women, Wine and Wisdom evening titled “How to Win a Catholic” is planned in Alexandria on Sunday, March 24, 2019, from 6-8:30 p.m. The presenter is Barb Heil, a former Pentecostal minister who found her way into the Catholic Church. For more information about WINE, visit catholicvineyard.com.
Sarah Heidelberger and her family are members of St. Bartholomew Parish in Villard.