Kelly Wahlquist, the founder of WINE: Women In the New Evangelization, attends Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, Minnesota. She and her husband Andy have been married for 22 years and have three children. Kelly is the author of Created to Relate: God’s Design of Peace and Joy and editor of Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women. She is a Catholic speaker and evangelist, and is the Assistant Director for the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute. Kelly has worked with Jeff Cavins as the Director of Community Relations for The Great Adventures Bible Study and with Fr. Michael Gaitley, helping to create the Hearts Afire Parish-based Programs from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.
What inspired you to found WINE?
As I was traveling the country speaking, I saw women with the same passion and desire to make Jesus known and loved. These women were running various women’s ministries like small groups, bible studies, retreats and conferences, and I noticed two common threads—there were always 8-10 women who wore a million hats, and those women often would be (so to speak) reinventing the wheel. For example, if they’d never given a women’s retreat, they would start one from scratch. And I thought, “As busy women passionate about bringing others into an intimate relationship with Jesus, we need to come together and share what we know works. We need to build up the Body of Christ by working together and complementing one another with our gifts.”
In the fall of 2011, I invited about twenty women, who lead women’s ministries and apostolates around the country, to gather for a weekend of prayer and discernment. After hours of praying and talking, one thing was for certain. We knew that we had to meet women in their need, to support and equip them, and to encourage them to go out and share the Gospel.
Whereas the Lord said to St. Francis, “Rebuild my Church”, I really felt the Lord told me, “Heal My Body.” In my heart I heard, “Heal My Body. The Body of Christ is battered, bruised and broken and I need you, as women, working in the beautiful gifts I’ve given you in your womanhood—to be receptive, generous, compassionate and sensitive— and to heal my body.”
As women, we have all been blessed with these gifts, and it doesn’t matter if you are a physical mother or not—all women have been bestowed with these maternal gifts. These are gifts given to build up the kingdom.
Where did WINE find its roots?
WINE sprung forth from a passion to meet women in their need and to bring them into relationship with other women—to nurture, encourage, and support them, and ultimately to bring them into a deeper relationship with Christ. Along with this personal relationship with the Lord and supportive setting, WINE continues to teach women the truth about their dignity and vocation, and the truth about the teachings of the Church.
WINE focuses on bringing women into relationship. We bring together women who haven’t experienced relationship with the Lord with women who have an intimate relationship with the Lord and live as His disciples. This inspires both groups of women and gives them an incredible sense of sisterhood, empowering them to share the faith with renewed confidence, with conviction and hope.
We are all created for in and for relationship, yet I contend that women are particularly created relational. In fact, I would say, women are radically relational. My book Created to Relate focuses on this very notion. Once we recognize the fact that as women we are naturally relational, and once we realize that evangelization is all about relationships—loving the Lord with all your heart and loving the person next to you—then we can be confident in living out our role as women in the New Evangelization.
What makes WINE unique? Why are women drawn toward WINE?
WINE: Women In the New Evangelization is a fun name, but it isn’t about the wine we drink; it is really about John 2:5. In everything we do, we focus on Mary’s last words to us in Sacred Scripture, which are, “Do whatever He tells you.” We recognize that it is hard to do the will of God, but we also know that when you have women around you supporting you and encouraging you along the journey, it is just a little bit easier. WINE is about doing the will of God, and doing it with the help of our sisters in Christ.
The name WINE does grab people, no doubt and sometimes we need for our attention to be grabbed. One of the events that invite women into WINE is our Women, WINE, and Wisdom evenings. These gatherings are kind of like Theology on Tap (but you can be over 39 to attend. In fact, these events are promoted for women from the age 18 to 118!) The talks all have catchy titles; the evenings are fun; and they are not held in churches, but rather are held in restaurants. Our first Women, WINE & Wisdom was called “Why We Need Jerry Springer and Reality TV”, and we packed the joint! And you know what? It was a night all about Confession. We had women of every age and in various aspects of their faith journey listening to humorous Catholic author and speaker, Alyssa Bormes explain that we all have a need to tell our sins. So, who are you going to tell them to? Jerry Springer who wants you to sin more because his ratings go up and he”ll make more money? Or, a priest who is sitting in persona Christi and is reflecting God’s infinite mercy? ”
The beauty of the night was not only did it create a sense of sisterhood—a feeling of, “I belong,” but it also encouraged women who hadn’t been to Confession (or even to church) in years to return to the beauty of the sacraments. WINE was able to meet these women where they were at in their need and to walk with them on their journey. As a result, we heard amazing stories from women whose hearts were transformed and whose lives had been changed! Imagine what the world would be like if hundreds of thousands heard this message? That is why I always remind women, “One invitation can have an eternal ripple effect!” Every women present that night had been invited, just as Mary had been invited to a wedding in Cana! Hence, why at WINE we always encourage women to invite other women to all of our events. And you know what? It works, because all WINE events sell out! In fact, our first WINE: Catholic Women’s Conference, sold out with 1000 women and our second sold out with over 1,200 women.
What do you have available for women interested in WINE?
Right now, we have our online summer book club, which begins June 18th. This summer’s selection is Melanie Rigney’s book Blessed Are You and we are encouraging women to gather in small groups to go through this insightful book. To do so, WINE provides all the templates for marketing this book club along with chapter reflections, questions and directions to make it easy for anyone to lead. WINE has templates to guide you in weekly meetings, or templates that allow you to meet in June to launch the book club and then again in August to wrap it up. WINE strives to make it easy and to suit your needs; because we know just how busy women can be in the summer (and ever other time of the year!) Last year, we had over 2000 women go through Lisa Hendey’s book, The Grace of Yes and it was a true blessing to see how their lives were transformed.
Why do you begin with a book club?
We start by inviting women into a book club because it isn’t as intimidating. Women often say that there are two things that keep them from participating in a parish program. The first is time. Well, that’s understandable, but not unbeatable. In our initial “Read Between the WINEs Book Club” we suggest books that are 6 or 8 weeks in length, and women meet for only 1.5 or 2 hours a week. Usually after the second week, the women are hooked! Why? Because they experience that sense of “I belong” and they find themselves encouraged by the women around them. The second hesitation women have for joining something at their parish is the intimidation factor. They often say, “What if I say something stupid?” Thus, at WINE we suggest starting with a book club. A book club isn’t too intimidating and it is also an excellent way to build up relationships. As women get to know one another, grow in their faith with one another, and trust one another, it’s only natural then that should one say, “Hey, what do you all think about doing a bible study?” And thus, it is even more natural that thirty women will respond, “Let’s do it!” whereas before they’d probably have said, “Oh, I don’t know.”
What does a WINE event look like?
There are four common threads, or I guess if we are talking WINE, there are four common tannins in everything WINE, whether that be an event, a book club, a book, a small group offering, etc…
1) Sisterhood & Fellowship
2) Scripture and Prayer- Everything we do is based in Scripture and prayer.
3) Delving Deeper – that is delving deeper into why as Catholics we do what we do. In WINE this is done in such a way that it captures the “a-ha” moments—the “oh, I never knew that! How cool!” moments. WINE aims to bring women into a deeper knowledge of the faith by explaining the beauty and riches of the faith.
4) Chocolate – Yep, we always have chocolate at our events! But truth be told, this represents the beauty that is all things WINE—the beauty that God uses to draw us ever closer to Him.
What is the essence of WINE?
WINE isn’t a program; it is a movement in the Church for women. It is a national ministry to elevate women in their gifts and let them shine. WINE brings women in through an invitation into relationship with other women, which is geared toward creating a deeper relationship with Jesus. WINE walks with women as they give their “Yes” to the Lord, providing the programs that are tried, trusted and true to the Magisterium and help catechize women and equip them to be, as my friend Sherry Weddell says, “Intentional disciples of Christ.”
I know you have the big national events, but what about if someone wants to get something going in their parish, how might they work with you?
Right now, we are really encouraging people to do the Read Between the WINES Summer book club. We have templates for everything so that women don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We also want to encourage women to attend our WINE events. On September 15th, in New Orleans women can come to a “Women, WINE, and Wisdom” and then on October 15th, the Archdiocese of New Orleans is hosting the New Orleans WINE: Catholic Women’s Conference.
Any last thoughts?
Whenever I tell people about WINE, the most common thing I hear is, “Where have you been for the last 10 years? ” You see, WINE is not my just idea, but rather it is the idea of the many women who desire to bring others to Christ. I have just been blessed to be the conduit that unites us all for such a time as this.
If it is on your heart to start a women’s group in your parish, just get a hold of us and we’ll help you. It’s simple. WINE is a wonderful answer to the call for the New Evangelization; for it is a systematic approach with an organic twist! Systematic in that WINE provides the methods and programs that are tried, trusted and true. And organic in that is it about a person. It is about a transformative encounter with Jesus Christ!
To be part of WINE, simply go to Catholicvineyard.com and sign up to get our emails; we only have two a week. The first is our New WINE Wednesday, which are quick little pick-me-ups to get you through the week. Then on Sundays we have our posts that bring you deeper into contemplating your faith. These are our From the Vine posts.
We are truly blessed at WINE to have some of the best Catholic authors write for us and I invite you to join us.