A hallmark of the Diocese’s annual Women’s Conference is the abundant fellowship that comes to life among attendees.
Traditionally, upwards of 1,000 women gather for the conference for Mass, spiritual talks, Adoration, and to converse over lunch, shop vendors and deepen bonds.
This year’s event, set for Saturday, Oct. 17, intends to sustain this camaraderie and faith-sharing in a virtual way.
The sixth annual conference, “Catholic Women: Our Place at the Table,” will be held virtually, from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Registration is available at www.hbgdiocese.org/women, with a cost of $10.
The conference will feature a two-part keynote presentation by Catholic author and speaker Emily Stimpson Chapman, “Tasting the Love of God: Finding Healing and Joy at The Catholic Table,” as well as an additional talk, “When God Seems Silent: Making Sense of Unanswered Prayers.”
Stimpson Chapman’s books include “Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body,” co-authored with Scott Hahn, “The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet,” “The American Catholic Almanac, “These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body,” and “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years.”
The conference will include presentations by Bishop Ronald Gainer on “The Genuineness of Your Faith: Thoughts from I Peter,” and Catholic speaker Megan Murphy on “Marian Typology: Old and New Biblical Beauties and Fierce Feminine Geniuses.”
The conference will also feature praise and worship music and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Committee organizers say the virtual event allows the conference to open its doors on a broader scale.
“The committee recognized the unique advantages of a virtual conference and wanted to capitalize on them,” said Ellen Amarante. “While it is disappointing to miss the fellowship we all enjoy when we gather as sisters in Christ in person, new doors are opened with a virtual platform. We can extend the experience to the nation, and even the world, and come together as an even broader representation of the Body of Christ. That is an exciting opportunity!”
Jim Gontis, Director of the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, which organizes the annual event, said “Not only will the women of our Diocese be able to participate, but women will be able to join from all over the country…. So women in all of our parishes, as well as women from Florida to Maine, from Maryland to Alaska, from Texas to North Dakota can participate in this wonderful conference in the comfort of their living rooms or at their own kitchen tables. Women who register for the conference might also join together in their own families and social circles for this joyful day of sharing faith and fellowship with one another in something that is important to all of them, our Catholic faith.”
The conference theme, “Catholic Women: Our Place at the Table,” conjures up imagery and the idea of connectedness that women bring when gathered at the table, noted conference committee member Eva Gontis.
“Gathering around a table is traditionally a place of fellowship for women. Our theme was primarily chosen to extend an opportunity for joyful, faith-filled fellowship despite pandemic restrictions,” she said. “A place where we as women can gather to speak from the heart, and listen with open hearts, to be fed by this fellowship with one another and built up as faithful Catholic women, and then opened up to be fed at the Eucharistic table of our Lord. Our goal is always a deeper union with our Lord Jesus, our guest of honor at our tables at home, and the Eucharistic table at Mass.”
Eva said conference attendees will be nourished by the day’s three presenters, and shared insights into Emily Stimpson Chapman, whom she and her husband, Jim, know personally.
“She is primarily a loving wife and mother, and a wonderful friend. She is also a fabulous cook and makes her kitchen and dining room table the heart of hospitality and joy in her home. She loves to gather family and friends to her table! It is through food and fellowship that she lovingly brings people together in her home,” Eva remarked. “She always shares genuinely from her own heart and will touch the hearts of all the women gathered to hear her. She has a powerful story to share about her relationship with our Lord and food, of pain, healing, and joy.”
In planning for the conference, Amarante developed a companion resource guide for participants to consider themes before, during and after the event. Available online with the conference information, the guide offers suggestions for small groups to make the most out of the day’s presentations.
“I think it is important to bring the themes and ideas of the conference into our smaller circles to allow them to steep and marinate. I’m an educator by trade, and I know that we need to engage with a concept many times before we can practically apply it and use it to create new ideas, behaviors, or habits of mind,” Amarante said. “The resource guide encourages small groups of women to encounter the conference themes before, during and after the event in ways that can bring lasting spiritual growth and renewal.”
“During these times in particular, we need to be bolstered in our faith – especially within community,” she added. “I’m hopeful that the ideas in the resource guide will encourage women to take a deep dive into the conference themes to truly understand their dignity, their identity as beloved daughters of God, and their distinctive role in the Kingdom.”
Acknowledging the weariness that often comes with an abundance of screen time, conference organizers said the event promises to be spiritually invigorating, and will continue its annual elements of fellowship in the faith.
“It would be wrong to say, ‘Oh, I spend time on the computer for work and entertainment, so I can’t be expected to also use the computer for my spiritual nourishment,’” Amarante remarked. “We need to maximize the gift of technology by using it for the glory of God. I think we can treat the conference like a technology tithe. We can give a small portion of our screen time to Him, and He can bring the increase. These last few months have left us feeling a little displaced, a little lonely. We need to know now more than ever that we have a place at the table – a place specially made for us – and that while circumstances have isolated us temporarily, we are never alone.”
“The restrictions have been a challenge to work through from a variety of angles, and we understand a weariness that has settled in as a result of all of the virtual events,” Eva Gontis said.
“The Holy Spirit doesn’t social distance. Jesus walked through the locked doors where the apostles gathered in fear, so a computer screen will not limit the blessings He has to offer to renew and uplift the hearts of the women in our diocese. He is inviting them to His table.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness
(Visit www.hbgdiocese.org/women to view a schedule of the day, learn about the presenters, and register for the event. Registration is online only.)