Christine Tillotson and Casey Peetz were looking forward to a ladies’ night out.
Tillotson invited Peetz to a gathering at her parish, St. Gabriel the Archangel, to attend a Syrian Supper Club, arranged through Welcome Neighbor STL. A catered meal prepared by a Syrian refugee was paired with a talk on the state of immigrants and refugees in St. Louis. Afterward, there was time for fellowship and sharing of prayer requests.
The dinner was organized by Women at the Well, a ministry at St. Gabriel led by lay women. The ministry started several years ago as a way to build community inside and outside of the parish with faith, fellowship and fun.
Tillotson saw a blurb in the church bulletin about Women at the Well and Welcome Neighbor’s Syrian dinner. She found similarities between the two groups in their respective missions to build community. “As the Catholic Church, we are called to welcome our neighbors, and that includes being a welcoming community to immigrants and refugees,” she said.
St. Gabriel parishioner Sandy Timpe, who helped spearhead Women at the Well, described that sense of welcoming as evangelization.
“If you’re prayerful, loving and in community, then you’re evangelizing,” she said. “Because that gives you the opportunity to tell the story of Christ in your life. We wanted to reach out to all women — not just some women or those who are always at church.”
Women at the Well grew out of an Endow women’s study group at St. Gabriel. The group examined St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women,” which challenges women to consider their dignity, the “feminine genius,” and their roles in their families, the Church and the world.
A year before her involvement with Endow, Timpe was commissioned by the archdiocese’s Lay Formation Program, a three-year process that offers lay men and women an opportunity to deepen their union with Christ and develop a greater ability to participate in the Church’s mission of evangelization as missionary disciples.
Those who go through lay formation agree to offer at least three years of service to the parish. Timpe wanted to do something to serve women. A friend mentioned about her participation in Endow in another state and recommended it as a way to reach the women of the parish.
After a year and a half of Endow, Timpe said the group wanted to expand and offer what they experienced to other women — not just those in the parish, but any woman in the community, regardless of age, parish or faith background.
The Scripture story of the woman at the well (John 4:4-42) resonated with them. The Samaritan woman was having difficulty believing her self worth. But yet Jesus communicated His life-giving love to her, with a promise to quench her thirst. She was emboldened by what He saw in her, and she went out and told others of her encounter with Jesus.
The mission of the Women at the Well is similar, said Timpe — to offer opportunities for women to come together to build community through faith.
The group approaches their activities — held every month to six weeks — with a “come as you are” approach. The format generally includes a speaker, time for fellowship and prayer — and a glass of wine. A core committee called the “Bucket Brigade” provides hospitality. Previous speaker topics have included mindfulness, comfort through hardships, gratitude and joy, contemplative prayer and walking with God.
“They don’t have to do anything — this is not a service community,” Timpe said of those who attend the gatherings. “But some will ask for ideas to serve others. They are filled up enough that they want to go and do more, whether that’s in their family, their prayer life or the St. Louis community.”
Amy Weston has been part of St. Gabriel Parish for more than a dozen years. She started to feel more connected to her parish community after attending an ACTS retreat, where she met Timpe. Timpe eventually reached out to Weston and invited her to be part of the Bucket Brigade.
“Women at the Well takes women of all ages and gives them an opportunity to connect through small faith sharing,” Weston said. “It’s almost like a mini version of ACTS. I love seeing people inviting their friends from the neighborhood. We want to build up those connections. It’s like the woman at the well, sharing the Good News of Jesus. If people feel welcome and fed, they want to invite others.”
Cherie Massmann, another member of the Bucket Brigade, described women as the “heartbeat” of the parish. Women at the Well offers an authentic faith experience, blending prayer and fun. “You want to fill them up,” Massmann said. “You watch people come in and get super excited. We don’t want anything from them — just come as you are.”
>> Upcoming Women at the Well events at St. Gabriel
Friday, Sept. 9: 6 p.m., happy hour and speaker before exhibit on eucharistic miracles
Tuesday, Oct. 11: 7 p.m., author and speaker Virginia Herbers on “Gifts from Friends We’ve Yet to Meet”
Thursday, Dec. 1: 7 p.m., candlelight Advent prayer service in church
Sunday, Jan. 8: Epiphany brunch in the cafeteria
For more information, contact Claudia Wright at [email protected]
>> Lay Formation Program
The Archdiocese of St. Louis offers a three-year Lay Formation Program for lay men and women who desire to deepen their relationship with Christ and gain tools that will serve them as missionary disciples participating in the Church’s mission. Approximately 350 people have completed the program since it began in 2013.
The program includes intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation over the course of 26 sessions. Candidates must be recommended by their pastor or parish administrator, and agree to attend all sessions. They also pledge to offer three years of service to the parish at the conclusion of formation. There is no charge to attend the program, which is funded by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Information on applying for the fourth cohort, which begins Sept. 10, is available at layformationstl.org. Because the deadline to apply has passed, those interested in applying must do so immediately by contacting Sister Mary Kathleen Ronan, RSM, at [email protected] or (314) 917-3183. The next opportunity to join a cohort will be in 2025.