Brande Sanders looks forward to her monthly ‘Girls’ Night’ when she meets with friends, enjoys a glass of wine, shares stories of life and moments of laughter, worry, joy and prayer.
What makes this monthly gathering unique is that it takes place around the fire pit at St. Anthony the Abbot Parish in Brooksville and the women are joined by their pastor, Father Paul Pecchie. Less structured than a Bible Study but more than just a social event, this is a ministry of the parish called Wine and Word, and Sanders says she never misses it if she can.
“It’s so unstructured. Almost all of us have a little wine in our hand. One time someone brought popcorn, another time we had s’mores. It’s just like folks getting together to hang out. It’s a comfortable environment,” said Sanders. “It’s a very casual atmosphere, you never know exactly what’s going to happen. Father prepares a little presentation to bring to the group but then it’s just open and the discussion revolves around people’s questions.”
Wine and Word, and the counterpart for the men, Faith and Ale, grew out of a men’s and women’s retreat held a year and a half ago. From those retreats came a desire for more fellowship. Combined with the parish’s Courageously Living the Gospel priority of strengthening family ministry, this informal way of sharing the faith was born. The evenings aren’t led by Father Peccie, he is as much a participant as anyone else, but he is there to offer his insight and guidance as needed.
“It goes back to strengthening the families. It helps them see that the families are the principal sharers of the faith amongst themselves, and then able to share with the wider community,” explained Father Pecchie, who added that a great benefit of these gatherings is the wide age-range that attends. “There’s a lot of younger men who have children who come to this and older men who have retired. There’s a lot of guidance and wisdom given by the older men to the younger men.”
Paul Poco, who attends Faith and Ale each month, agrees. He says that the relaxed environment helps people to open up more, and that hearing the experiences of the older men around the fire inspires the younger men and challenges them to be better husbands and fathers.
“For example, one of the common things that come up are guys who are sad that their children have left the faith. For us young fathers we take that as ammunition to be the fathers we are called to be. Seeing it from their perspective firms us up and gives us more determination to step up our game,” said Poco.
Sanders has found the same to be true at Wine and Word. “You have a mix of ages and you have very diverse backgrounds. So, someone can always bring something to the conversation. Whatever the subject, there is someone who has an experience that relates,” she said.
Poco, who also serves in the Knights of Columbus, said that a benefit for him has been going back to the basics, focusing on growing in faith instead of constant busy-ness, even if that busy-ness is ministry.
“It’s easy to get lost in the doing and neglect what keeps us together,” said Poco.
When the spring quarantine canceled so many activities, Faith and Ale and Wine and Word became a great way to keep people active and growing in faith. As soon as the church was able to re-open, the meetings went from the air-conditioned parish hall to socially distanced around the firepit. Everyone prefers the new format, so they are there to stay even when things return to normal.
“When Father first suggested that we meet around the fire, it was hot as Hades outside!” laughed Sanders. “I thought it wouldn’t work, but it has, and it has grown. With the pandemic and all, I think his timing was unbelievable. It came at a time when all of us needed to be around other folks. It gave us an opportunity to do that.”
One recent month, rain made meeting around the firepit impossible. Not willing to give up their favorite night of the month, the group moved inside the social hall to spaced out chairs.
“Rain, or shine, or pandemic – we will meet!” said Father Pecchie.