There’s something deeply fulfilling about community gatherings where you feel like your needs are met and your experiences are understood.
Kathy Book saw this occur from the start when she was working at Kroger’s downtown office and leading a Bible study for women who shared her faith. When Kathy realized that she was ready for a change and quit her job after 22 years, many women reached out to her about continuing their gatherings in some way.
“I felt like there was a huge need for community within the workplace for women,” says Kathy. “We strive to be successful, but we may be struggling and nobody knows. That’s what prompted me to say we should get together and do a small group for working women.”
Churches and faith communities often have ministries directed specifically at women, but not necessarily focused on women at work. Kathy began leading three study groups for women, no longer tethered to a single employer, and the organization that would become Women in the Marketplace (WiM) was born.
At its heart, Women in the Marketplace is quite simple: women gather to discuss common issues like stress, conflict at work and building relationships through the lens of Christian faith. While sections of the Bible are used as food for thought, the studies they use are not denominational, require no homework and allow anyone who is interested in finding a community to jump in when they are free to do so.
“You don’t have to own a Bible, since the scripture is in the book, and everything is related to your life,” says Kathy. “We want everyone to feel that they are welcome.”
Their practical, thoughtful curriculum emerged when Kathy herself approached the women involved in her first few studies and asked what they most wanted to talk about.
From there, Kathy sought God’s guidance and began putting together lessons that incorporated thoughts, scriptures and questions to discuss with group members. Eventually, she created 13 mini study guides, and then partnered with a co-writer, Catherine KingsVail, to combine these guides into a single book, Unleashed: Living a Fully Integrated Life.
Michelle Swinney, a West Chester resident, worked in downtown Cincinnati and joined WiM in early 2017, eventually joining the board when they became a nonprofit organization. She was instrumental in launching the first WiM group offered through a church, here in West Chester’s Lord of Life Lutheran Church.
“This group of women was a great mix; some people who already knew each other, and some others didn’t. It’s such a blessing to be there for women and walk through what they are walking through,” says Michelle.
Michelle has seen how WiM grows organically: when groups start to get fairly large or when someone in a new part of the Cincinnati metro wants to participate, a new small group is born.
WiM hopes to see more women feel empowered to bring their faith practice to their workplaces, and in pursuit of sharing what they’ve experienced broadly, they’ve hired their first executive director, Catherine Gates. She brings experience from another organization about faith and work, Workmatters, and lots of nonprofit know-how to grow WiM by extending into new communities.
“Our goal is to create 250 small groups this year. It’s a God-sized goal!” says Kathy.
The group also wants to scale-up two funds they’ve started to help women in and beyond their groups. Dough Starter is a fund that helps women entrepreneurs with some capital to launch a business; their first recipient wanted to launch an art therapy practice and is still running it to this day.
“We were able to say, ‘God gave you a dream and a talent, go do it,’” says Kathy. “She just needed a little encouragement, a push, and the financial piece to get started.”
Living Bread offers grant money to women who are struggling, often with a job loss that results in upheaval in their home lives. Paying bills and helping people stay in their homes can do so much to get them back on track after a major life change.
“With the first woman we helped, God was truly working; she was completely blown away,” says Michelle. “We were able to secure funding to help her pay bills and stay in her home and get her car fixed. She had the confidence to do all these things because she had people supporting her and sharing their ideas. She’s thriving now.”
During the pandemic, the in-person groups had to be put on hold, but WiM created new ways to connect. They offer Zoom meetings for prayer, praise and even wellness, with a Zoom yoga class that helps women connect while moving their bodies.
They are also holding a large Zoom Connect event on June 17 at 7 p.m., where a guest speaker with experience as both an executive and entrepreneur will share about her journey. All women are welcome on these calls, even if they aren’t part of a WiM group.
If women enjoy these experiences, it is easy to launch a new group.
“We are so open to helping,” says Kathy. “We’re creating a network where people can do this and not feel alone.” WomeninMarketplace.net
[Below is the Sidebar for p. 3]
Start a WiM Small Group
Step One: Learn
You can learn a lot on your own from WiM’s book and website. To get the full picture, attend a Zoom prayer call, a Zoom Connect event or visit a WiM group virtually or in-person.
Step Two: Gather
Find other women who are in the workplace and also interested in matters of faith. You can start a group in a workplace, if faith-based interest groups are permitted, or consider launching through your own church. You don’t have to have an affiliation to start a group.
Step Three: Customize
Find the time, location and structure that works best for you and your group. Remember that some members may stay for a season and return sporadically, while others may form a core weekly group—that welcoming flexibility is key!