I was provided a free copy of Joyful Momentum by Elizabeth A. Tomlin, in exchange for an honest review. All links to Amazon in this piece are affiliate links, meaning if you complete a purchase with these links, I may receive a small compensation fee from Amazon at no cost you, as the purchaser. Thank you, in advance, for utilizing my affiliate links.
I have been heavily involved with many military installation chapels since my oldest was just over a year old. While I initially began as a “simple” member attending Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) meetings, I very quickly found myself in leadership positions. Those positions grew from basic chapel leadership, to helping re-start a chapel group, identifying and leading spiritual content for adult women, and ultimately, has led me to the volunteer role as Social Media Manager for the worldwide 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Military Council of Catholic Women-Worldwide (MCCW). While I have never lived near the author of Joyful Momentum, I have met and interacted Elizabeth Tomlin several times during my time with CWOC and MCCW, and was excited to see she released a book by Ave Maria Press focused solely on growing and sustaining vibrant women’s groups.
Why was I so excited? Because, for all the heart and passion I hold for women’s ministry, I have no clue what I am doing.
I have skills and training in leadership, organizational management, and facilitating groups, but as a social worker, not a person in ministry. I have often felt as though I have been flying by the seat of my pants for the past six years, and was eager to pick up some wisdom, knowledge, and insight from someone who has focused extensively on growing and sustaining women’s groups.
Writing Style & Layout
Ms. Tomlin’s writing style for Joyful Momentum was easy to read. She engages her readers through the use of anecdotal stories, wisdom and words from the Bible, inspiration from the saints who have come before us, and prompts to invite women into deeper contemplation regarding their individual contributions to women’s groups.
Throughout Joyful Momentum, Ms. Tomlin is able to delve into weightier theological content, such as discernment, charisms and spiritual gifts, mercy, and mentorship without using the big words that are routinely associated with these concepts. The ease of the language allows a reader to sit down with a cup of hot coffee (or tea), and truly flow through the pages. It also allows for moms with little ones, pulling on the pant leg, to put the book down and come back to it within hours… or, days… and pick right back up where she left off.
The layout of the book was easy to understand, beginning with basic foundational skills, and progressing through more long-range and long-term planning. With Joyful Momentum, the reader will be able to see how the foundation in Christ as well as in “spiritual friendship,” helps a group to build, gain traction, and ultimately lead to a time in which change of successful leadership inevitably occurs.
There was a lot of information covered in Joyful Momentum. As a woman who has volunteered in ministry for a few years now, many times I caught myself silently high-fiving the author in agreement. However, there were also little nuggets of wisdom and encouragement for even the most seasoned women’s ministry leaders.
The ever-present, gentle reminder throughout the book was that women’s ministry groups are created first, with Christ. Then, they are built upon relationship – relationship with Christ, but also relationship with each other. Ms. Tomlin explored relationships with women using her own experiences, encouraging readers to step outside their comfort zone and get to know women not just in the pews, but also outside of church. Furthermore, she reminds readers that meeting once or twice does not build relationship which will grow and sustain faith-based support; rather, what leads to that nourishment of a group is hospitality. Every chapter within Joyful Momentum contains a closing prayer, based on the theme of the chapter, and meant to provide spiritual encouragement to take the words not just to heart, but to also live the words as we encounter women in our daily lives.
As written, Joyful Momentum offers the opportunity to be used by an individual, or by a group. Toward the end of every chapter, Ms. Tomlin identifies “Momentum Builders,” which are simply tips and tricks toward implementing that chapter’s theme. Some tips seem more basic than others, but often, it’s easy to overlook the “basic,” when leaders have been around the block a while. Other tips are ones gained through knowledge of being in ministry leadership a while, and can aid women in expanding their ideas for growing or sustaining their group.
Sandwiched between the Momentum Builders and the Closing Prayer are points to “Ponder.” Written with a Bible verse, inviting readers to engage in a little time praying with Sacred Scripture (Lectio Divina), and answering questions based on the chapter theme. These points to ponder are fantastic resources which make this an ideal study for a women’s ministry leadership team – or, for any women’s church group that wants to go deeper with creating, growing, and sustaining their women’s ministry.
As previously stated, Joyful Momentum is geared toward any woman, whether she simply attends Mass, or has led women’s ministry groups for many years. As Ms. Tomlin asserts in her book, if the reader has ever asked why their parish does not have a group geared toward women, or toward mothers with small children, or any other various group, then perhaps it is a gentle nudge by the Holy Spirit that she be the one to bring about that group. This book is written to assist any woman who has ever wondered “why” regarding women’s ministry groups. Having volunteered in leadership positions from faith-based ministry, college-age political groups, to most recently Cub Scout packs, I can say without a doubt that the skills embedded in this book are beneficial for any woman considering growing any group – whether it is a Catholic women’s group, a secular adult group, or any other faith-based denominational group.
Things to Keep in Mind
Joyful Momentum is a very basic insight into how to create a group, and how to get it going, and to sustain an existent group. It is not a complete “how to” compendium.
Early in the book, Ms. Tomlin stresses the importance of having a spiritual moderator (a priest for Catholic women’s groups) that is supportive. Many priests shy away from full support of women’s groups because they fear drama, they worry they will have extra work, and they would rather focus on the practical day-to-day operations. Ms. Tomlin encourages that all priests read her book, but we all know that priests are exceedingly overwhelmed with work, and they may or may not be willing to read her book. Therefore, it is important for the reader to have a firm grasp of the usefulness of women’s groups for a parish, and to present the assets of a women’s group to the priest.
Furthermore, there may be priests on board with being a spiritual moderator, but unable to commit the time to reading this book. If that is the case, then create an action plan of just how the priest can assist the women’s group as they begin to form, and as they continue to grow and see leadership change. Meet with the priest to ask his vision for the group, receive his insight on how he would like to see them assist his parish, and tailor your group accordingly. Finally, be specific with how he can assist you. If you want him to offer Mass at every meeting, speak with him about it, keeping your expectations realistic. If you want him to stop in and occasionally bless the women, ask him for that opportunity. If you want him to moderate and intervene on conflicts and personality clashes, let him know your plan of taking care of those issues before they escalate to needing his involvement. If you want him to assist in choosing the quality studies your group chooses to do, then don’t be afraid to ask for his input.
Finally, Joyful Momentum does not delve into perhaps weightier topics such as “how to choose the right curriculum,” or, “how to choose the right kind of program.” And, those particular topics are definitely not one-size-fits-all. Rather, the needs of the group and the personality of the group change and what one woman envisions for a group will not lead to the best fit for the group. Having a critical eye toward the atmosphere of your parish community, and being able to truly assess the “right fit” for your parish is integral. While Joyful Momentum explores the impact of relationship and offers encouragement, this should be a reminder to those reading that it is okay to adjust fire and change the overall vision of a group to best meet the needs of the women filling the pews. Not every group needs to meet weekly, not every group should be childfree, and not every group should incorporate full faith studies. But, every group should be based on the foundation of relationship with both Christ and each other, and from there, the seeds are planted.
At the end of the day, I truly believe this book will both assist women who may have never even considered the benefit of a women’s group, to the most seasoned women’s ministry leader. It is full of inspiration, humor, candor, and wisdom, and it is clear that Ms. Tomlin has the expertise to back up her assertions on how to grow and sustain women’s ministry groups. Her experience and her steps outlined throughout the chapters are applicable to military chapel groups, but also to civilian parish communities.
And, as the final pages closed, it became apparent to me, that while I have felt as though I have flown by the seat of my pants the past six years, the skills Ms. Tomlin presents in Joyful Momentum are applicable to both secular and faith-based women’s groups.
Therefore, if you are a Catholic woman, interested in finding other women in your community to grow toward Christ together, and to lean onto each other as the path toward sainthood sometimes gets challenging, then Joyful Momentum is a book which will transform your life… and, by doing so, will also transform your parish community.