Women of Spirit Welcomes Believers, Skeptics and the Curious 

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Women of Spirit co-founders (L-R) Julia Shepard Stenzel, CarrieLyn Guymon, Leslie O’Brien, Stacy Crinks, Betsy Shandalov and Bushra Gill.

    A Christian, a Mormon, a Muslim and a Jew decide to host a luncheon. Pause. If you are waiting for a great punch line, you won’t find one. But if you a waiting for a great story line, read on.
    Women of Spirit was co-founded by six Orinda women of differing faith backgrounds who were inspired to host monthly gatherings for inclusive, open-minded women seeking connection, shared learning and spiritual growth with other women of diverse faith traditions. The group, which held its first meeting in February 2018, is not affiliated with any religious institution and is open to anyone.
    Women of Spirit grew out of a conversation between co-founder Stacy Crinks and Jim Brommers Bergquist, senior minister at Orinda Community Church. Crinks, who considers herself deeply spiritual but has never fully committed to any one particular faith practice, had been searching for a local women’s interfaith group that would celebrate “all that we have in common – values such as love, integrity, family, community and faith.”
    Bergquist connected Crinks with co-founders Leslie Darwin O’Brien, Betsy Shandalov and Julia Shepard Stenzel, who have led women’s spirituality groups. Bushra Gill and CarrieLyn Guymon soon joined the leadership committee responsible for planning and implementing the monthly gatherings. Together, these six women and their network of friends successfully established Women of Spirit, with a goal of expanding and attracting more women each month.
    The gatherings, which, to date, have been held in the community meeting rooms at various places of worship in the Lamorinda area, have been attended by 35-65 women each month. Given the current climate of mounting uncertainty and traumatic events, the group considers itself in a timely and solid growth mode. Crinks even has plans to develop a “kit” for other women interested in taking this concept to their own community. “It’s interesting,” Crinks observes, “how we have had roughly the same number of women at our gatherings, but they are not always the same women. Word is spreading.” Crinks adds that participation can be as much or as little as one desires, and no attendance commitment is required.
    Gatherings consist of a half hour of social time, usually with an informal meal, snack or dessert, followed by speakers, small-group discussions at tables, and wrapping up with a closing circle. “The atmosphere is warm, welcoming and real,” says co-founder Leslie O’Brien. “One participant shared with me, ‘I have lived in Orinda for five years, and this is the deepest conversation I’ve had since we moved here. I am so grateful for this group.’”
    A faith history is not required in this no-judgement zone. “We had one guest who stated she was agnostic. ‘My religion is my garden,’ she said. And that is awesome,” Crinks exclaims.
    Color coded name tags attempt to “mix-up” the luncheon table seating arrangements so that fresh conversations emerge and new, multi-generational friendships are forged. “We do have to stick to a schedule,” Crinks notes, “or else we could literally wind up talking and sharing all day!”
    Stenzel seconds the concept of sticking to a timetable and an organized format: “The big value here is the intensity of the conversations. With our thoughtfully planned table topics, we jump right in. We don’t have to spend a lot of time making small talk.”
    O’Brien adds, “Our objective is to move beyond ‘coexistence’ to deep appreciation, respect and love. While we realize that our faith journeys may be very different, or even non-existent, we all want to feel a part of something greater.”
    Both lunchtime and evening gatherings are scheduled to accommodate a variety of schedules. Upcoming meetings:
    Tuesday, Nov. 27, 7-9 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 3776 Via Granada, Moraga.
    Friday, Jan. 25, noon – 2 p.m. at the Orinda Community Church, 10 Irwin Way, Orinda.
    Any and all interested women can learn more about this group and sign up to receive evites to future gatherings via three different avenues. Visit the group’s website: womenofspiritlamorinda.org or visit its Facebook page, Women of Spirit Lamorinda or e-mail info@womenofspiritlamorinda.org.
     “And did we mention chocolate?” Crinks asks gleefully. Here, the founders confirm, one will never find judgement, but one will always find plenty of acceptance and chocolate. “Be sure to mention the chocolate,” she concludes.

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