‘Wisdom, Wit and Wine’ groups quench thirst for theology

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

The pale green walls of Joe and Peggy Arseneau’s comfortable family room complemented the darker shade of green in Father Matthew Crane’s vestments as he explained the symbolism of the garments to a group of about 12.

They were at the St. Cloud home April 17 as part of a monthly gathering they call “Wine, Wit and Wisdom.”

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Father Matthew Crane discusses the symbolism of priest vestments during the “Wine, Wit and Wisdom” gathering at the home of Joe and Peggy Arseneau April 17. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

The group started meeting last fall after the Arseneaus heard about a neighboring parish that was hosting small group meetings (under the name “Wisdom, Wit and Wine”) in the homes of its parishioners, where a priest or deacon is invited to discuss a theological topic while guests enjoy wine, other beverages and snacks.

“It’s really about getting together in a social setting and enjoying the company of each other while being in a place where we, as Catholics, can talk about our faith,” said Joe, who is the coordinator for new evangelization at the parishes of St. Michael in St. Cloud and St. Joseph in Waite Park.

Early roots

The seed for Wisdom, Wit and Wine was first planted when Father Peter VanderWeyst came up with the idea as associate pastor of the parish cluster of Holy Spirit, St. Anthony and St. John Cantius in St. Cloud. It took root in May 2012 when Father Matthew Crane served as associate pastor of the cluster.

Ida Burt, a parishioner at St. Anthony, is one of the inaugural members of the group that meets in her parishes.

“It’s all about living our faith, becoming aware of how we are encountering God in our daily lives, how God is present in all that we do and learning from those who have gone before us,” she said.

Each session is held in a different parishioner’s home. An invited priest or deacon poses and explores an open theological question. Guests bring snacks or wine to share and spend time getting to know one another throughout the evening. As the wine begins to flow, so does the conversation.

“We discuss topics like marriage, immigration or social justice, and as things are clarified from the church’s perspective, we all become more aligned with each other,” Burt said. “When you realize that you are not alone struggling in this culture to live the faith, you draw strength from that.”

After just a few meetings, Joe Arseneau saw the cohesion and excitement of the group, as well as the ongoing effect.

“Getting together like this strengthens people in their faith and teaches them to think with the church,” he said. “It’s a perfect vehicle for engaging people in their faith and building courage to share it with others.”

What Arseneau really loves about the group is that it crosses parish boundaries, involving people from other area churches.

Paula Tholl, member of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud, has been attending the group from St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s.

“I have been really engaged in my faith for about 15 years now, and I am just hungry to learn more,” Tholl said. “Sometimes I feel like I am alone in my faith struggles. But to have a place like this where I know that there are other believers coming together to share our faith and keep learning about our faith, to me that is catholic, that is universal.”

Ecclesiastical haberdashery

At the April 17 gathering, Father Crane, who is now pastor of Christ the King Parish in Browerville, St. Joseph in Bertha and St. Joseph in Clarissa, returned for a an appearance at the Arseneau home.

His presentation titled, “Ecclesiastical Haberdashery,” explored the meaning and symbolism of basic vestments including the amice, alb, cincture and chasuble used for Mass.

As with each session, an open question was presented. Father Crane asked, “Is a first-century Roman business suit appropriate dress for a priest if nobody recognizes the symbolism of it?”

Though each session doesn’t always conclude with a definitive answer, participants often learn something new and always leave with food for thought. After Father Crane’s presentation, for example, several people said his explanation of the vestments helped them better appreciate their symbolism and history.

“In an imitation of Christ, I’ve got a group of people around me and I’m teaching,” said Father Crane. “I do see the effect that this has had on people. They know how to look things up in the catechism. They know where to look for answers. They know who to talk to about their questions. They pick things up and they pass it along to others.

“In a little group like this,” he said, “I can gather some disciples and send them out, and they, in turn, take what they’ve learned and apply it in their homes, their coffee klatches or wherever they are, and the Good News spreads.”

The group’s most perplexing question? The order in which the elements “wit,” “wine” and “wisdom” fall is a running joke between the two groups. For Burt’s group, “Wisdom, Wit and Wine” won the designation.

“It all begins with the wisdom of God and the church,” she said. “We all seek the wisdom of God through the church so ‘wisdom’ comes first. Wit is what we each bring to it as friends gathering to share our faith experiences. Wine helps to create a relaxing and casual ambiance to the gathering.”