By Debbie Splaingard

Fellowship Beyond Graduate School

One of the joys of getting to know women in graduate and professional school is the opportunity to follow their lives as they move into their careers. Over the last two years, I began to see a theme emerge as I met over coffee with women who took jobs here in Columbus and kept in touch with others who had moved elsewhere. Again and again, women were saying, “I really miss the fellowship we had in grad school — I’m not finding anything like that at work… and there are lots of things I’m facing now that I wish I could safely talk over with other women.” In May, three of these women contacted me by phone and email to ask, “When are we going to start a group for women like us — out of school and seeking fellowship?” One woman, now teaching in another state, even decided to come back to Columbus during her summer break, in part to reconnect with women from our fellowship group. And so, a new gathering was born.

Every other Thursday evening this summer, a group of women began to meet over appetizers and lemonade on my back porch. Most of these women had never met one another, yet they had two things in common — each was eager to grow in her relationship with Jesus and each one had completed graduate school a year or two earlier. They came together out of a desire to process this season of entry into their professions with other women and to “think Christianly” about the challenges they were meeting.

We decided to focus our discussions around The Life You’ve Always Wanted, an aptly titled and encouraging book by John Ortberg, subtitled “Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.” One of the disciplines he describes is the “practice of slowing.” In his discussion, Ortberg describes “hurry sickness,” which includes “a diminished capacity to love. Love and hurry are mutually incompatible. Love always takes time and time is the one thing hurried people don’t have.” Making time to show up twice a month for this study involves “slowing” for each of us.

Several women involved in the group recently took a few minutes to identify why these gatherings are helpful to them. “Our time has brought clarity in the midst of confusion this world brings,” notes Tia, a dentist. “Being able to relate with other women going through similar pressures and situations in life helps me keep perspective and encourages my walk.”

According to Abby, a speech pathologist, “The value of a study like this one is that it takes me out of the everyday ‘blah’ and puts me into God’s world. It can be challenging to see God in daily life. Groups like this help me find God and meet with him as well as meet with other women who go through the same things I do. The professional world can be cut-throat at times and I need a place where I can not only relax but be challenged to deal with that world in an unconventional way.”

Klodiana, a lawyer, says, “Given this time in my life, I find it important to provide that continuity in fellowship that often gets lost after graduation, as well as provide a component of the spiritual structure of the week, which I feel also becomes somewhat more difficult to maintain or find after starting work (especially busy jobs). And even more, I find it opens the door to new friendships with people I wouldn’t have necessarily been friends with before due to the intensity of grad programs, which often lend themselves well to only hanging out with ‘your own kind.’”

Ortberg commends the practice of celebration. As we have prayed together through the summer, we’ve seen God provide for us in many ways, ranging from physical healing to personnel changes at work. Week by week, we have celebrated God’s activity together. We have also wrestled together over difficult situations and shared the challenges of waiting on the Lord.

Through the summer, new women have joined the group, including Julie, an entomologist, who notes, “Jesus commanded, ‘Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ The summer post-grad series has provided a great opportunity for me to love God with all of my mind with a group of like-minded women.”

As we move into the fall, a few changes are taking place for this group. We decided to meet once a month now and we’re planning to have a light dinner together, instead of just appetizers and snacks, since we realized that most of us are rushing in straight from work and arrive hungry! We’ll continue studying and discussing a chapter each month from the Ortberg book and we’re each keeping an eye out to invite other women who are looking for fellowship beyond grad school.

About the Author

Debbie Splaingard has an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a Masters in Organizational Communication from Marquette University. Over the years, she has been a medical grant writer, owner of a personnel consulting business, church staff member, wife, mom and grandmother. She is currently a research associate at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a campus volunteer with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries at Ohio State University.

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