Meet Candi Thorpe, a staff member at Calvary Baptist Church Burlington in Ontario. Candi has been involved with Christianity Explored at her church since 2014, as an attendee first and then a course leader. In 2017, Candi was preparing to lead her first course on her own when something unexpected happened.
“We found that the people from the community and those within our church who were registering were predominantly women,” Candi said. “We hadn’t advertised it as a women’s ministry event, but when we got to the first night and realized it was all women, it was really cool!” Candi knew that this group was of “divine design” so the few male table leaders for the course stepped back and let the group continue as an all-women’s course.
I asked Candi what her experience of leading Christianity Explored for the first time, and with all women, was like.
“The first thing I noticed about having a group of thirteen women around a table was the difference between having a mixed group of temperaments among men and women, as opposed to just women. I don’t want to stereotype men, but if you have an introverted man at the table and ask him a question about his work, his family, his hobbies or his house, he usually will talk about something. The fascinating thing we found with a group of all women was how difficult it was to draw out an introverted woman.”
Candi noted the unique dynamic between the women in the group. “We had some more extroverted women who wanted to talk about everything. All at once. Overlapping! But the introverted women, whether they were wrestling with a question or just didn’t know what to think, they had no time or space to process.”
Candi knew she had to make a change. In the second week of the course, she adjusted how she introduced a new discussion question. “I’d tell the group, ‘In a couple minutes, I’m going to ask this certain question.’ Then I’d pose the question and we’d go on to discuss other things. By the time we returned to the original question, we found that this delay tempered the extroverted woman who wanted to jump right in and gave the introverted woman the chance to process a little bit.”
After that week, Candi said things took off. “We really became quite a cohesive group after that. We ended up with this richer experience in the long run because we were actually listening to each other. From a relational perspective and for me leading, it was a huge win for the group.”
The impact of a meal
Each night of their Christianity Explored course began with a meal cooked by volunteers from the church. Candi noted how important this meal was for their group. “There just was no pressure,” she said. “We didn’t have to cook the meal, we didn’t have to clean up. We actually just got to be participants! It’s quite a gift to release anyone, but particularly a woman, from this urge or need to contribute to a meal. It ends up being such a lovely gift to say, ‘Someone wants to serve you.‘”
Candi said the meal was also essential to building community and trust among the group as they explored the Gospel. To illustrate this, Candi shared about two women in the group both who initially resisted coming for the meal. The first woman eventually decided to come, but refused to take more than a cup of tea. The second woman didn’t come for the meal at all, saying she just wanted to do the study.
“The way the first woman was able to give and receive throughout the study was so different from the woman who didn’t come for the meal at all,” Candi explained. “The woman who came later and said, ‘Just give me Jesus,’ never really was able to process the material. She missed all the conversation and ‘chewing’ on the questions that we did together during the meal.” Candi believes the community and trust built among the women during the meal was integral to their experience of Christianity Explored together.
“When we talk about this ‘just give me Jesus’ mindset,” Candi said, “we think it’s such a positive thing. But Christianity Explored is designed to weave the relational community into learning the Gospel. It really does model for people what the church is meant to be. Finding ways to keep community, even if you can’t serve a meal, for our nonbelievers and especially women, is huge.”
A woman’s approach to the Gospel
I asked Candi how the conversations around the content and themes in Christianity Explored were different from other courses she has been a part of.
“Certainly the relational aspects of the Gospel stood out more,” Candi said. “We were really able to process and be vulnerable about how the intimacy of the relational components of the Gospel, as well as the videos, really touched us.
“The Gospels were written for both men and women. And we know that something special happens when women get together, study God, and study Scripture. We bring a different perspective to it, and we share from our own experiences. If Scripture is correct that we ‘comfort one another with the comfort we ourselves have received,’ then the places where I am grieving are the ways God is going to use me to bring relief to someone else’s sadness.” (2 Corinth. 1:4)
“I really take this to heart,” Candi said. “That word ‘comfort’ means ‘minister.’ I minister in the same way that I have been ministered to. So when someone makes room for me at the table, when someone creates a safe space for me to be with other women to wrestle with the things I can’t quite understand, that is something we do receive comfort from. I realize that there’s a place for my voice, a place for me to speak into others, and also a place for me to receive! If we offer that to others, how much more will women be empowered in what they can offer to others? This is how we end up being disciples who make more disciples!”
At the end of their course, one woman renewed her commitment to Christ and another gave her life to Christ for the first time. Both were baptized within the following months. Of the first woman, Candi said, “Her zeal for what she rediscovered was tangible.” The second woman is now a “serving, giving, loving” member of the church and helps out with the women’s ministry. For everyone else, Candi says God used the time to deepen their relationships with one another. “When I got to the end,” Candi said, “I felt, ‘Wow, this is like a home church.’ So yes, it was very special.”
Candi Thorpe is the Director of Administration, Communication, and Frontline Ministries at Calvary Burlington in Ontario, CA. She loves the local church and has a passion to see people use their gifts to serve God.