In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Emmaline Pilkington was pregnant with her first child. Having just moved to Knoxville (Johnson County) a year earlier, meeting other young moms was tough.
She and her husband Aaron Pilkington, an Arkansas state representative elected in 2017, connected with Ryan and Janae Spencer on the Catholics of the River Valley Facebook page. The Spencers moved to Clarksville in December 2019.
“We met up at a brewery,” Emmaline Pilkington, 29, said with a laugh, adding that her husband called it a “Catholic friend blind date.”
The couple quickly bonded, and the women wanted to share that unique connection with other young women at St. John Church in Russellville. On Sept. 29, they held their first St. Anne’s Society meeting.
“There’s tons of young women and young moms there and there was this untapped potential,” Pilkington said of the parish. “We thought it was this great opportunity to reach out to young women in our parish and young mothers in particular to build community and worship together as well.”
The group is open to young women, 40 and under, who are single, married and/or mothers and there’s no requirement to be Catholic or a member of St. John. However, the activities and prayers are centered on faith. Spencer said at her former parish in Texas, she was part of an active women’s group.
“I met some really great moms and really saw the benefits of being in a community of Catholics and living out our faith together,” Spencer said.
With the pandemic raging shortly after moving, “I was really lonely … I love being a wife and a mother, but you also need that exchange with other people, like-minded people, young and old.”
In addition to moms Pilkington and Spencer, who has twin daughters and one on the way, the four other young women who have attended are also mothers. Their children are welcome to attend, and the society is connecting with St. Leo the Great Parish, on the campus of Arkansas Tech University, for students to come and provide childcare for the hour-long meetings.
“I think a lot of the work moms do is hidden work. We’re at home a lot of the time so it’s easy to feel nobody sees you,” Spencer said, who is a stay-at-home mom and works as a photographer. “The work we’re doing inside our homes is good and beautiful, but it’s lonely at times. Being able to talk to other moms and being able to relate to you in that way is nice.”
Though not much is known in Scripture about the society’s patron saint, St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, Pilkington said the women can look to her “abiding faith in God” and also that she “raised a successful daughter.”
The group meets the last Wednesday of the month at noon in St. John’s catechetical adult center. Meetings include a sack lunch and visiting for about 15 minutes. Then, the women pray the rosary and Lectio Divina, a style of prayer, with the next weekend’s Gospel.
“Sometimes my son does not want to cooperate during Mass, so I miss the Gospel,” Pilkington said of eight-month-old Aaron Michael. “So it’s really nice to know it's going in.”
The women then bring up prayer intentions and take turns bringing information about a different saint to discuss.
Pilkington said she hopes the group can do more activities, like late-night adoration or have a park outing, which can include other women who might not be able to make it to the noon meetings.
The society can be modeled in other parishes since it’s purposely set up in a flexible way, rooted in prayer and fellowship.
“It’s not something that requires a lot of planning. I think a lot of times we don’t want to start something because we think it's going to be a lot of work or preparation each week,” Spencer said. “I think just giving people the space to do it, the opportunity to do it; people will show up.”
The support from the priests at St. John has been important, with associate pastor Father Martin Amaro attending the first meeting, Pilkington said.
“I hope that we can develop a really strong community that’s there for each other through pregnancy, in exciting times and bad times and that we’re all able to support each other throughout our church and really be a resource for women when they come to the parish,” Pilkington said.
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