Pottsville helps women grow in Christ

by Robert Mitchell

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” —Titus 2:1 (ESV)

Lizzy Matz was looking to renew her Christian faith when she started attending The Salvation Army church in Pottsville, Pa., a year and a half ago.

“I’ve never really studied the Bible before,” Matz said.

It wasn’t long before Lieutenant Betty Ellen Barrett, the co-commanding officer in Pottsville, invited Matz to “Coffee Connection,” a down-to-earth Bible study for women. Barrett hosts two such groups of women—one that meets every other Tuesday at a local coffee shop and another at McDonald’s once a month. An intimate group of three to four women attend each session.

While the corps still offers traditional Home League twice a month, Barrett said she wanted to get out into the Pottsville community.

“We’re trying to do different things outside the corps,” she said. “Not everyone is into the traditional Home League. The reason we do it is we’re trying to build deep-spirited friendships. We pick a book of the Bible, and we’ll study and talk about it. It’s also a time to share what’s happening in our lives and encourage each other in our Christian walk.”

Barrett said the gatherings are also an opportunity to build community, confidentially discuss various issues facing women and mothers, and grow as friends outside the Sunday morning corps setting. A married mother of one who faced many challenges growing up, Barrett brings her spiritual wisdom to the group, but she lets it be known that she’s just a sinner saved by grace like the other women.

Discipleship matters

“I’m just like them,” she said. “While I’m their spiritual leader, I’m still human and I have my challenges just like everybody else. I tell them, ‘Don’t lift me on a pedestal because I’m going to fall, but see me as an individual just like you who is growing in my faith.’ We share testimonies a lot.

“Women’s lives matter. Their stories matter. In those groups, there are women who have been through different situations or are going through situations now, and we help each other walk through that journey.”

The discipleship element of Coffee Connection is crucial to Barrett, who said she once believed that most adults knew about the Bible and Jesus Christ. She’s found that’s not always the case. Many of the women are new to the Christian faith, and when she brings up stories from the Bible, they often have questions and ask for an explanation.

For example, Matz learned the context of the Lord’s Prayer, which she recognized from her Catholic faith but didn’t know much about beyond that.

“She used to say things as a ritual, but now she sees the biblical connection,” Barrett said. “That’s been one of the most beautiful things to see her connecting with the Bible. God is really working.

“Discipleship is so important. I never really had that growing up and I really could have used it. If we can be a part of somebody growing in their faith, that’s what it’s about.”

The group meeting at Pressed Coffee & Books in Pottsville every other Tuesday is relaxed and welcoming. Matz, who has been attending the corps for a year and a half, even felt at ease bringing her child and said she appreciates “reconnecting with my faith” and learning about the Bible.

Being the light

“It’s been the best learning experience to dive deeply into the Word, to learn about it, and discuss it and how it incorporates into our day-to-day lives,” Matz said. “It’s been nice to have that space. It’s kind of like an escape. It’s been like a morning refresher, almost, of going through the Word and truly understanding it versus interpretations you can find anywhere on the internet. I always leave there lighter and more optimistic.

“It’s kind of like a little family, while learning about the Word and everything that we’re hearing about when they preach on Sundays. It’s kind of a nice addition—stepping away from just the Sunday church service.”

Another coffee shop attendee is Ana Garcia, who enjoys the testimonies and messages from Barrett.

“We read the Bible and can understand very well the message that God sent us,” Garcia said. “It’s great because people see us praying and come to talk to us about Jesus. They see the light and want to talk about church.”

Garcia and her husband, Javier, have attended the corps for three years and help in various ministries, including youth group and soup kitchen, but the Coffee Connection is one of her favorites.

“For me, the most important thing is the sense of community,” she said. “It’s informal and you’re among friends. You feel like you can ask questions without being judged.”

For more information on The Salvation Army in Pottsville, visit: pendel.salvationarmy.org/eastern-pennsylvania/pottsville