Bible study with a twist of networking

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, December 2, 2012

Want to deepen your knowledge of the Bible? Want to share some refreshments and fellowship after work? Want to meet some really nice Catholics who also want to learn about the Bible and have fun?

Linda Weaver has a Bible study program for you.

Weaver, a Chicago attorney and networking expert, started One Ultimate Network, a once-a-month series of Bible discussions meeting during the Year of Faith. She came up with the idea after being inspired on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Green Bay, Wis.

The program offers participants the opportunity to learn about one book of the Bible each month from a noted biblical scholar, with structured opportunities for networking before and after the talk. It meets at the Club Quarters Hotel, 111 W. Adams St., with appetizers and a cash bar. Because of its structure, participants can attend some sessions and not others without worrying about falling behind.

“I wanted to fill a conference room with Catholics studying the Bible, I wanted it to be fun, I wanted top Bible scholars, and I wanted it to be something where you could come to one session or several sessions, but you wouldn’t feel left behind if you missed one. So I thought we could do a book a month,” Weaver said.

It sold out its first session in October, an overview of the Bible offered by Father John Kartje. Attendance was also strong in November, for Father James McIlhone’s discussion of the Gospel of Mark.

Next up is Passionist Father Donald Senior, president of Catholic Theological Union, who will talk about the Gospel of Matthew on Dec. 11. Networking begins at 5:15 p.m. and the event is over by 7:30 p.m.

To boost the networking aspect, each session starts with a half hour of open networking, with a handout to write down names, occupations and hobbies. That gives people a prop and an excuse to ask questions.

Everyone who collects information on five people is entered in a drawing for a prize “potentially worth millions of dollars.”

Then people are seated at tables for formal networking. Guests can specify whether they want to make professional connections, social connections or connections among the alumni of their college or university.

Then the speaker talks, and participants are re-formed into tables based on their biblical expertise for discussion. Seminarians sit at the beginner tables to help guide discussion.After time for open networking and sitting at two tables, “you’re just guaranteed to meet a lot of really good people,” Weaver said.

Chicago attorney Laura Jacksack, who never joined a Bible study group before, said that the networking was what initially attracted her to the Bible study. She heard about it from two different friends, one of whom is a “master networker,” she said.

“I find the environment I work in as an attorney to be somewhat anti-Catholic, and I wanted to meet people who are Catholic,” she said.

After going to the first two sessions, she said, she’s been impressed with the level of Bible discussion.

“For the second session, we had homework that they gave out at the first one,” she said. “They told us to read the Gospel of Mark.”

She was a little intimidated, but her tablemates told her it wasn’t too long, so she dug out the Bible she received for her First Communion and dove in.

“It was different reading it — especially in order — than hearing it the way we hear it at Mass,” she said.

Participant Paul Laliberte is no stranger to Bible studies — he knows Weaver from one that meets Tuesday mornings in the Loop — but said this one is different because of its emphasis on being social and learning at the same time.

“It’s kind of nice to meet other people out there who are wanting to learn more and deepen their faith. It’s not too much of a commitment once a month.”

Jacksack said she appreciates that the commitment isn’t really even that much. Since each session covers a different book, participants can pick and choose which ones they attend.