APPLETON — Bonny Meacham believes helping someone else is the closest thing to godliness here on earth. Today she is doing her part by facilitating Alpha groups at St. Bernard Parish.
“The thing about volunteering is (you) don’t do it to be thanked. Do it for your soul,” she said she tells others. Participation in Alpha, a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith, “gives me more than I give it.”
“I see people bloom and grow. I see people come to peace when they allow Christ into their lives,” Meacham said about the Alpha video series, which parishes around the Diocese of Green Bay are utilizing in an effort to embrace missionary discipleship. “I think I was looking for that kind of peace, too.”
Meacham said that many people have helped her along the way. Now she is giving back.
In addition to the Alpha program, she is a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and visits the homebound for her own parish, Sacred Heart in Appleton. She has helped with the Alpha program at other parishes in Appleton, including Sacred Heart, which was a pilot parish for Alpha. At St. Bernard, she is a leader of discussion groups.
Meacham is a Manitowoc native, a graduate of Lincoln High School and Silver Lake College with a degree in humanities with an emphasis in art education for grades K-12. She taught school for seven years, the first three on a reservation in South Dakota, then in western Wisconsin.
“I would have stayed there forever,” she said, but job cuts left her unemployed.
She went back to college in Eau Claire for a degree in radio/TV/film, then worked in radio, public access TV and on a production crew in commercial TV. Later, she worked in retail sales in the Twin Cities, but moved to Appleton when the office closed.
Now retired, she takes a lot of classes and continues to paint, showing works in area galleries. She has a son and grandchildren, ages 16 and 17, in Sheboygan.
Retirement has opened up more time for volunteering with the church, including bringing Communion to the homebound. “I feel a sense that maybe for a brief moment I gave these people something they needed,” she said.
Her enthusiasm spills over when she talks about Alpha, which the Green Bay Diocese is using to build a culture of discipleship. Its goal is to help people grow in their relationship with Christ and become disciples to share the Gospel. In his column for The Compass, Bishop David Ricken explained that Alpha “addresses some of life’s most pressing questions.” It also raises questions, such as, “Is there more to life than this?” “Why and how should I pray?” “How can I make the most of the rest of my life?”
The focus is on relationship building. Discussions are done in small groups with a pair of leaders or facilitators and may include sharing a meal.
Meacham first attended St. Bernard Parish when she returned to Appleton. She later joined Sacred Heart because it is closer to her home. That is when she became involved in Alpha and was asked to be one of the group leaders.
“This opened a whole new world for me,” said Meacham, who calls herself a “returning Catholic.” Her parents gave her a foundation in Catholicism, but she did not receive the sacrament of confirmation until she was an adult and recommitted to her faith.
When she came to Alpha, “I had so many questions. I thought these people would think I’m stupid, but I found they were so patient with me,” she said. “I learned so much. I was asked to lead and the first time I was a helper in the group. The second time I had my own group and led it with a partner.”
The program also offered “A Day Away,” in which people step away from their busy lives and develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit. “This was so moving, so powerful,” she said.
One thing that came out of this experience, she said, was discovering she had a gift of praying for people. “When I’m asked to pray for someone, I do it right then and there with the person,” she said. “I find that it moves the other person, too.
“The best thing about Alpha,” added Meacham, “is that it is the first step in discipleship. I find people have the knowledge in their heads, but it hasn’t moved to their hearts. It is amazing how people can change in 11 to 16 weeks.”
“What is most inspiring is that this builds community,” said Meacham. “We see people in the pews each week and may say ‘hello’ to each other, but we don’t really get to know them. Now we can get to know one another. And, when people are asked to volunteer for something at the parish, they are more willing because they feel connected to the church.”