CARROLLWOOD — On the first Saturday of each month, a small section of Carrollwood's Piccadilly restaurant fills with women of different ages, nationalities and races.
There, the members of North Tampa Aglow International come to pray, study the Bible, hear inspirational guest speakers and join in fellowship.
"We've got our own little church going on," said Elder Sandra Jubeark, 59, organizer of the Tampa chapter of Aglow.
Founded in 1967, Aglow International is a nondenominational group of more than 200,000 Christian women worldwide who meet regularly in local neighborhoods for small study groups, worship circles, and retreats.
Members of the group also support each other by sometimes offering practical gifts of food, babysitting, housecleaning or clothing, as well as mentoring young women.
Jubeark, a retired nurse living in Apollo Beach, joined Aglow almost two decades ago when she lived in Augusta, Ga. She was most drawn to the group because of its emphasis on prayer.
When she moved to Town 'N Country 3 1/2 years ago, she first attended Aglow meetings in Pinellas County. She later started the Tampa chapter. Picking the Piccadilly spot was an easy choice.
"Location, location, location," Jubeark said. "I knew I could get people to Dale Mabry Highway, and if I could get them there, then they just needed to turn right or left, and we could get them to Aglow."
At most meetings about two dozen women attend, some from as far away as St. Petersburg and Brandon. They gather at 10 a.m. to pray, welcome visitors, worship and sing. Then a guest speaker — most often a pastor, evangelist or a teacher— addresses the group on spiritual topics such as "Breaking Bad Habits" or "How God Is Speaking to Us Today." A final prayer is then offered to those in need.
While Johanna Gonzales, 27, is an active member at New Beginnings Church, she has rarely missed an Aglow meeting for the past year and a half. Often she brings her 6- and 8- year-old daughters.
"We can share things, whatever it is, that you might not feel comfortable talking about to other people," said Gonzales, a customer service representative living in Carrollwood. "It's like being home with your sisters."
That bonding in a religious context is exceptional, Jubeark said, because most church settings are of one denomination, and often composed of members of similar racial, cultural, or socioeconomic backgrounds. Aglow breaks those boundaries while still fostering a strong camaraderie.
"Show me where it says in the Bible, 'and Jesus said, Baptists, you do this, and, Catholics, you do that,' " Jubeark said. "Jesus said, 'Come follow me,' and he said that to all people."
Contact reporter Sheryl Kay with any religion news at email@example.com, or call (813) 230-8788.