This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Giving girls space

What a great challenge and responsibility it is for the church to help shape girls into women of God.

Especially in a world that hasn’t been so great to women. Some recent evidence: Two Amish girls kidnapped from their roadside produce stand in upstate New York whose captors were accused of sexual abuse. Men hold most positions of power in the U.S. Women still make less money than men for doing the same jobs. Delegates were only 37 percent women at a recent session of Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Conference.

It can seem daunting to helpfully mentor girls in this context. Should the church protect? Instill confidence? Focus instead on shaping boys differently?

Thirteen years ago Jennifer Murch decided to give it a shot. She invited all the high school girls at her church, Community Mennonite in Harrisonburg, Va., to her home, promising simply to answer any question they had. In the end, she was the one who asked questions, one per night, that each girl responded to in turn.

“The girls started flocking to my house every other Wednesday night,” she wrote in a recent blog post on her website, “Very soon they dubbed themselves the Milkmaids because they were drinking large quantities of milk with my homemade snacks. . . .

“The nights everybody descends on our house for our loud and hairy gabfests, I dim the lights and pile pillows around, and as the lone semi-mature adult I hear out their ecstasies and sorrows,” she quoted from her writings at the time.

The group left enough of an impact on each of them, providing a safe context and confidence to explore honestly their identities, that they’ve recently reformed with those still around, now in their late 20s.

It’s hard to imagine a better context for figuring out what it means to be a woman of God than a group like the Milkmaids.

When Lana Miller presented about young adults in the church at the Virginia Mennonite Conference annual assembly, she said young people value having relationships with church members before joining a church community. Deeper, more genuine conversations result.

The Milkmaids group demonstrates a way to build those relationships, in a space where honesty is primary. What if all churches gave their teen girls — and boys — a place to ask questions openly without the confines of Sunday school lessons or youth group activities?

For a generation where a softball league or a potluck meal can feel as spiritual as a worship service, lines between church and life are easily blurred. Moving slightly off church grounds and structures to build relationships could have wide-reaching, godly benefits. We might find a new way to be church.

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