For the last nine years a group of 20 or so high-school-aged girls have come together once a week in the small town of Chinchilla on the Darling Downs to do something counter-cultural—take part in a Bible study. Dianne Jensen reports.
Girls of Grace is a Chinchilla Uniting Church initiative pioneered by Pastor Tanya Errey. The small group who first met in her home has expanded over the years to include an ecumenical leadership team of six women ministering to teenagers from across 11 denominations in the local area.
“Within some school environments, living as a Christian teen can be challenging,” says Tanya. “The common thread tying the girls together is that this is not a youth group—Girls of Grace is designed and run as a Bible study. It provides an environment to come together to be nourished, supported and encouraged in their faith.”
Every Monday afternoon during school term the girls gather at the Uniting Church for a program which begins with afternoon tea and leads into Bible study and discussion. Tanya says that the girls-only format provides a safe place to talk about relationships and self-esteem, and to tackle difficult topics such as self-harm, sexual abuse, and the sexualisation of girls.
“It gives them an opportunity to talk about the harder sides of life that they are going to meet sooner or later,” she says. “Kids are being taught sexualised behaviours when they are in primary school. We can show them that they are so much more than that—God’s got great treasures buried in you! You can be a strong, vibrant, great young woman, no matter how you are called in life.”
Tanya credits the ongoing success of the group to ecumenical support, leadership commitment and good preparation.
“We have two leaders per group from different denominations. These are young women, all under 30, most with young families. Their commitment is phenomenal.”
Lana, 17, finds that the girls are a lot more accepting than others in her peer group.
“The group differs probably because of the environment and there is a lot more bonding that goes on as we are all friends, no matter what age or school or church we go to.”
Brooke, 14, adds: “What I like about Girls of Grace is that we can all have fun and joke around with each other (including the leaders), but when we have discussions we support each other and there is no judgement.”