Saturday, January 10, 2009

7.1 Women's Groups

First, intimate groups provide women with a safe place to make sense of their own lives within the evangelical Christian story. Connecting women to each other supports a big picture perspective. The process of identifying and interpreting common experiences locates a given woman’s story in a larger narrative. The sense of being “other” is less about the individual woman and more about the influence of the social environment.

Connecting women with each other also balances the isolation of otherness with relationship. Understanding companions sustain women in communities where men’s interests and experiences dominate. Sometimes the faith community itself poses the greatest threats to a woman’s faith. The women in a small group support each other through these challenges and affirm that gospel truth transcends human institutions. These friendships protect a woman’s spirit, her sense of self, and her sanity. Knowing she is not alone (or wrong or crazy) encourages a woman to continue in her spiritual life as an evangelical Christian in a community where at least a few can share her burdens and her joys.

Small groups are also creative places. In these intimate circles women use their own life experience to articulate Christian truth. This may often sound very different from the authorized story presented in sermons. Furthermore, the experience of feeling “other” in one’s faith community also contributes to the questions and insights women express. For example as undergraduates at an evangelical Christian college my peers and I didn’t hear many descriptions of women in our chapel sermons. We filled the void between “virgin” and “whore” with the complexity of our own lives as women. Our discussion delved into the meaning of grace, feminine character, and how to treat people.

Nourishing relationships in small groups root a woman in a faith community. Being seen, heard, known, and cared for affirms that she is still part of this body. Sharing stories encourages women to trust what they know and to express it. Rooted and growing, women can influence the community and the faith that it embodies.

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