The Anglican church around the world shares a common aim to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom and to teach, baptise and nurture new believers, which makes up part of the Communion’s five marks of mission. There are many ways that churches are reaching out to their communities, either through proclaiming and sharing the good news in words, but also by responding to needs or injustice and helping bring peace and reconciliation. This ‘love in action’ is one way of showing God’s love for the world in a practical way. In the Diocese of Winchester their aim is to reach what they call the ‘missing generations’ who are not in church. The Bishop of Basingstoke, the Rt Revd David Williams, said: “As a diocese we are committed to bringing the Christian message to people who have no contact with the church. We are supporting innovative mission projects through our churches and in our schools and local communities.”
One Church of England parish in the Diocese of Winchester has been focusing on some of the pressures teenage girls find themselves under and helping them grow in confidence and raise their self-esteem.
Former youth worker at St Barnabas Church in Winchester, Ellie Payne, helped set up a course for teenage girls, which is now running in two secondary schools in the city and has reached more than 180 girls over the past six years.
Ellie said, “The project, designed by the Golddigger Trust*, is called, ‘I’m the girl I want to be’. It’s a girl’s course that we run over eight weeks for girls aged 11-18 and it provides a space for teenage girls to talk about topics such as body image, self-esteem, relationships and what the media says about fashion. We take about 12 girls at a time, they come out of their lessons to spend two hours a week with us together on the course talking through these topics.”
According to Ellie, teenage girls in the UK often feel they are under pressure to look a certain way, be in a relationship and this affects their mental and emotional well-being.
She said, “The schools really value the course because of the great impact it makes in the girls lives. It teaches them to stop comparing themselves to other, to believe in themselves and love and respect themselves and remember they are just a special as anyone else.”
Ellie said a lot of the girls have issues with friendships, which can undermine their self-confidence.
“During the course,” Ellie explained, “Every girl gets a pack of encouragement cards, they write a pack for every member in the group and they say things about their looks and personality and at the end of the course they go home with these packs. The idea is that these packs can become tools, moving on from the course, so that when they’re having a bad day or a crisis in confidence they can go back to the cards and be reminded of the positive things their friends have said about them.”
The course also encourages girls to explore and take positive choices about their style. Ellie said, “They learn about not putting themselves down when they are not in a relationship, but also choosing not to settle for second best.”
During the pandemic, the courses had to be run mainly online, with only a few one to one mentoring sessions held face to face in schools.
Ellie said the courses were now running in schools. “I feel as if we’re just seeing the impact of lockdown and how anxious young people have become. They have also missed socialising, so find some elements of the course more challenging.”
Some girls who have taken part in the course have been able to disclose experiences from their past, for which they can receive support or be directed to the appropriate professionals. Some of the girls have also found the course has increased their self-confidence and changed their outlook on school and relationships.
“We’re very sensitive about how we talk about faith, but the course is full of Christian principles and there are opportunities for the leaders to share their stories and experiences of how a relationship with God has helped some of us,” Ellie said.
She said the course can be a first step for the teenagers in exploring their own spirituality and some decide to take it further by attending a church youth group or event, with friends from the course.
* The Golddigger Trust is a Christian-ethos young peoples’ charity based in Sheffield.