Take a moment to think about your middle school years. Let’s make a list, shall we? New classes, friends, skin issues, surging hormones, regulations, boys, stress, embarrassment, drama, body image, choices. “Does my (fill in the blank—shirt, notebook, jeans, hair, headband, purse, flute, Mom, locker, jacket, cat) look okay? Puh-leeeze tell me!”
The release from elementary school and the call of high school puts middle schoolers in a twist and tug of brain development and emotions. Middle schoolers make new friends, join new clubs, and form social circles that impact them and perhaps even set the stage for what is to come.
It’s a challenging, prickly time for both boys and girls. Thousands of research-based doctoral dissertations and a billion years of parenting, however, will tell you that there is a difference between middle school boys and girls. Let’s not journey to the center of the Earth on this difference. Let’s just acknowledge that girls—and women—in general, could use some extra support, understanding, acceptance, strength, and belief in their own worth and place in the world.
What if this kind of safe haven and sanctuary could be offered at church?
Enter Nicole Fehr, Children and Family Ministry Coordinator at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota, and her desire to have a special ministry for middle school girls.
“I went to a conference for children, youth, and family ministry and I saw this booth about a program called The Soul Sisterhood. I visited with the Minneapolis-based creator and author of the curriculum, Amanda Berger, and I just loved the idea of this Christian-centered program for middle school girls. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to provide a program and a positive place where sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls would know that they are all special and they are all beautiful?’”
Nicole pondered the idea and tried to figure out how it could be implemented at Good Shepherd.
“I talked with our pastors,” says Nicole, “put together a proposal for the church council, got everyone’s full support, and now Good Shepherd has the first established chapter of The Soul Sisterhood in North Dakota.”
Having an official chapter means Nicole has access to the curriculum, which contains thoughtful reflections based on Scripture, project and journaling ideas, as well as craft and recipe ideas.
“We announced the program and started meeting in October for three hours each Sunday afternoon,” says Nicole. “The time just flew by. We sometimes would meet at the church and sometimes out in the community at a coffee shop so we could have some fun drinks and treats. We’ve also done a community service project for patients of the Bismarck Cancer Center. ”
Nicole says one of their weekly projects and discussion is based on each participant’s Good News Book.
“The Good News Book is such a neat part of this program,” Nicole explains. “It’s essentially like scrapbooking. The girls created their own Good News Book and they add to it at their own pace, with their chosen images. They put together pictures of all the people who love and care for them followed by 100 things that they love, and another page of the reasons they are beautiful. We just keep adding positive pages.
“Girls know they are loved by their parents. They know they are supported by their teachers. But it’s not often that they hear from their peers how special and beautiful they are, and that God doesn’t make mistakes,” says Nicole. “This message is repeated week after week after week when we meet. We want to have positive internal and external messages, and we want those messages to stick.”
Nicole says The Soul Sisterhood program provides another layer in Good Shepherd’s offerings. Church school and confirmation are very valuable and The Soul Sisterhood is an additional piece that speaks right to young girls where they are and the specific issues that concern them.
“These girls have met new friends and so now, if they happen to attend the same school and they see this new friend in the hallway, they have a connection, another guide and mentor in their life.”
The Soul Sisterhood will meet in June for a lock-in and will get together again in July. The weekly program will kick off in October, and Fehr stresses that all middle school girls are welcome.
“Being open and welcoming to all is a very important part of our overall church culture,” Nicole says. “Any middle school girl is welcome to be part of The Soul Sisterhood.”
Those interested should contact Nicole at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 255-1001 or Nicole@goodshepherdbismarck.com.
Paula Redmann is the Community Relations Manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. She likes to run, walk, play, sing, putter in her yard, laugh with family and friends, and count her blessings. She is married to her high school sweetheart, Tom. They have two grown sons, Alex and Max.