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Restoration through relationship

Catherine Burt shares how Christian community groups foster meaningful relationships

When I was about four years old I was very shy and my playschool leader suggested to my mother that it would be good for me to join a club of some sort. Pinned to the noticeboard was a flyer for a local Girls’ Brigade community group and so shortly afterwards I was taken along.

At first, I was still very shy: I didn’t like to join in the games or activities and was much more content to sit and watch. But, as time went by, I did start to join in and found my voice… and my confidence. I made friends, I experienced new things, I learnt new skills and, as some of my friends and family now joke, it obviously worked a little too well as I’m a very chatty person.

Thanks to Girls’ Brigade (GB) I discovered not only who I am but who God says I am. I discovered and entered into relationship with Him, was taught to explore the Bible and the Christian faith and apply it to my life, and also made lifelong friendships with the girls, young women and leaders I’ve met along the way.

We, at Girls’ Brigade Ministries (GBM), firmly believe that God uses our work to form much-needed relationships. Take our weekly community groups as an example: there are around 500 in England and Wales, made up of around 10,000 girls and young women (primarily) and 2,000 volunteer leaders. We want each of our members to find their GB group a safe environment where they can relate to one another and discover more of how relationship with Jesus Christ makes a difference to life in their mid-week’ church. 

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Now, as a volunteer leader at a local GB community group, it’s a real blessing to be able to come alongside girls and young women and help them experience the same as I did. I’m passionate about relating to people, and meeting them and caring for them just where they are. I’ve been thinking recently about the vast range of topics that came up in conversation with the 11 – 18s that I’d been working with one evening. 

We’re all created to be in relationship with God and those around us

We’d started off talking about risk-taking – the actual theme for the night – but also covered the dangers of eating raw chicken, what they’d done at the weekend, clickbait, celebrities, school, pets, and so much more. What a privilege it was to be able to feed into so many conversations, build meaningful relationships with these teenage girls, and to be able to do this while sharing God’s light and hope with them. 

I know of one example where a girl had to make a choice between another activity and GB because they changed their evening to the same as ours. Her Dad said we cared for her in a way that no-one else had. It’s good to know we’re recognised as being different.

Another key strength of our community groups is that they enable girls and young women to mix socially with those who are different from them. We contributed to a study on social integration within uniformed youth groups – launched last July by ComRes and commissioned by the Youth United Foundation. Highlights from the study found:

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  • Uniformed youth groups, such as GB, are an effective way of encouraging young people to mix socially with those who are different from them – 84 per cent of uniformed youth report that at least some of the members of their group are different from them in some way (i.e. they’re part of a diverse group).
  • Uniformed young people are more likely than non-uniformed youth to say that the contact they have had with people who are different to them was positive.
  • Uniformed youth groups help to foster a sense of social responsibility and connection to British society and British values – members are twice as likely as their non-uniformed counterparts to say they take part in social action at least once a week (58 per cent vs 30 per cent).

GB group 1st Huncote, near Leicester, was chosen as a location for some of the 52 qualitative interviews conducted among uniformed youth, their parents/​guardians, and volunteer group leaders. One GB parent said: The girls need to learn to interact with different people of different ages from different backgrounds and that’s what the group provides; that’s invaluable.”

These findings are good news for all uniformed youth groups, not just GB, in showing some of the positive impacts we have on young people and how diverse our groups are, comprising young people from all backgrounds. This social-mixing study was a great piece of work to celebrate in 2018, our 125th birthday, and following our appearance on BBC1’s Songs of Praise.

Our groups have a community approach, often engaging in social action where they live, from fundraising for local causes to doing a litter-pick. It’s so important to equip and empower girls and young women to make a difference in their communities and the lives of others. Helping people build a relationship with God, developing intergenerational relationships, and having lots of fun and opportunities along the way, is GB Ministries’ foundation. 

With loneliness becoming an increasing issue in society, so much so that the government has appointed a minister for loneliness to act upon this silent epidemic’, our retreats offer women of all ages the chance to connect with one another and to connect with God. This is a good opportunity to get to know other women, have fun and experience things outside of your comfort zone, which is challenging and rewarding,” says Julia, who attended a previous retreat.

We’re all created to be in relationship with God and with those around us. We’re people of God: His church in and part of local and online communities, signposting and revealing God’s restoring love. We see time and time again in scripture how Jesus was relational to those He met, how He was relevant and responsive to their needs, and therefore brought about restoration in their lives. 

What an example for us all to follow. Of course, our ministry is not without it’s challenges – be that the challenge of funding or of maintaining volunteer leadership. But we trust that God is constantly preparing and equipping us to be able to respond and relate to generations of girls, young women and women in the years to come. Why not pray today for an opportunity to build a better relationship with someone you know? What practical thing could you do today to encourage them?

Catherine Burt is assistant director of Girls’ Brigade Ministries.

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