By Rachel Milburn – Eden Network Youth Church Leader
It was around a year ago that a plan was hatched to start a ladies discipleship group in Brough. There were several women in my varying circles that I wanted to bring together. Some are family members, some from my work in Network Youth Church, some in the community and my next door neighbour! They range in age from 23-81. They are at different stages in their faith and biblical knowledge, some have been to church since a young age, some used to go and no longer attend and others are struggling to find a place where they fit.
I received some information at Deanery Synod about a Seedbed grant provided by The Northern Mission Centre who wanted to support new initiatives that connect with the community in Mission.
I applied for the grant, the paperwork was accessible and relatively straight forward and £250 was sent to our PCC. Once I had funding in place, I booked a room above the Youth Centre in Brough and sent out invites. I was delighted when 10 people responded.
We started by following a resource written by Charlotte Gambil called Outrageous Women. The idea was to watch a DVD series whilst following the leaders handbook and having a time of discussion and prayer. However, having the seedbed grant meant that I could cook a delicious meal for them. I set the table for them and we would have a couple of icebreakers. The first session went well, we stuck to the resource but as they grew in confidence, got to know one another and started to trust each other, they started to share.
They became vulnerable with each other, they brought their woes, their insecurities, their fears and troubles, questions flowed one after the other and they found support amongst each other. I became the facilitator, the Holy spirit was running the show!
Each month we had a time of sharing ‘what has God been doing in your life’ and ‘where have we seen prayers answered’. It was a warm, friendly environment, the group never wanted to go home and conversations would still be going on after the session had finished.
In January, 3 months into the project we had a disaster. One of the women lost her husband who happened to be another’s daughter (she lost her dad). It was extremely difficult, I held it very gently, we cried together, shared openly and prayed and clung on to each other trying to remain ‘outrageously strong’ like the women in the Bible that we had been learning about.
I wasn’t sure that we would survive it, I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do but I was astonished by the love and support the others showed our grieving family. It was hard but we came through. The following month another shared about marriage difficulties, another about work related problems and another had health issues.
The sessions became less focused on the DVD and work book resource and more about love, support and listening. I held it loosely and didn’t try to control it. It felt raw, it felt like the Holy spirit was working through each one of us, I had my role as facilitator but around that table, amongst friends Church was forming.
At the end of the 6 months, we gathered for the last time, each one was desperate to carry on and so we decided to invite others and move into the church hall. One member asked if we could learn some worship songs, I brought my laptop and power point and we now sing 3 modern contemporary worship songs at the start. We spend longer in prayer and have been learning all about Gods Mercy and Grace through the story of the Prodigal son. We have welcomed four new people and one more is due to start in November. We intend to have a celebration at Christmas.
I was delighted when most of them signed up to attend the Refresh Ladies day in December. This is being held in St Lawrence’s Church and we have invited Bishop Jill Duff to come and speak. We have put together a worship band, we will have time for networking and prayer ministry. Its going to be so exciting and you can get tickets here.
We no longer have a full meal before we start, the more we grew, the more difficult that became so we just have coffee and we take turns to either bake a cake, buy a cake or do something creative.
Its been a real privilege to lead this project, its become so much more than what was intended, it’s a wonderful, fun space, its filled with joy and laughter, its open and accessible and everyone feels heard and valued. It feels like family, everyone is welcome and as we have grown in our faith together we have formed relationships that will last a lifetime, some are now attending the inherited church setting on Sunday morning, some are serving in various ways and they are meeting up in between the Outrageous sessions. We hope to grow again in 2024 and hope to become even more Outrageous!
Eden Network Youth Church Leader (serving Appleby, Brough and Kirkby Stephen, Tebay and the surrounding areas) www.networkyouthchurch.org.uk