This sample curriculum is based on a bimonthly meeting following the school calendar and Liturgical cycle.
We meet twice a month on a Sunday night in the home of one of the leaders. The timing will differ for each parish according to availability.
A weekly meeting or twice a month meeting allows for rich mentoring to take place. We meet for an hour and a half which is a perfect amount of time for a small group of about 4-8 girls plus two leaders. The girls span from 7th grade to 12th grade.
Consider gifting the girls with a thin journal that they can write in while at Girls Group. This allows for a record to be kept of the ideas discussed as well as an opportunity for them to write down their personal reflections.
Sit in a circle in a family room or study and be sure to stand for prayer and have an icon present to pray in front of.
Prayer. We began singing a prayer which is usually the Trisagion. Sometimes we modify it to relate to the liturgical cycle we are in at that specific time.
“Highs and Lows.” We have found it connecting and fruitful to opening each meeting with sharing. Each person shares something positive about her week and something negative. This brings us closer together and helps us understand what their weekly struggles and blessings are. Also, they really want to feel known and directed in navigating life’s day-to-day rigor. This time allows for that kind of connection.
Tea. We drink tea together. The tea is served by one of the girls and they rotate each week who practices serving. We began with instructions on how tea is served and some of the norms that go along with hostessing. This becomes a habit within a few weeks.
Contemplation. We contemplate a quotation from the Fathers and sit in silence praying the Jesus Prayer. This lasts for about 3-5 minutes. The leader often needs to remind them of the value of this time and how to pray the Jesus Prayer before starting. Remind them what to do with those distracting thoughts.
Discussion. The leaders bring up the topic to be discussed for the night and engage the girls in questions and feedback. It is not a lecture format. The leader simply shares a few points and then asks questions of them and how they can apply it to their lives or what else it makes them think about.
Prayer. We end our time with a hymn to the Theotokos. She truly is our guide into how beautiful being a young adult woman can be. May we emulate her by her holy prayers!
There are four main topics for the Year: Friendship, Beauty, Anger, Prayer
As a reference, I think it is helpful to read the history of this ministry when considering the leaders of this group which can be found in this document in the Table of Contents. There should be two female leaders that regularly and faithfully lead this ministry. One of them should be the leader proper. It seems fitting that the leaders have a desire and gifting in working with this age group. To encourage honest conversation, it is best that the leaders are not mothers of any of the girls in the group. This allows for other ladies in their lives to play a mentorship role that is distinct from their families of origin. Also, the leader needs to be easy to talk to and an excellent listener. They do not have to be theologically trained, but if they are it would be preferable. If they are not, they should be clear and self aware of when they need to consult the priest on issues of dogma, tradition, and doctrine. The leader ought to be humble and not leading for her own gain or to hear herself talk. And the leader ought to be in good standing with the priest and attending regular confession. She should embody a good deal of discretion. This feature will help her to know when to confront a girl in the group about something and when to give her space to figure it out on her own. There are times to intervene and communicate to the priest and parents over certain issues like self harm and other spiritual matters.
If a leader should need to leave or step down, please be sure to handle the transition smoothly and respectfully. Give the girls a few months notice so they know when to expect the change. Also, be sure to have a replacement approved and in mind as soon as possible. Have the replacement leader attend a few meetings overlapping the old leader so she can see how the group is run and begin to see how the ministry works. It is critical that the new leader is first approved by the priest and a blessing is received by the priest for that new leader to step into the ministry. Pray through this process that God would help bring the best replacement to the leadership team.
Tips for Discussion
Leading effective, enjoyable, and serious discussions is the most critical part of the ministry because this is where true mentorship takes place.
Be sure to pick topics that are appropriate and of interest to the group of girls being mentored. At least twice a year ask for their feedback about what other topics they would like to cover and seriously consider their suggestions.
Avoid lecturing to them because this is not intended to be a class, rather a mentoring relationship. Keep your answers brief and try to follow up your answers with another question to engage further discussion.
Try to encourage question asking. This is a small way that we invite them into thinking more like adults and less like kids. If they ask, “What should I say to this bully at school who really gets under my skin?” I would turn the question on the group and discuss it together. You could cover what shouldn’t be said, what could be said, and then what would be best to say. Perhaps even suggest a few options for them to consider. This method of communication lends itself to a mentorship relationship and not just another adult telling them what to do with their lives. The goal is to empower them with choices that are life-giving and within the bounds of the Holy Orthodox faith.
Ask genuine questions. Don’t ask questions that are dumbed down or that seem to have an obvious answer. For example, don’t ask, “Should we hit our sister after she ruins your favorite journal?” These kinds of questions belittle them as young ladies who are aspiring to become mature Christian women. Instead, ask your genuine questions. For example, “How do you stay focused in Liturgy? What works and what doesn’t work?” Let the discussion go where it may. That may mean you don’t get to all your questions. Sometimes there are pressing issues in the girls’ lives that require discussing, take the time to do that and let the curriculum be flexible with the needs of the group.
Let the young ladies talk. Give a chance for the girls to answer each other and not just look to the leaders for all the answers. This allows for them to consider what they have done in the past that has helped them to grow or improve. They are inspired and encouraged. And you would be surprised the wisdom that comes forth from their mouths!
- “Maxims for Christian Living” by Fr. Thomas Hopko
- Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend (useful to read or even skim)
- Discussing how to resolve conflicts
- Discussing anger and how to deal with it
- Discussing loss and how to mourn
- Discussing life skills like organization, time management, and goal setting
- Dating and boys in general
- True Beauty and beauty as it has been wrecked by our culture
- Body image and living a healthy life
- Conflicts with parents. What to do when seeing their flaws and it hurts them as children
- Sin and repentance
- Confession how to overcome hurdles to get to confession
- Sexual boundaries, dating and anything about finding a spouse
- Christian adulthood
- Briefly talking about budgeting, how to think about money
Keep in mind, all of these topics are discussed within the tradition of the Holy Orthodox Church. If there are questions about the Church’s teachings on any of these topics or other topics, then consult your priest for advice and guidance about how to talk about these topics. The following texts may prove helpful.
Possible Books for Reference
- Who is God? Who Am I? Who Are You? - Dee Pennock
- Parenting towards the Kingdom - Philip Mamalakis
- Hear Me: A prayer book for Orthodox young adults - Annalisa Boyd
- Beginning to Pray - Anthony Bloom
- Come, let us worship: A Practical Guide to the Divine Liturgy for Orthodox Laity - Fr. Patrick O’Grady
- The Scent of Holiness - Constanstina Palmer
The following suggestions are based on our experience successfully leading a Girls Group ministry and transitioning between leaders.
Fruits of this Minsitry
I will share the specific fruit observed by the group that began this ministry. Your ministry may look different given your context and your group, but similar fruit may be expected.
- The young ladies are coming to the leaders saying they implemented what they learned in Girls Group.
- They mentioned how they have healed friendships
- They have worked through conflicts with their parents
- They have gotten out of unhealthy dating relationships
- They have set good boundaries
- They have prayed more regularly
- They have thought about the meaning of the Liturgy
- and so much more.