Conference Empowers Women and Girls to Claim Boundaries

“We need a Circle of Grace training for adults” was a request heard repeatedly in recent years by Anna Groff, executive director of Dove’s Nest, and Marlene Bogard, outgoing executive director of Mennonite Women USA.

Circle of Grace is a Christian safe environment curriculum that teaches children and youth how to identify and maintain appropriate physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual boundaries and demonstrates how to take action when boundaries are threatened or violated. 

To begin to address this growing need for resourcing for women and older girls, Dove's Nest and Mennonite Women USA collaborated for a conference: “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries,” held in Omaha, Nebraska, July 26–27. (Click here for photos from the event).

Thirty-five women and four girls representing twelve different states participated in the inaugural event, which included a keynote session, workshops on finding one’s voice and celebrating self, as well as a worship service including a homily on Jesus as a role model for boundary breaking and boundary setting from Pastor Andrea Wall of Bethesda Mennonite Church in Henderson, Nebraska.

Plenary speaker Jenny Castro of the Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Women USA kicked off the conference by encouraging girls and women that knowledge of oneself is power. She named shame, self-doubt, and abuse that many women have experienced due to the influence of purity culture and patriarchal systems. “Women and girls have carried the brunt of the burden,” she said, adding that men need to do their own work surrounding boundaries. She suggested that women support one another by saying “I believe you” and “I believe in you.”

Carol Hurst, Dove’s Nest speaker and social work program director at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, spoke to the women about the need for boundaries in relationships. She also named the reality that we are all relational people and described the dangers of loneliness. With the girls, she led a conversation that examined a poem about boundaries. 

Brenda Yoder, Dove’s Nest speaker and author, shared about her journey in accepting and loving herself for who she is by unpacking the lies about being a woman and mother she internalized over the years. She said women need to embrace who they truly are and grow in their relationships with God, because even the best marriages, friendships, and family relationships will fail them in some way at some point in their lives.

Kathy Haake, Dove’s Nest associate director, led the girls’ session on finding your voice in relation to boundary violations, safety, and self-esteem. The participants discussed how to be assertive about setting boundaries that will benefit them and enrich their futures and how to seek out trusted adults if they have questions or concerns.

On Friday morning, Jeanette Harder, cofounder of Dove’s Nest, shared a reflection that included a rendition of the Circle of Grace meditation revised specifically for adult women. The women and girl participants also worked on and shared about their written action plans to implement and claim boundaries in the various arenas of their lives. The conference was made possible by a Schowalter Foundation grant.

“This felt like a truly intergenerational gathering, with ages ranging from fourteen to a woman in her seventies,” said Groff. “A significant part of abuse prevention is addressing self-image, violations, and healthy relationships. It was a powerful place to hear one another’s stories of pain and empowerment, and I’m eager to see what grows out of the event.”