Twenty-five women of all ages, life stages and churches are planning a unique spring conference for the girls of Simpson County. But when Goodwater Baptist Church opens its doors for the event on Saturday, April 28, the woman in charge will be just barely 20-year-old Elizabeth Magee of Hattiesburg, formerly of Magee.
It’s a big undertaking for one so young.
The conference, called “Flourish,” is designed for all girls in grades 6 through 12. Though Goodwater Baptist Church is hosting the event because Elizabeth’s dad, Shane Magee, is youth minister there and the church had the space, she said that Flourish isn’t just for Goodwater girls.
“It’s for girls of any church or no church,” Elizabeth said, “and older women are certainly welcome too.”
The title, “Flourish,” came from Elizabeth’s desire that girls grow up with more of a sense of worth and purpose than many currently have. “To flourish is not just to blossom,” she said. “It’s to go on prospering as a person and expanding your life in a positive direction.”
The conference offers a unique perspective on the issues young women face in American culture, especially the expectation that girls should grow up handling life “perfectly.”
“I grew up in Magee,” Elizabeth said, “and I saw all these wonderful women who looked like they really had their lives together. Some of them taught me at my church, and they were great, but they intimidated me too. I would think, why am I trying? I’ll never be able to reach their level. I’ll never be as perfect as they are.”
But when she started to college at the University of Southern Mississippi and joined Venture Church in Hattiesburg, she attended a girls conference where some of these “perfect” types of women shared with the girls that they didn’t have their lives together, that they were not perfect, that they struggle with things.
“I teach a girls small group at Venture now,” Elizabeth, now a college sophomore, said, “and I’m seeing the same thing in the ninth and tenth grade girls I teach. They look at me and think because I’m older and in college that I have it all together. I have to tell them, ‘No, I’m not perfect!’”
Elizabeth said she knew from experience that girls in Simpson County have the same unrealistic expectations that her Hattiesburg girls have. Last October Elizabeth said she was praying about what she could do when she got the idea for the conference.
“I had always wanted to do something like this,” she said.
Despite her youth, Elizabeth is already experienced in reaching out to others and establishing ministries. For the past two summers she has worked in Seattle, Wash., with Seattle’s Union Gospel Ministry, where her focus was helping to teach an art therapy class at Hope Place, a women’s rehabilitation program. As a graphic design student at USM, she understands the power of art, but she had no training in creating an art program to reach traumatized women.
“But it went well,” she said. “I was kind of thrown into the job, and I got to talk to the women and find out what they wanted from the program. I didn’t find any great artists, but the art they produced helped them to talk about their traumas and open up the lines of communication.”
In her second summer there, she directed the program for long-term interns, gave moral support and did program planning. She also worked in the Search and Rescue program, finding the homeless and trying to help them.
Elizabeth says she has known for awhile that Christian ministry would be a part of her life and career, and she has an idea of the part she would like to play. “I like being behind the scenes, building relationships and getting to know people one-on-one. I liked being an ‘ear’ for the women,” she said.
Now she is excited about developing an event for girls who often need that listening ear.
“The same women I looked up to as a youth are excited about helping me with the conference. They didn’t realize that young girls needed to know their struggles.”
Elizabeth will welcome participants and emcee the event. The speaker and worship leader will be Bethany Barr Phillips, formerly of Magee and a Simpson Academy graduate. She will lead a morning and an afternoon session. Doors open at 9 a.m., and the first session begins at 10 a.m. Lunch and activities will be followed by the second session.
The conference will close with a panel discussion focused on specific concerns of girls in the target age range such as body image, self-worth and relationships. The girls will be invited to ask questions.
“All kinds of women will serve on the panel,” Elizabeth said. “I try to keep three mentors in my life at a time: one who has just walked through my stage of life, like someone who has just finished college; one who has progressed beyond that point, like a woman in her mid-30s, married with a young family; and one who is where I hope to be later in my life, who may be retired. My specific mentors won’t be on the panel, but women in similar seasons of life will be.”
Elizabeth thinks that having only girls at the conference will allow them to let down their guard and be more open about their concerns. “We’re inviting some boys to serve lunch and help with parking, though,” she laughed.
Elizabeth’s goal for the event is to help young girls become more sure of their worth and calling, so that they can have a sense of purpose and a reason for being. “I think of it as a discipleship equipping program,” she said.
She hopes the conference will become an annual event that might even spread to other communities. She doesn’t know how long she will lead it, she said, since her goal after graduation is to become a graphic designer working for a church or ministry based non-profit. She is well on her way to that goal, having already won awards for her design work in college.
The conference is being promoted at several area churches, and tickets are available at Overflow, First Baptist, Goodwater Baptist, Corinth Baptist and Church Alive in Magee; at First Baptist Church of Mendenhall; and at Calvary Baptist Church in Braxton.
Any of the churches can provide information. The registration fee is $10, and dress is casual.