BELLEVILLE - For many years, Connections reached out to young mothers in the Belleville area with support and biblical teachings.
But after the group's teacher Nancy Hoefel began to feel overloaded and the number of mothers diminished, Hoefel said she began to pray for a change.
"God gave me a picture of what Connections could be simplify and expand," said Hoefel, a homemaker and mother of two.
The vision that God gave her for the group will be enacted beginning this September when Connections opens its doors to more than just young mothers.
Whether it's a 17-year-old with blue hair and a nose ring or an 80-year-old who wears a head covering and rides in a buggy, these women will be welcome to join the monthly meetings, Hoefel said.
Other changes include an evening meeting time that will allow working women to participate, and a list of local women who will serve as teachers for each month's lesson.
While Connections originally was just open to young mothers, the group always studied lessons that were applicable to women of all ages, Hoefel said. That aspect will not change this year.
However, Hoefel said she has enlisted the help of more women to help coordinate the lessons.
Hoefel said she is excited about the schedule of teachers, each of whom come with a different background and different talents.
Connections will begin meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 and continue on the first Tuesday of every month at the Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Belleville. Women are welcome to come early for a coffee and chat time at 6:45 p.m.
Every meeting begins with a worship time, followed by the Bible lesson. After the lesson, the women break up into small groups to discuss what they have learned.
Hoefel stressed the importance of the small groups in relation to the ministry's goal: connection.
"The purpose is first to connect with God, then with each other," Hoefel said. "It has to happen in that order. If we don't connect with God, we won't have the courage to connect with each other."
Connections is meant to be a safe place for women to realize that it is OK to not be OK, Hoefel said. Every woman wants to appear put-together and composed, but behind the masks every woman has weaknesses and flaws, she said. They hide themselves behind a mask, she said.
"While wearing that mask, it's impossible to connect with each other," she said. "(A small group) is the opportunity to get real and get connected."
The small group time also reinforces the lessons through discussion and prayer.
"Often, you hear a good message and you're convicted, stirred," Hoefel said. "Then the service closes down, you zip yourself up and off you go."
Hoefel also wants Connections to be a place where women can leave their differences at the door, especially when it comes to denominations.
"We can quibble on the nonessentials," Hoefel said. "But I hope we can focus on what we have in common and leave our denominations at the door."
Hoefel, who has a degree in Bible from Lancaster Bible College, said her hope is that Connections will help women come alive in their relationship with God.
She thanked her fellow steering committee members Jill Ammon, Michelle Snook and Kim Greiner for helping to transform Connections into the new evening group for all women.
Scheduled speakers and topics include September with Nancy Hoefel: "The Point and Purpose of Connections - Getting Real and Getting Connected," October with Deb Mitchell: "Unmasking - Being Set Free from Sin, Discouragement and Fear," November with Lynn Peachey: "Why Women Love Jesus," December with Katie Flood: "God's Plan for Healthy Sexuality," January with Savilla Peachey and February with Patti Hutton: "Being Content in a Discontented World."
For more information about Connections, visit the facebook.com group Connections-Belleville, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 667-9363.