Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 19, 2010
Parents launch program to nurture kid's faith
After 10 years, they rejoice that children still feel a part of life in the Church
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
SHERWOOD PARK - Ten years ago a group of women, Mothers Care and Share, were meeting at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, and learned about the Catholic faith together. Many of those women from Sherwood Park formed strong, lasting friendships.
"We thought it would be really great if we could do something like this for the kids where they could meet in the church and make friends with each other and learn the faith together," said Sharon Wanke, who eventually helped form the parish's children's program, Young Disciples.
Her daughter had a friend who went to an evangelical church where a children's program featured Bible lessons, crafts, singing and other fun, educational activities. Wanke decided her Catholic parish should have a similar program.
Getting started was difficult because there was no plan to follow. Rather than formulating their own program from scratch, the parents wanted to follow the example of other church programs.
However, several months of research turned up nothing. They found programs that were either Protestant-based or catechesis-based for schools. Instead of a school-like setting with children sitting at desks writing papers, the parents wanted a program that would be fun for the children, filled with activities that would inspire them to return week after week.
IN THE BEGINNING
Kelley Thompson has been volunteering with Young Disciples from its inception 10 years ago.
"The moms were discussing the need for a youth group in the church, and so there were two or three moms who got together and drew up an outline. From there, we brought in volunteers, which I was, and the volunteers started drawing up lesson plans," said Thompson.
They started developing lesson plans in September 1999 and it took so long to determine what to include that the program didn't start until March 2000.
Since the members are in elementary school, the constant challenge is presenting the faith in ways that do not overwhelm or bore them, but are fun and interactive.
Common activities that Young Disciples do are drama, crafts, games, music, videos, guest speakers and field trips. Every evening begins with prayer and song. Aside from updating lessons and dropping certain activities, the program they developed a decade ago remains mostly unchanged.
"Nowadays, it's just mind-boggling how much stuff is on the Internet, so if we're doing a lesson and we need a game, we can just Google search 'youth group games' and find stuff so easily. But when we first started, we didn't really have a plan. Whenever we would find a certain craft or lesson idea that went with the teaching, then we'd use that," said Wanke.
Their three-year program follows the cycles of the Church, providing a wide array of topics. The children study the lives of the saints. An annual highlight is the All Saints Day Party where children dress up as, and talk about, their favourite saints.
The group meets every Wednesday evening, from September until April. Last year the group peaked in numbers, with 85 children in grades one to six. This year, 50 attend regularly. The program has been so successful that a Catholic parish in Bonnyville is now using the Young Disciples lesson plans for its youth group.
SOMETHING FOR YOUTH
Tracy Lockhart has three children who are close in age and, after seeing advertisements for Young Disciples in the church bulletin, she became interested in getting them involved.
"I like the idea of a church that has something for the youth to do, and it's such a good supplement to their Catholic education. There's the opportunity to make good friends who celebrate their faith the way they do," said Lockhart.
Continued Lockhart, "It's an opportunity to learn about their faith in different aspects than they would learn in the school system.
"I know even with my daughter's teachers, and she's been involved with Young Disciples since kindergarten, that she definitely shines in terms of knowing her faith and not being shy to speak about her faith, understanding the meaning behind (religious) holidays and different events. There's such an enhancement here."
Even for students attending Catholic schools, not all of them are active in their parishes and some are not even Catholic. The program helped keep children of "church families" connected.
"The wonderful thing for me now, on a personal basis, is that my children and other children in the program, I see them in high school and they are still friends.
"One of our first goals was to see if we could get these little kids to make friends with each other so that when they are in high school they have some sort of support system from other kids of faith," said Wanke.
Thompson agreed, saying, "Especially when they start getting to this age, it's a springboard for them, a safety net when they go to high school and I really encourage them to befriend not just the kids they came (to Young Disciples) with but with everyone.
"One day, when they're all together in the same high school, they are going to recognize each other and they're going to have this strong foundation of friends."
SENSE OF BELONGING
Young Disciples gives the children a sense of belonging in the church.
"I think we've done quite a good job of meeting our goals. They are making friends and learning the faith as well. The Church is becoming a home for them, a place where they feel welcome and they feel they are a part of it, not someplace where they only go for an hour on Sunday and then leave."
There are four Young Disciples classes, divided based on ages. Each group took on different aspects of the Passion (agony in the garden, Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the crucifixion and the resurrection) for a drama presented for parents April 14.
The greatest challenge facing Young Disciples is attracting volunteers. Some people said they are not confident enough in their faith to assume a leadership role.
Wanke countered by saying that this is the perfect setting for a whole family's faith to grow. The lesson plans are fortified with background information for the instructors. It's a learning experience for both the children and the adults.
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