This is the first in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. Today, Renee Lavender, director of religious education at the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit in Mullica Hill/Woodstown, NJ, shares some of her strategies for forming disciples in Catholic Social Teaching.
Renee focuses here on one of the parish’s “faith festivals,” which are intergenerational programs that include age-specific breakouts and whole-family activities. This past winter, the festival was entitled “Faith that is Witnessed: Catholic Social Teaching.” Read her reflection and then download the fabulous prayer service used to open the night, which is included at the end.
Ampersand: What are some different hands-on activities you included in the “Faith that is Witnessed” faith festival to introduce Catholic Social Teaching to different age groups?
Renee Lavender: We try and incorporate a different hands-on activity for each grade level once we break into groups or provide at least a different activity for Primary, Middle, and Junior High groups and finally an Intergenerational activity:
- The primary levels listened to a story concerning our elderly neighbors and ways that help them reconnect with memories. The children colored placemats on which space was made available for individuals to write a memory which made them feel “warm” inside especially during this past winter. These placement were later delivered to St. Mary’s Retirement Village in Cherry Hill.
- The Middle Level listened to a story that highlighted the work of volunteers at a soup kitchen. They then focused on the Corporal Works of Mercy along with designing posters entitled “The ABC’s of Stewardship Soup”. Students were invited beforehand to bring in cans of soup. These cans were collected and boxed by students and later sent to the Disciple’s Pantry.
- Our Junior High Level read an article: “From Manger to Mission -Through Baptism, We Are Sent; Through Eucharist We Are Nourished” by Jeanne Heiberg. They made mobiles that symbolize and recalled the mission of Jesus as well as their own mission as disciples of Jesus. They were initially told that something special would be done with mobiles; therefore to take extra effort in making. At the end of the session they exchanged with person across from them. The message was that our Mission as disciples is to share our talents and gifts with others.
- The Intergenerational activity included our parish family (preschoolers –grandparents) decorating and filling “Valentine Bags” for the clients of the Disciple’s Pantry. When individuals come to pick up food from the distribution center they also receive a Valentine Bag for each member of their family. We wanted to impress upon our Faith Festival families that Valentine’s Day, a day devoted to love, is more about action than a feeling.
Ampersand: Why do you think young people responded well to these activities?
Renee Lavender: All the groups mentioned they liked the opportunity to work not only in their own leveled groups but also to have the opportunity to share time with other members of our parish community.
They appreciated the fact that they were actively involved throughout the evening while working in groups rather than just sitting and listening.
The younger children loved the idea that their contribution was being sent to St. Mary’s.
The Middle-level students enjoyed the fact that their posters were on display and that they were actively involved with the boxing of their soup contribution.
Junior High mentioned that they liked being involved in the Opening prayer service. Also it was fun to be with their peers for part of the time in small groups.
The intergenerational piece seemed to be the most powerful experience for people. Everyone had the opportunity meet and share time together. Even the youngest of children were empowered to decorate, fill and box the Valentine Bags for the Disciples Pantry.
At the end of the evening all the participants were involved in cleanup of the facility and/or loading the van with boxes of Valentine Bags and soup. It truly was community building and faith sharing event.
Ampersand: What social service organizations have you connected with? Have those partnerships been positive?
Renee Lavender: We are involved in collecting food throughout the year for both Disciple’s Pantry (Salem County) and St. Vincent De Paul Ministry (Gloucester County). Our parish is also part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network which invites displaced families to live at out Parish Center for three separate weeks throughout the year. Accommodations include transportation to the Glassboro facility, along with lodging and meals. Parishioners are invited to prepare meals, serve meals, and take care of laundry needs, drive van or stay overnight as a host.
Our Junior High have taken part in preparing sandwiches for the “Sandwich Ministry” at the Cathedral in Camden. All the above collaborations have been quite positive and a definite blessing for the volunteers.
Ampersand: Any ideas for how families could include those who are poor and vulnerable in prayer or activity together?
Renee Lavender: Some families have initiated trips to the Ronald McDonald House along with volunteering at Cathedral Kitchen since their involvement with food collection and/or hosting our displaced families.
During Lent families were challenged each week to determine how much they would normally spend on one take- out meal (pizza, Chinese food) and place that money in the Rice Bowl. “Give More Take-Out Less” will be our motto next year since many families embraced this opportunity.
In regards to prayer we are going to focus more this year on gratitude and having families be more mindful of grace before meals and introduce the “Examen” as a prayer opportunity during one of our Faith Festivals.
Renee was kind enough to share the beautiful opening prayer service (and other prayer experiences) used during the Faith Festival. Feel free to print, adapt to your own needs, and use.
Faith that is Witnessed Intergenerational Prayer