SCOTTSVILLE — Abbie Berl, 6, has found out throwing around a rubber chicken is not a bad way to spend time on church property.
“I like throwing the chicken,” Abbie said as she and other children from St. Mary of the Assumption Church worked on crafts during the last day of a weeklong Summer Intensive Religious Program.
Tossing around a rubber chicken was one of the recreational activities the children enjoyed at the kindergarten through sixth-grade program Aug. 15-19. However, Abbie stressed that she would never throw around a live chicken “because of all the germs and stuff.”
On a more serious note, Abbie also said she learned a lot about Jesus during her faith-formation classes that week.
“He was a good shepherd, and we want to do what he would want us to do,” Abbie said. She added that Jesus counseled people to “be nice to other people and to treat them the way you want to be treated.”
Abbie was one of 64 children who participated in the intensive program, which is the heart of children’s faith formation at St. Mary’s, according to Rosanne Young, faith-formation coordinator. Children in grades kindergarten through six came to St. Mary’s each day at 8:45 a.m. and stayed there until 3 p.m., participating in religious-education classes, music or arts-and-crafts sessions, exercise, lunch periods and prayer services.
She added that a handful of seventh- and eighth-graders participated in community-service projects during the week as well. For example, the older children spent a day at the beach with a group of senior citizens and also worked in a soup kitchen and an inner-city Rochester outreach center.
Young said the parish used to hold weekly religious-education classes, but has replaced that approach with one intensive week of education each summer, followed by four family sessions during the school year centered around such holidays as Christmas. She noted that compressing the educational experience has increased attendance in the parish’s religious-education programs and made religious-education a more enjoyable experience for children and parents.
“They know learning about Jesus can be fun,” she said of the children. “It’s not drudgery.”
Patty Guglielmo, mother of Michael, 7, watched as her son made construction-paper crosses for them to wear to the church’s Sunday coffee hours, where she volunteers. She said she noticed the intensive program had a positive effect on her son’s spirituality.
“I find that this week he’s been saying prayers on his own,” she said. “I’m very proud of him because he’s making that choice to pray.”
Young’s daughter, Kristina, who taught the children entering second grade this fall, including Abbie and Michael, said she also enjoyed the intensive approach.
“I’ve gotten to know them in a lot of different ways,” she said of her students. “We have a lot of informal time as well as time in the classroom.”
She added that her students wrote their own psalm, a prayer of thanksgiving to God for all he has done. Megan Nolan, 6, said she was grateful to God for cats, dogs, birds, parrots, trees, houses, friends and bats. However, she drew the line at spiders.
“They’re just icky and stuff,” Megan said.
Austin Sczeniak, 7, said he enjoyed making new friends at the program and that he had found out “God and Jesus were on the cross at the same time.” He added that he had learned he should go to church each Sunday and that he read a story about Jesus that he liked.
Outside Hartmann Hall, where the classes took place, another group of students worked in a garage that had been converted into a depiction of Nazareth during the time of Jesus. Murals formed a colorful backdrop in the garage, and depicted a woodshop, a pottery shop and a barnyard. The murals were painted by St. Mary’s parishioners Alex Matson, his sister Jacquelyn Matson, and Lynnette Gall.
In the garage, the children worked on construction-paper wreaths by repeatedly tracing their hands on the paper and cutting out the tracings. Evan Walker, 8, said he had enjoyed the summer program and had learned something new about receiving the Eucharist.
“I never knew that when you’re done getting the bread, you do the sign of the cross,” he said.
Luke Nolan, 8, said the children did a lot of fun things. Emily Avallone, 8, said she enjoyed spending time with her friends and that her wreath was about “my community and all my friends that are with me.”
Meanwhile, Ian Maihofer, 9, said he enjoyed the program even more than going to a public-recreation center.
“I also like it because of the Scriptures and stuff,” Ian said. “It’s something cool.”