WATERLOO — Late in the morning on Aug. 7, more than a dozen third-, fourth- and fifth-graders stood in a warm classroom in the former St. Mary School, their faces screwed up in concentration as they tried to learn the words and moves to a song.
“Remember what you’re singing about. If you’re singing about God’s love, how should your face look?” asked Sarah Leo as she stood at the front of the room.
“That’s right, you should look happy,” she said as the children cracked smiles.
Meanwhile, in the gym across the hall another group of children was making ocean-themed snacks out of banana slices, goldfish crackers, licorice and miniature marshmallows, while another group of students was making maracas out of empty soft-drink bottles.
The children were taking part in the second day of “SonTreasure Island: Discovering God’s Love,” a weeklong vacation Bible-school program sponsored by the Spirit Alive faith-formation initiative of St. Mary Parish in Waterloo, St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls and Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva. The three parishes constitute the Geneva-Seneca Falls-Waterloo planning group, and St. Mary and St. Patrick parishes formed a cluster in June.
Spirit Alive is made up of faith-formation leaders and parents from each of the three parishes, said Bev Guerrie, faith-formation coordinator for Our Lady of Peace. The group was formed more than a year ago and has held several events so far, including discussions about the recent films “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Spirit Alive members decided to hold the SonTreasure program because there hadn’t been a Catholic vacation Bible-school program in the area for several years, said Marte Liddell, religious-education director for St. Mary Parish. Since the three parishes cosponsored the program, they were able to offer it to parishioners at no charge. Parents were very supportive of the idea, and 51 children in kindergarten through fifth grade signed up for the program, she said.
“I think it’s a good way to get the little ones involved in their faith,” Liddell said. “We want to show them that God loves them and that they should show others God’s love.”
Liddell, Guerrie and Marie Leo, faith-formation coordinator for St. Patrick Parish, hope parents who are pleased with the vacation Bible-school program might be encouraged to sign up their kids for the parishes’ regular faith-formation classes.
The kids seemed to be having a great time during the program, Leo said. The young participants were not the only ones enjoying themselves, however. A number of older children and teens also spent their mornings Aug. 6-10 helping the younger children learn songs and dance movements, make crafts and snacks, play games, and learn Bible stories and verses.
“I like helping out with the kids, and I like helping them learn stuff. It’s especially important for them to learn it now, rather than trying to push it into them later,” said 13-year-old Shannon Briere, whose family attends Mass at Our Lady of Peace and St. Mary.
Kellie Granger, 14, a St. Patrick parishioner, said she was surprised by how well-behaved the children were, and 12-year-old Keira Jones, a St. Mary parishioner, enjoyed volunteering for the vacation Bible school so much that she agreed to be a classroom volunteer in a first-grade religious-education class.
The program provided a wonderful opportunity for the children to take part in an enjoyable yet structured program of fun, games and religion, said Father James Fennessy, pastor of St. Mary and St. Patrick parishes.
“You look at them all, and they’re all having a great time, and that’s what we want to see happen,” Father Fennessy said as he watched a group of children create castles, coral reefs, fish and an octopus out of snack foods.
Since they belong to different parishes and schools, many of the children were strangers to each other when the week began, he noted. Rather than weakening the program, the children’s differences served to strengthen it, he noted.
“If you’d had it just at St. Mary’s or just at St. Patrick’s or just at Our Lady of Peace, chances are the kids would probably know each other from religious education or from school,” he said. “Here the kids don’t necessarily know each other, but they seem to be getting along just fine.”
These children can provide a witness of hope for their parents and other adult parishioners, who may have qualms about clustering and working closely with other parishes, he said. Such models of unity can and do work and can be enriching experiences, he added.
“The first place to see it work is with the kids,” Father Fennessy said. “There’s no boundaries to them. It’s all about faith and fun.”