The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Next generation of faith formation: Grandparents Camp

Barling church looked beyond traditional summer program for youth faith formation

Published: August 22, 2022      
Courtesy Sacred Heart of Mary Church
Sister Therese Nguyen, OP, make memory boxes with Valen Nguyen (left), Cynthia Nguyen and Tiffany Nguyen at Grandparents Camp at Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling July 30.

Vacation Bible School isn’t just for kids at Sacred Heart of Mary Church. On July 30-31, the church held its first Grandparents Camp for preschoolers through 12-year-olds and their grandparents.

Faith formation and evangelization director Emily Bannister’s goal is to include the whole family in youth faith formation as much as possible.

“I attended a webinar sponsored by the diocese, and the presenter talked about grandparents camps,” she said. “He said that most parishes just use the Vacation Bible School structure and invite the grandparents to attend. I did some research online to see how to design activities for our program.”

Bannister, who has an infant and a toddler at home, borrowed decorations from her childhood parish, Sacred Heart Church in Charleston, and recruited parishioners to help with games and refreshments.

“Our grandparents are often the people who do lots of volunteering at church, and we wanted this to be a time where they could just come and enjoy the experience.”

“Our grandparents are often the people who do lots of volunteering at church,” she said, “and we wanted this to be a time where they could just come and enjoy the experience.”

Sixteen kids and six sets of grandparents listened to the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, then divided into three groups. Each group chose the youngest child to be Joseph and scotch-taped colorful streamers to his clothes. When his brothers turned on him, they ripped the streamers off while the grandparents directed.

Tia Marsh taught Bible songs, and college student Mark Johnson directed outdoor activities. “We played games with hula hoops, bowled with solo cups and played checkers on a giant checkerboard,” Bannister said, “and grandparents played and watched.”

The family groups made picture frames, and each family received a family photo to frame. They decorated prayer jars, and children wrote family prayer intentions on popsicle sticks to use during family prayer.

The biggest project was decorating memory boxes for their craft projects, adorning them with glitter, construction paper, rhinestones and pom poms.

“I still have my memory box from Vacation Bible School years ago,” Bannister said.

Bannister said there was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea within the parish.

“The webinar leader suggested monthly activities we could hold with grandparents and children, including discussions where they could share their own childhood experiences of God and church,” she said.

Letitia and Tom Marsh, who attended with two of their grandchildren, Liam and Kaeson Franklin, were enthusiastic about the program.

“Liam and Kaeson had such a fabulous time, and Tom and I thoroughly enjoyed the grandparent/grandchild concept of this year’s VBS, and we just wish that more of our grandchildren had been in town for it!” Letitia Marsh said. “The boys especially loved making the prayer jars, and we were delighted to see how they prayed for their cousins… both of them did that independently. And they were really sad when it was over.”

The parish religious education program also is centered on the whole family. They use the “A Family of Faith” curriculum from Sophia Institute for Teachers. Parents attend monthly meetings while their children are in PRE, discussing a different topic and doing workbook activities. Children have an activity book corresponding to the parents’ workbook with suggested family faith activities to do during the month.

“We have family faith community events for the PRE families,” Bannister said. “During Advent, we got together and made Advent wreaths for each family to use at home. We’ve gotten a lot of compliments for our new programs. People don’t like change, but for the most part, it’s good.”

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