WESTERLY — “Homemade Holy Fun” could have been the tagline for this summer’s Vacation Bible School at St. Pius X in Westerly. For the 14th year, Christine Magowan, director of Faith Formation and Evangelization, planned a successful five-day morning Vacation Bible School program for about 25 of the parish’s children.
While purchasing Vacation Bible School programs can be effective and a time saver, Magowan likes to use her gifts to tailor-make a program each year and this year’s program focused on God’s creation.
“[This year’s program had] an emphasis on the connection between the created world (water, earth, air, fire, humanity), the sacraments and our responsibility and stewardship as promulgated by Pope Francis in his encyclical, ‘Laudato si’,” Magowan said.
The theme may seem elaborate for little children, but Magowan and her volunteer team, which was made up of four adults and 20 middle school through high school-aged youth, broke it down into small and fun lessons for the participants who were between 3 and 10 years old.
Each day had a specific faith focus, a prayer of the day and grace before snack time. They enjoyed active games as well as creative times which focused on the theme. Some activities took place in the church hall, but they also held activities outside, and were given time upstairs in the church proper each day to connect the purpose of the days’ activities to the sacraments and the greater theme of Laudato si’. Each activity was just the right length of time and very engaging, so boredom wasn’t an issue.
Throughout the week the joyful faces of the children expressed their positive experiences of the program. Each child had plenty of assistance and attention because they were paired with youth volunteers and gathered into five different teams, each with an adult leader. Chris was very grateful for the adult leaders: Jenn Kushner, Madeleine Williams-DePerry, Janine McPhee and Talia Pettini-Gynther. The youth leaders took their roles seriously and were great role models for the younger kids who looked up to them.
Each day unveiled more lessons about our faith and the children volunteered answers to questions the leaders would ask, or they would blurt out a question or observation of their own. One day, a little girl, about five years old, proudly presented a watercolor painting she made of the Last Supper. Another little girl blurted out a question to the adults by asking, “Is Jesus really big?” The atmosphere created by the staff was such that the children didn’t feel rushed and felt comfortable asking questions and sharing their thoughts.
The creative lessons were very practical and connected to everyday life. On Monday, the environmental focus was on water and the sea, and the story of creation was read. The children decorated their own reusable water cups which they used the rest of the week. After creating the cups, they gathered the empty plastic water bottles that were used to fill their cups with water, discussed recycling, taking care of God’s planet, and the problem of plastics floating in the ocean.
“We want to do our part to take care of the earth God gave us,” Magowan said, and reusing the cups was one way to care for the earth. Some of the kids offered their own additional ideas of how we can take better care of the earth. Later, the children were brought into the church and Chris gave a talk and demonstration about the sacrament of baptism, and on Tuesday, which is the regular day each week when St. Pius has Adoration in the church all day, the children had the opportunity to spend some quiet time with Jesus.
One thing that was very impressive during this Vacation Bible School week was not only the consistent gentleness, patience and respect shown towards the children by all the volunteers, but by the joy that seemed to quietly emanate from the volunteers which expressed itself in every interaction. The youth volunteers were more than willing to help the little ones and not only did the youth volunteers gain experience as extra hands and helpers, but they also learned a little about being servant-leaders.
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