By SHEILA OJENDYK
TAYLORS — The Gospel of Mark describes the mustard seed as “… the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32). In the same manner, the seed of religious faith planted into a young mind can grow big enough to last a lifetime.
The National Association of Parish Catechetical Directors recently honored the religious education staff at Prince of Peace with its Mustard Seed Award. This prestigious award was given to only five parishes in the United States last year.
The Prince of Peace religious education team is headed by Nancy Chandler, who works with middle and high school youth. Terry Hapstack heads the preschool program, and Erin Cendula directs the elementary school program. Youth minister Rhonda Mingo rounds out the team.
The team strives to make parents an integral part of religious education. Besides offering weekly classes, the religious education department also offers a monthly family program for families who prefer to pass their Catholic faith to their children outside of a classroom environment.
The religious education program kicks off every fall with a welcome night for parents and students. Families meet teachers and learn about the curriculum, and children check out the classrooms. At last fall’s welcome night, a video, “Holiness Family Style,” was shown about passing faith traditions between generations. As a gentle reminder, each family took home a refrigerator magnet printed with the program schedule.
Each year around All Saints Day, the team schedules an annual Saints Fair for students and their families. Each class selects a saint to study, and class members present displays, skits and songs about their saint at the Saints Fair.
Parents are very involved in preparing their children for first penance and First Communion, beginning with a retreat for the parents and their children.
The class prepares a reconciliation banner, and each child is given a cloth lamb. Each time a child recites the Act of Contrition, a cotton ball is placed on the lamb. When the lamb is completely covered with cotton, it is ready to attach to the banner, and the child is ready to receive the sacraments. The banner is displayed at the penance service.
Family Advent night is an annual tradition for the religious education program. Families join for an evening of prayer, dinner and a family Advent project. Last year’s project was Advent calendars based on individual family stories and traditions.
Preparation for confirmation begins with a retreat for students and their parents. Parents again play a major role in preparing their children for this sacrament. Each confirmation class selects a slogan for a banner, which each student later signs.
The banners are displayed at confirmation and again at Pentecost. According to Chandler, “We have 12 years of wonderful banners.”
The religious education team will travel to Atlantic City in early April to receive their award.