Vacation Bible School, Totus Tuus, Extreme Faith Camp make coronavirus adjustments

| July 8, 2020 | 0 Comments

Children sing during Totus Tuus at Epiphany in Coon Rapids June 27, 2019. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Nine-year-old Nicholas Costa still gets excited when he talks about his first two times attending Vacation Bible School at Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee.

“The music was my favorite activity,” he said. “We sing and we dance. I really like singing.” He also enjoyed projects and crafts, describing the rosary he made out of beads and the boat he made from Styrofoam that actually floated.

After the coronavirus pandemic canceled in-person classes at schools this spring, including those at Shakopee Area Catholic School, which Nicholas attends, his family and others wondered about the fate of Vacation Bible School.

But it will continue July 27-31 at Nicholas’ parish — this time as a virtual Vacation Bible School. Several other parishes are taking a similar route for the program, which often is done through packages provided by various publishers.

Many of the parishes mounting a virtual VBS will post videos on their websites, inviting families to watch at times convenient for them. Information for activities and crafts will be available online or as part of a package of materials that parents can bring home.

Staff members at Sts. Joachim and Anne teamed with three other parishes to develop creative ways to attract and engage participants in preschool through grade six during this summer’s pandemic-related restrictions. They are Our Lady of Grace in Edina, St. John the Baptist in Savage and St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights.

The parishes chose a railroad and train engine theme, which signifies how Jesus’ power pulls people through life, said Kathleen Dierberger, faith formation coordinator for grades K-6 at Sts. Joachim and Anne. To help generate interest, the parishes created a railroad-themed video showing pastors and staff encouraging families to enroll their children in VBS. They also created a “VBS in a Box” for families to take home, which includes daily VBS activities, crafts, music, videos, stickers, coloring sheets and a T-shirt.

Additional approaches

Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata is using a construction theme this year for its virtual Vacation Bible School. It describes how participants can build up their lives and faith with God. Each session uses a theme of the day pertaining to building a house: planning, building, wiring, transforming and being welcomed home. Daily activities emulate what usually takes place when students are together at camp – from music to a Bible story, a craft related to the day’s theme, and an outdoor game or activity that can be done as a family.

A construction theme also runs through Guardian Angels in Oakdale’s Vacation Bible School, July 27-31. Open to children in the community ages 4 through fifth grade, “Concrete and Cranes” combines building on the love of Jesus and having participants build their own Bible school this year. They can choose any combination of the following to participate:

• Zoom video conferencing to introduce each day’s theme and activities

• Using online videos, such as instructions for crafts

• Fun activities to try at home

• Participation in one or two activities outdoors at the parish, using social distancing guidelines: singing and “water games” (such as how far each child can throw a water balloon)

• Participation solely at home

Pax Christi in Eden Prairie has hosted what it calls “the best week of the summer” for more than 30 years, welcoming children ages 3 through fifth grade. The Bible camp earned an award in 2019 for the favorite Bible camp in the Eden Prairie area, bringing hundreds of campers and volunteers together for faith, fun and friendship, said Renee Dignan, camp director.

This summer, the parish is offering a Kids for Kindness “backyard family camp” July 20-24. Camp themes and Scripture passages will address “Who is my neighbor?” One reason staff chose a good neighbor theme is due to the racial unrest in the Twin Cities earlier this year, Dignan said.

Parents will do “curbside pickup” of materials at the parish for the camp, including Bible stories, crafts and snacks, as well as suggestions for 100 acts of kindness and a variety of service opportunities, such as sending greeting cards to local senior care centers and contributing food to the Pax Christi Burgundy Bag Program. Families can write words of encouragement and prayers for others on a “kindness tree” near the church’s front entrance. Games relating to Bible stories and music are part of the camp experience this year.

“Kids for Kindness will plant the seeds of how we share the love of God with each other and show our love and support for others,” Dignan said.

The Zschokke family from St. John the Baptist in Savage has sent all four of their children to Vacation Bible School over the years. Patrick, 9, still attends camp, but the three older children, ages 17 to 22, volunteered as teenagers after being participants. Daughter Alicen, 22, said one of her favorite parts of Vacation Bible School, year after year, was getting to experience childlike faith all over again. “The kids’ energy and seeing the Scripture through their eyes keeps me grounded in my faith and rejuvenates me every year,” she said.

Her mother, Anne, also volunteered at camp in child care. She was excited that the parish will coordinate the camp virtually this summer starting Aug. 3. “With all the social distancing, it’s so easy to feel isolated,” she said. This helps you feel like you’re still connected, she said.

Anne’s family enjoys the camp’s uplifting music each year. “To have your kids walking around the house singing about Jesus is a pretty cool experience,” she said.

Totus Tuus, Extreme Faith Camp also making adjustments

In addition to Vacation Bible School, the coronavirus pandemic is changing whether and how other traditional faith-related programs are offered this summer. As previously reported, the onsite, overnight Catholic Youth Camp in McGregor, Minnesota, is not offering its nine, weeklong sessions this summer.

The long-running Totus Tuus program featuring youths encouraging younger children and run by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not being offered at parishes — but an online version out of Michigan is available. And a program for young people offered through parishes, Extreme Faith Camp, is taking place, with modifications.

Those are among the realities faced by Catholic families who in the past have enjoyed summer faith formation programs for their children.

Totus Tuus

“We considered our options and decided to play it safe for all participants, parish staff, missionaries and families whose homes the missionaries stay in,” said Nancy Schulte Palacheck, Totus Tuus coordinator in the archdiocese’s Office of Marriage, Family and Life. “We will be back next year and hope to provide this amazing Catholic program in your parish,” she said. Registration for 2021 begins in October.

As an alternative this summer, Schulte Palacheck recommends an online Totus Tuus program offered at no cost from the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan.

Totus Tuus (Latin for “totally yours”) includes faith formation, songs, games and daily Mass for students from first grade to seniors in high school. Under normal circumstances, teams of young missionaries — college students or seminarians — travel to parishes for the weeklong camps. The purpose is to inspire young people to holiness, daily conversion and openness to life as a vocation by challenging them to pray and live for Christ through Mary.

Learn more about the online program at https://mtucatholic.org/ttguide and register at https://mtucatholic.org/ttregister

Extreme Faith Camp

Crafts, swimming and large group games are often part of weeklong Extreme Faith Camps offered for children in grades six through eight, in addition to worship and sessions on catechesis, evangelization, fellowship and discipleship.

Restrictions this year include no overnight camping, and people using churches and other buildings will use appropriate social distancing and limit the number of people gathered at any one time, said John O’Sullivan, youth minister at St. Michael in St. Michael, who started the camps in 2001.

Still, more than 40 parishes are offering some version of the camps this year, O’Sulllivan said. St. Michael, for example, will hold a four-day camp in August, using the church as its meeting room, he said.

One aspect of Extreme Faith Camp will continue, he said. Leaders and students at each camp are from the same parish, so bonds can continue to develop over time, he said.

“The camp builds a parish leadership team of high school teens and adults,” O’Sullivan said, enabling a natural and ongoing relational ministry. Students could become leaders for a parish’s youth ministry program, for example, or for the camp someday.

There is no curriculum, but a Scripture verse is chosen each year and a script is written for parish leaders to follow.

“It’s more of a general guide for all the talks for the week,” he said, “and helps them determine messages they’ll talk through during the camp.”

This year’s theme is based on 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

By day five, the students are sent on a mission: Share their faith with their family and friends, O’Sullivan said, and get involved in their parishes.

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