Over the summer, bonfires blaze, children are out of school and summer clothes make their return from the back of the closet. However, for parishes in the diocese, summer is also a prime opportunity for faith formation and ensuring parishes and their faith remain strong throughout warmer months of the year in Buffalo.
During the summer, the diocesan Department of Lifelong Faith Formation will introduce programs for parish leaders, including new curriculum it is preparing to debut for September 2017. The diocese is planning to conduct training for leaders in faith formation, throughout its eight counties, on the vision for faith formation for the 21st century in order to familiarize themselves with the new curriculum.
"This coming academic year, we will be working with the parish teams to revise and assess their current program," said Mary Beth Coates, director of Lifelong Faith Formation. "We have those sorts of workshops going on, but I would say across the diocese, there are a lot of opportunities for people to be involved and to grow in their faith that are planned at the parish level. Vacation Bible School is a very popular experience, usually for children under 10."
Many parishes in the diocese take advantage of the break in school, and families appreciate the chance to get their children involved in worthwhile activities that are engaging and fun, Coates said. Vacation Bible School typically runs for one week from 9 a.m. to noon. While programs generally are "not too intense in terms of content," they tend to be based on Bible stories centered on a particular theme.
St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Olean will be holding a four-day vacation Bible camp for children this summer from 8:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., Aug. 15-17. On the fourth day, Aug. 18, it will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. with a park picnic. The theme will be "Finding Jesus: an Ocean of Mercy," to accompany the Year of Mercy. The program will include the assistance of the Marian Franciscans, a group of women hoping to be recognized as a new congregation of women religious, who will be helping the parish with the lessons.
In addition to St. Mary of the Angels, this program will be open to children of neighboring parishes. The group responsible for organizing this, Morning Star, is a parish prayer group that prays every week with a Holy Hour, said Mary Cygan, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Angels.
"We have, of course, lesson plans on different Divine Mercy themes, as well as Holy Hour, and we also have arts, crafts and music," Cygan, Morning Star's coordinator, explained. "We started off with a praise and worship. A group of teens will be making mercy videos to share with the young children, so it's a very upbeat program that we have. In the past, last year, we had it all about angels to celebrate our centennial of St. Mary of the Angels. We learned all about the choirs of angels, and the kids really enjoyed it."
At St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda, Kathy Waite, the director of youth ministry, coordinates a summer program, Wild Wednesdays, at noon. People gather in the building where the parish does youth ministry, called the Lighthouse, and engage in service activities.
"We find a project that the parish needs done," Waite said. "It could be a mailing for the school. It could be scraping the candle wax out of holders for the candles that are left over from the Easter vigil. It could be getting things ready for our 5K race this summer."
On these Wednesdays, participants complete service activities while watching movies. This year, participants will be focusing on watching Christian movies while participating in service. It usually takes place on Wednesdays all summer long, but this year, it will be shortened since Waite will be going to Poland for World Youth Day. St. Amelia's will also have a parish mission week for youth in August.
Normally, parish mission trips involve taking a trip to St. Luke's Mission of Mercy on Buffalo's East Side, but this year, on Aug. 8-12, they will be going to the Mother Teresa Home of the Office of Pro-Life Activities that will be opening in August to serve pregnant women in need. St. Amelia's parishioners will be participating in various jobs to ensure they will be ready for the grand opening.
"Sometimes we have 20 kids and it's not easy to transport them," Waite said. "I'm begging the parents, and sometimes people in the rectory, to please help us drive these 20 teenagers down there, but it's great involvement by teens. On the way there, I'll have the radio on in my car. On the way back, the radio is off and they have a lot of questions, so that's when we know it was a really good service project."