Grandparents can play a unique and important role in family faith formation. The General Directory of Catechesis describes the family as the primary place where catechesis takes place: “In this family catechesis, the role of grandparents is of growing importance. Their wisdom and sense of the religious is often times decisive in creating a true Christian climate.” (236)
Pope Francis echoed a similar message in a tweet about grandparents:
How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage so essential for each and every society!
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) July 26, 2017
Those involved in parish ministry and catechesis can create opportunities for grandparents and grandchildren to participate in formation together.
One parish in Michigan took these messages to heart with their Grandparent/Grandchild Camp. St. Robert of Newminster Parish hosts a three-day morning camp for eight- to twelve year-olds and their grandparents. The camp is coordinated by the pastoral associate of elementary ministries, Jolana Peard. Peard shared what makes this event—finishing its fourth year at the parish—special for grandparents and grandchildren and what contributes to its success.
“I had noticed an increase in the past couple of years of grandparents signing up as volunteers in some of our elementary ministry programs. As I spoke with some of them, they expressed a desire to plant the seed of faith in their grandchildren,” Peard recalls. Following a conversation with a coworker about a similar school initiative to get grandparents involved, Peard came up with the idea for a faith-formation camp full of activities, prayer, and conversation.
Each year, the Grandparent/Grandchild Camp focuses on a theme that centers on a Scriptural family connection. The Holy Family and the Jesse Tree—most often referenced during Advent—were the highlighted themes at this year’s camp. These themes take on new life in conversations between grandparents and grandchildren. “The Jesse Tree explains a family’s lineage, so it’s an easy tie-in to anyone’s own family tree. We gave each couple a template of a family tree with blank spaces on the branches so that they could fill in their own family members. Grandparents love to talk about their family, and the kids asked really good questions,” says Peard.
The format of each day follows the chosen theme and begins with a continental breakfast (on special prayer placemats made by the staff), a short prayer, and a lesson. The group breaks for snacks and continues with a craft, game, or short movie clip. Finally, a song or prayer concludes the morning. Jolana emphasizes how prayer that involves movement and music has been enjoyable for the group and offers a different kind of spiritual experience. Each of the activities includes discussion points and provides grandparents and grandchildren a chance to learn about each other as people and share life stories.
This camp at St. Robert Newminster satisfies a need for both older parishioners and young families. By listening to those who were serving as volunteers, Jolana created an engaging summer event that strengthens family faith formation and intergenerational catechesis. “On the last day we always include an extra prayer specifically for the kids to recite for their grandparents. The kids place their hand on their grandparent’s shoulder, and we recite it together. This prayer always brings a tear to my eye and usually the grandparents’ eyes,” says Peard. These moments nourish the community and family life at the parish, making it a valuable experience for everyone.
What intergenerational events take place at your parish? Could you see your community hosting a Grandparent/Grandchild Camp or similar program?
Adapt the following theme ideas from Jolana Peard for your own Grandparent/Grandchild Camp or intergenerational event.
The Holy Family
- For prayer time, stand in a quiet prayer room and sing “Silent Night” while holding battery-operated tea lights.
- Have a catechist or volunteer presenter share specific family experiences like what it might have been like for Mary to be pregnant with Jesus.
- Make a nativity of your own using modelling clay for each figure of the family. This is an appropriate activity for younger and older students.
The Jesse Tree
- The Jesse Tree ties in well with a family tree. Give each couple/family a template of a family tree with blank spaces on the branches, and have them fill in their own family members. Grandparents love to talk about their families, and grandchildren have lots of interesting questions.
- Make garden stepping stones as one of the crafts. The parish provides glass stones and other generic items while participants are asked to bring tiny crosses, old house keys, and charms to make each stepping stone their own. Grandparents and grandchildren love explaining the pieces to each other as a show-and-tell. Grandchildren have the special opportunity to understand that faith is a part of your personal history and can be a part of their future.
Photos by Staci Stroud, the Communications Director at St. Robert of Newminster.
Involve parents and grandparents at the start of each Finding God unit with ready-to-use intergenerational events.