by Moira Cullings
TONGANOXIE — Religious educators at Sacred Heart Church here believe parishioners of all ages have much to offer one another.
“This older generation has great stories — not just about their faith, but life in general — that they could share with these kids,” said Jennifer Eastes.
“And I think the older generation gets a kick out of interacting with the younger kids,” she added.
Eastes and Nancy Lanza, directors of religious education at Sacred Heart, brought the generations together during a shareholder dinner held Dec. 3 at the church.
The evening included a meal and entertainment provided by the youth involved in religious education, particularly its confirmation program.
Leading up to the event, parishioners had the opportunity to select an envelope with a number from $1-$100 representing the amount they wished to pay for the experience.
“It really means that almost every person in the parish can participate,” said Lanza, “regardless of what kind of financial means they have.
“And nobody ever knows how much you spent.”
In the past, donations have funded the youth group’s trips to places like the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) and other needs.
Father Mark Goldasich, pastor of Sacred Heart, said it’s a chance for parishioners who support the youth to receive a “return on their investment.”
“They get a nice dinner and get to meet the kids in person,” he said, “and experience how their generosity is paying off in growing the faith of our younger parish members.
“It’s a win-win for the adults and the kids.”
Seeing that their fellow parishioners care about them is important for the youth, said Eastes.
“I think it was neat to see how much support they get in our parish,” she said, “even from people that they don’t even know.”
A favorite part of the dinner for many was the generation gap trivia.
A few of the youth were challenged to questions the older participants would likely know the answers to and vice versa.
“It was a lot of fun with good-humored competition and friendly teasing,” said Addie Dean, one of the youth.
“It made it a lot of fun to try and answer questions that you had no idea about,” she continued, “while the person next to you was practically bursting with the answer.”
Like her peers, Dean also helped with the event’s preparation by setting up tables, serving dinner and clearing plates.
“I thought it was really important to make sure that everyone there knew how much their contribution to the confirmation program means to us,” she said.
“We have a lot of fun,” she continued, “so I was happy to help with the dinner and tried to make sure everyone there knew that we appreciated their support.”
Lanza hoped that by fostering the relationship between the generations, the youth felt a sense of belonging.
“Everybody at the parish wants them there,” she said. “I can only hope and pray that down the road they remember that and will want to stay in their faith at a parish.
“And knowing that no matter what their age is they have a place there — they’re welcomed.”
Father Goldasich said the strong youth participation in religious education at his parish is a sign of hope.
“It gives great comfort to the older generation to see young Catholics,” he said, “to know that the church will continue to go on and be strong.
“And the kids can know that they contribute to the life of their parish by their presence and their joyfulness.”
Lanza said the strong turnout at the shareholder dinner is a testament to the spirit at Sacred Heart.
“We have an absolutely amazing parish,” she said, “especially for the size that we are and the resources that we have.
“They are absolutely the most generous people that I’ve ever seen. There’s never a time that they don’t respond joyfully and generously to any of our needs.”