By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent
Youngsters and their families received a hands-on lesson in creation as more than 30 children rubbed elbows – and a few ears and chins – with farm animals after a lesson on Genesis.
“There are few channels for the little ones to learn about Jesus and hear stories from the Bible unless parents take the time to teach them,” said Father Roy Aris B. Ballacillo, parochial vicar in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. “Our Littlest Disciples Ministry is a wonderful way to bridge the gap from infancy to Holy Communion, serving not only as a source of fellowship, but also as a way of introducing little children to the love of Jesus in a safe and enjoyable setting.”
The Littlest Disciples Ministry, based in the Medford parish, hosted “The Story of Creation,” an evening for youngsters from birth to fourth grade, which included children’s Bible Readings from Genesis, a petting zoo and pizza, Sept. 22 at the church’s Emmaus Center.
The children and parents from the Diocese’s Cohort 3 parishes – St. Mary of the Lakes, Holy Eucharist, Tabernacle; St. Joan of Arc and St. Isaac Jogues, both Marlton; and St. John Neumann, Mount Laurel – were all ears as the parish ministry’s coordinator, Laura Roettger, read how God created the universe as well as humans and animals to show His love. From Genesis, the children learned about Adam and Eve – many of the youngsters clutching small, animal-shaped paper cutouts in rapt attention during the lesson.
Afterward, they experienced creation by stepping into the Happy Trails Petting Zoo, a pen of farm animals set up outside, where the children toddled or ran from animal to animal, squealing with delight. The zoo included sheep, goats, ducks, chicks, spotted bunnies, a turtle and a donkey named Jason.
“I think this is an exceptional program,” said parishioner Tania Bryan, a mother of four. Coming from a military family, the Bryans move often, meaning they have been members of many different parishes.
“We found that children of this age group are often forgotten until they’re ready to make their First Communion. An event such as this exposes them to the fellowship of the Church, not simply going to church,” Bryan said.
“My children range in age from four months to eight years old, so this is a nice way for them to join other children to learn Bible stories at an early age and a great way for the parents to connect, as well,” she added.
The Littlest Disciples Ministry was formed by Roettger and her husband, Fran, who are the parents of three small children. Though they wanted their children to “grow in their faith and have a closer connection with Jesus,” they also felt their call to discipleship should be shared with other parents.
“At the time, we had no idea how many little ones there were in the parish. But by inviting them to become part of our ministry with monthly events, we have grown quite quickly, and have now reached out to our Cohort parish parents to join in our events,” Laura Roettger said. “Our overall mission is to reinforce the message of the Gospel to children from birth to fourth grade alongside their families through spiritually guiding, fun and interactive activities and events.”
Parishioner Nicole Daisey, a mother of two, said she felt Littlest Disciples was an ideal way to help youngsters make the segue from a children’s group to junior and senior youth ministries.
“It helps them make the connection,” she said of her children. “We want them to understand that church does not mean just going to Mass on Sunday.”
The Littlest Disciples Ministry’s next event will be “Sew Seeds of Healing” on Oct. 29 at The ARTery Studio in Medford to sew pillow cases and decorate cards for hospitalized children. For more information, call Laura Roettger at 609-346-3367 or email Lea82@yahoo.com.