The genesis of excitement

Faith: At Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Elkridge, Youth Minister Kristen Fisher uses innovative methods to teach Christianity to middle-schoolers.

July 30, 2004|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

From Genesis to Revelation, Kristen Fisher tries to bring excitement and wonder to the faith of 250 middle school pupils at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Elkridge.

As a youth minister, she uses cheers, skits and innovative games to teach the fundamentals of Christianity.

"I really love to share my faith," said Fisher, as she conducted a weeklong evening camp, called IMPACT, for 65 children. The camp will be repeated next month.

The kids have responded to Fisher's enthusiasm.

"She's phenomenal. It's so different from what they're used to," said parent Kathleen Solomon, whose two children, Laura and Thomas, haven't wanted to miss a night. "She's so motivating. She's got their lingo down."

At 6 p.m., parents pulled into the parish parking lot and unloaded their children at the entrance to Harrison Hall. For a few minutes, everything seemed chaotic as youngsters, carrying paperback versions of the Catholic Youth Bible, signed in at the registration table and scanned the room for friends.

After a quick prayer with her adult assistants, Fisher, 23, walked to the front of the room, gathering a flock of children behind her. Out of the midst of them, she threw up an arm and yelled, "God is good!"

"All the time!" cheered the kids.

"All the time!" echoed Fisher.

"God is good!" they yelled, and she had their attention.

Scripture is the theme of the week, and Fisher is taking the middle-schoolers through the Bible. They've been divided into teams since the first night, scoring points for attendance, participation and correct answers. Fisher kept track of points on her "Almighty Scoreboard." The children earned "blessed bucks," which they can turn in for prizes at week's end, and the team with the most points earns a Sunday night pizza party.

On a journey through Exodus, Fisher held chariot races. The children carried team members on bed sheets across the room in a relay race to the Promised Land. By Thursday, the group had arrived at the books of Wisdom and Poetry. After some friendly competition with Scripture memory, the youngsters broke into small groups to create poetry and rap songs on the meaning of the verses they were assigned. At IMPACT, hilarity is holy.

"She really gets you psyched up," said Brooke Boyd, an 11-year-old entering sixth grade this fall.

Although OLPH has a school serving kindergarten through eighth grade, most of the youngsters coming to IMPACT are from public schools, Fisher said. During the year, she took her charges to amusement parks and ski resorts, and she organized service projects and Masses for youth. She also held four dances, which attracted about 300 middle-schoolers each time. Parent Joan Ray praised Fisher for building a "true sense of community" among the children.

This month, Fisher and the high school minister, Lizann Prosser, accompanied 20 high-schoolers, including those entering ninth grade this fall, to a national youth retreat at Fisher's alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio. Fisher, a native of Carroll County, graduated with degrees in theology and anthropology. At first, she thought she would be a missionary, but after a friend invited her to volunteer with a Catholic youth group in Steubenville, she was hooked on working with teenagers.

"The more I did it, I found I really loved it," said Fisher. Upon graduating, she worked as a youth minister at a Catholic church of 5,000 families in Frederick for a year. She took the job at OLPH because it was closer to her home in Eldersburg and a little bit smaller. OLPH has about 2,000 families.

Fisher describes the middle-school years as a time of discovery for the children of themselves and their world. "They love to have fun."

The challenge, she said, is "getting to know each of the kids and to teach them and feed them spiritually in the way you think they need to be fed. When they come in as sixth-graders, they're so young and innocent, but by eighth grade they've really matured personally and spiritually."

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