The genesis of excitement

Faith: At Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Elkridge, a youth minister 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," Fisher said 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!" the kids cheered.

"All the time!" Fisher echoed.

"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 across the room on bed sheets in a relay race to the Promised Land.

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

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," Fisher said. Upon graduating, she worked as a youth minister in Frederick for a year at a Catholic church of 5,000 families. She took the job here because the church is closer to her home in Eldersburg and a bit smaller, with about 2,000 families.

Fisher describes the middle-school years as a time of discovery. "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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