By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Earlier this year Father Jeffry Belger visited his alma mater, St. Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Ind. During the trip, he decided to visit the school’s gift store, where the deals were hotter than the weather outside.
He spotted some metal Advent wreaths for $3, marked down from the original $40 price tag. “They were off-season and highly discounted,” Fr. Belger recalls.
Remembering a Catholic radio broadcast about a parish that bought Advent wreaths for parish families as a way to encourage at-home prayer, Fr. Belger hoped to take advantage of the sale and buy as many as he could — 500, if possible. He wanted to give the wreaths to families at St. Mary parishes in Oskaloosa and Pella, where he serves as pastor.
A parishioner who had likewise shown interest in the family Advent wreath project immediately offered to donate enough money for 500 wreaths. Fr. Belger took as many as he could back home to Iowa and had the store ship the rest.
As Advent approached, Fr. Belger and religious education directors at both St. Mary parishes made plans to get the wreaths to the families. In order to encourage Mass attendance during the Advent season, the wreaths would be available only at Mass, complete with prayer booklets to guide families in worship at home.
“The kids at both parishes have shown excitement about it,” he said. “It gives an excuse for families that don’t pray together to do it for this limited amount of time and make it normal as opposed to exotic.”
The Oskaloosa parish planned to hand out the wreaths at the beginning of Advent. St. Mary in Pella planned to distribute the Advent wreaths one part at a time during Advent as an extra incentive for parishioners to attend all December Masses.
“The goal of this is to keep something going through Advent, because they’re adding to it each week. It’s taking (the wreath and prayer tradition) more back to the family,” said Carol Laughlin, director of religious education and youth minister at the Pella parish.
The first weekend, the children received the silvery wreath. In the four subsequent weeks, they were to pick up the next week’s candle, each with a prayer attached. The weekend after Christmas, they will receive the Holy Family figurine that is to be placed in the center of the candles.
Laughlin said the parish is constantly looking for ways to engage families. “We’ve never done anything quite like this before. It really has engaged the families. Children have become active in wanting to take a candle home and have it be part of what they’re doing.”
Fr. Belger said, “It’s great for participation of the parish, but the secret bonus is that kids want their parents to go to Mass.”
Fr. Belger, Laughlin and Donna DeJoode, religious education director at the Oskaloosa parish, have encouraged the children to use the Advent wreaths and accompanying prayers often at home with their families, especially at meal time.