By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DeWitt — Seventh-graders at St. Joseph Catholic School stood in line behind a microphone in the gym Dec. 15 waiting their turn to light an Advent candle, read from the Gospel or lead a prayer. Elementary students sat on the floor before them, listening and observing.
The older students were teaching the younger ones about Advent while receiving their own lesson on ministry in the process. “They’re the leaders of the school, the future leaders of the Church. This gives them the experience to be practicing their lifelong faith formation,” said Principal Sharon Roling.
Each year, students in sixth through eighth grades take turns leading elementary school students through a weekly Advent prayer service on Monday mornings at St. Joe’s.
Roling said most Catholic schools have weekly Advent reflections of some kind, but neither she nor Father Paul Connolly, St. Joseph Parish’s pastor, could recall when students began taking a leadership role in St. Joe’s services.
“It’s tradition,” said seventh-grader Spenser Paysen. Other seventh-graders recalled how they looked forward to being old enough to lead the program when they were younger.
On Dec. 15 they started the service by praying for focus during the Advent season.
“Lord, you sent Jesus your Son to bring light to our darkness and lead us to eternal life. (During this) Advent season, enkindle within us the deep desire to seek Him in all things,” the seventh-graders prayed. The elementary students responded, “Amen.”
Later, seventh-graders read from John’s Gospel about John the Baptist foretelling Christ’s coming. Fr. Connolly reflected on the reading. The seventh-graders offered prayers related to the lighting of the Advent candles and offered prayers of intercession. Music teacher and campus minster Julie Weirup led the students in worship music.
Fr. Connolly said the Monday morning Advent services help remind students that Christmas is not about gifts, but about God. “It’s about the two waitings. Like the Hebrews waited for Christ to be born, we are waiting for his next coming,” the pastor said.
“It gives us a chance to focus on what Advent is all about,” Roling added.
Seventh-grader Tucker Kinney said it is important for the older kids to set an example in the weeks leading up to Christmas so that the younger ones “learn it’s not just about getting presents, it’s about Jesus.”
It’s good “to help the younger ones learn more about how important Advent is,” said seventh-grader Carleigh Jefford. “And, to show them how we prepare for Advent,” added seventh-grader Audrey McAleer.