Fifth-graders at St. Patrick School in Elkhorn kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament Jan. 30 at St. Patrick Church, led by parishioner and school parent Amanda Pfeifer (in pink). One Heart – One Fire Ministries of Omaha introduced the spiritual formation program at St. Patrick, which includes eucharistic adoration, Scripture, music and age-appropriate activities. One Heart – One Fire founder Erin Keller is in the background at the piano. MIKE MAY/STAFF

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Children learn to experience Jesus’ love through adoration

Can children in today’s digital world – accustomed to the sensory stimulation of smartphones, video games, television and countless other distractions – learn how to sit in silence and experience the still small voice of God in their lives?

For Erin Keller, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Keller, founder of One Heart – One Fire Ministries, has made the spiritual formation of children her organization’s mission, and one way that’s happening is through teaching children about the traditional, Catholic devotion of eucharistic adoration.

The goal is to create an atmosphere where children can experience Jesus’ personal love for them, and understand God’s grace and presence in their daily lives, she said.

This school year, One Heart – One Fire is working with students, parents and staff at St. Patrick Parish and School in Elkhorn to introduce children to that devotion, accompanied by age-appropriate activities to channel their energies and attention.

During a Jan. 30 session at St. Patrick Church, fifth-grade students sang spirited songs, listened to Scripture proclaimed and explained, reflected on and wrote in their journals about how God is active in their lives, and knelt in adoration before the Eucharist to experience Jesus’ love.

Amanda Pfeifer, a St. Patrick parishioner and school parent trained by One Heart – One Fire, led the session.

“I think what we are doing is teaching them (students) that there is so much power in pressing pause in your life to just sit and be with Jesus,” she said. “These kids don’t have a lot of downtime at all, and when they do, it is very stimulated, and it’s electronic.

“I’ve had some really phenomenal experiences, not only with traditional adoration, but also through Ablaze Ministries, and just felt that this is something that the children need so much,” Pfeifer said.

During the session, she read to students from the Book of Samuel the story of David and Goliath, and reflected on how, with God’s help, they too can meet the challenges, or “giants,” in their lives.

They were then invited to come forward and select from stones spread before the altar, to write on the stones whatever grace the Lord has bestowed on them to face their giants, and to keep the stones with them as a daily reminder.

Adoration sessions last from 40 minutes to one hour, and are generally held monthly by individual or groups of grade levels, and once a year for the entire school, Keller said.

The length and activities are determined by grade level, she said. For younger students who may find it difficult to sit still and remain quiet for long periods, activities such as drawing or coloring are often included.

“The point is really to just usher the kids into Jesus’ presence and then hang out with them,” Keller said.

One Heart – One Fire began 12 years ago when Keller’s teenage daughter and friends asked for help to start a prayer group. In addition to leading prayer groups, the ministry has blossomed and includes conducting first Communion, confirmation and school retreats, providing consultation and other resources to parishes and schools, and training parents, youth ministers and teachers to help children grow in their faith.

The adoration sessions at St. Patrick are new this year, Keller said, and school parents and staff are being trained to lead the sessions themselves.

“Kids love that prayer time. They look forward to it,” said Father Thomas Fangman, St. Patrick pastor. “I trust that the fruits of what they do are further reflected into the rest of their day.”

Giving students the opportunity to slow down and pray during a busy day is a perfect solution to the pressures of school and other challenges in their lives, he said.

“If they’re going to grow in their faith, … having a relationship with (Jesus), … it has to be nurtured, and there are different ways to experience God’s love for them,” he said. “If we create that atmosphere, God does the rest. It’s another exciting way to experience the good Lord in their lives.”

“We were trying to find a way to make Jesus a little more real and tangible to the students,” said Kami Landenberger, school principal.

“What I love about this, it’s very engaging, with the music and interactive activities … it really does engage the kids,” she said.

“One of the second grade teachers told me, about a month ago, that this is the best thing that’s ever happened to the school,” Pfeifer said. “We owe it to them, our children, to show them that they need to walk in his light all the time.”