Annual Appeal at Work: Bible study project helps faith formation coordinator connect with students

It’s easy to see how the Bishop’s Annual Appeal funds the ministries of the diocese, but how does that benefit actual people in parishes and Area Catholic Communities?

One of the many ministries that does just that is the Emmaus Institute, a four-year formation program for lay leadership ministry that was created by Catholic Education Ministries in cooperation with the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, Office of Multicultural Ministries and Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.

Ninth-grader Izzy Van Beck looks for the reading to follow along during the Bible study at Melrose High School April 28.

One of the students that will graduate from the institute in June with a certificate in pastoral ministry is Chrystal Sand, faith formation coordinator for the parishes in Freeport, New Munich and St. Rosa.

“While Chrystal has been incorporating what she has learned from her courses at Emmaus into her work all along, her final practicum was an opportunity for her to integrate everything into one project — creating a small Christian community,” said Kristi Bivens, associate director for Lay Leadership Formation for the Diocese of St. Cloud. 

For the project, students were asked to design a faith enrichment activity to do with a small Christian community — six to 10 people in their parish — during Lent. It could be an already existing program or something they came up with on their own. They had to decide on a target audience and do their own promotion.

Because Sand works with school-age students, she decided to create a Bible study for high schoolers using “lectio” and “visio divina” with the Saint John’s Bible.

“We focused on the Gospel for the upcoming weekend,” Sand said. “We did “lectio” and then kind of picked apart the reading so they could understand it better. Then we used the illuminations and did “visio” with that.”

Her goal was to have seven participants. She created flyers and visited faith formation classes to get the word out. 

“I was really concerned because usually the youth aren’t apt to jump on something like that,” she said. “I was thinking I was going to have to make personal phone calls, but I didn’t have to.”

When Lent was over, her students asked to keep the Bible study going and even invited middle school students to join. They now meet on Friday mornings before classes, at Melrose High School.

Chrystal Sand reads as the students, including eighth-grader Rachel Welle, right, follow along.

“I feel like it is just a good start to the day,” said Camryn Roering, a 10th-grader at Melrose High School and one of the participants in the Bible study. “It just centers you.”

“Chrystal used what she learned in her Scripture courses, prayer experiences, small group facilitation, listening skills and other areas to develop this small Christian community with youth in her parish,” Bivens said.

Her experiences in class have helped her connect with the youth of her three parishes.

“I think the youth want more, and it’s just finding how to pull them in,” Sand said. “For me, going through the Emmaus Institute has helped me find different ways to interact with the kids and help pull in what they’re looking for.”

As she listened to the youth in her parish, Sand found that they wanted more experiences with Scripture, so she was able to create a Bible study that filled that need.

“The knowledge and skills she gained from her course work was integrated into her small group. Chrystal saw this as more than simply an assignment, but another way to minister to and with the youth,” Bivens said.    

Chrystal Sand, through her training from Emmaus Institute, has offered a Bible study for high school students. (Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Other students in Sand’s graduating class are seeing success as well, in parishes around the diocese.

“Chrystal is one of 30 people doing amazing ministry in small Christian communities across our diocese,” Bivens said. “And many of those groups are continuing to meet after their classes are done.”   

Fifteen students have already completed the program and 21 more are expected to graduate in June. The Bishop’s Annual appeal has helped 36 students from 10 Area Catholic Communities receive a certificate in pastoral ministry.

Learn more about the ministries supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal at:


Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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