EBENSBURG - Students at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School can join a club that isn't found at most schools, even parochial ones.
The club is called Works in Progress and is designed to enrich the students' spiritual experience while they have fun.
A religion-based program and fun may not sound like they go together, but the members disagree.
(Courtesy photo) Students who are members of Works in Progress at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School lead junior high students using motions for a praise song at the high school. The students are (from left) Eileen Shoemaker, Dani Link and Olivia McCall.
"It's a great thing to have in school," said Dani Link, 18, of Ebensburg. "It brings people together."
Dani, a WIP captain, helps to plan retreats for the group and a recent one for students at the junior high level.
"That's my favorite part," she said. "It's so much fun planning them, putting them on."
And while the retreats have a spiritual element, the kids also participate in games and sports.
"WIP is a way to express your faith in a fun way and in an open environment," said Jarod Krug, another WIP captain. "It's a place where you can share your faith and not be ridiculed for it."
"It's a great thing to have in school," Dani said. " It brings people together and lets them know it's OK to have strong beliefs. If everybody around you has the beliefs you have, it's great to be around that group of people."
Not only are beliefs reinforced, but the teens develop spiritually and make new friends.
Jarod said WIP helps students realize that their faith is not a separate entity from other parts of their lives.
"It brings it to the forefront of everyday life," he said.
While doctrine can be learned, WIP allows students to consider their faith from a personal persecutive. Jarod, 17, of Loretto said the God in the Bible is present in daily life.
One way that is evident for Dani is during praise and worship at WIP events.
"Praise and worship is really awesome," she said. "You feel the presence of God. You feel God is there."
In addition to developing her relationship with God, Dani said WIP has allowed her to develop relationships with other students.
"I find I have a whole bunch of people who have become my friends because of WIP," she said. "I have met a lot of people I would not normally know."
"WIP is one of the few groups that encompasses everybody," Jarod said. "Faith is the common bond that we all share."
The group is under the guidance of Father Matthew Russick and Brother Michael P. Tinker, T.O.R.
Russick is a campus minister at St. Francis University in Loretto and teacher of religion at Bishop Carroll. He said WIP started at the end of the 2010 school year, and about 35 of the 230 students at the high school are active members.
Members attend a required retreat at the beginning of the school year and other gatherings throughout the year.
Tinker, who teaches Scripture at Bishop Carroll, said the group has held six retreats and more are planned. A retreat was held for junior high students at Bishop Carroll and separate ones for freshman and sophomores were held at Our Lady of Loretto Hall in Loretto.
An evangelistic retreat was held in conjunction with Bishop McCort and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic high schools in Munster.
"We did a lot of praise and worship on that retreat." Tinker said. "We also had a game of football."
During any of the gatherings, the students do the work, Russick said.
"They share about what God has done in their lives. They pray. They pray for each other," he said.
Tinker said every retreat is a little different but he and Russick try to make them fun.
"More importantly, we want all the students to experience the love of God and the difference he makes in one's life," Tinker said.
He said that high school students face a lot of temptations and that peer pressure is a key component into whether they give in to the temptations.
"If we can provide an environment where students are encouraging each other to live out their faith and Christian values, then we know that this will directly affect the decisions they make," Tinker said.
He said another purpose of the group is to teach teens how to share their faith.
"Today's culture needs positive Christian role models. We are trying to empower these students to be evangelists wherever life takes them," he said.
The group also has performed service projects, such as serving a Thanksgiving meal at the Dorothy Day Center at St. Francis.
Enthusiasm for the fledging group does not appear to be slowing down.
"A lot of kids have stuck with it," Russick said.