When I was a kid Vacation Bible School was a major event every year. VBS met for several hours every day and lasted for two weeks. The program began with a parade through the neighborhood around the church. All of the church kids and workers piled into cars decorated for VBS and drove slowly through the community, honking and waving as we went. Every morning began with “Opening Session” in the sanctuary where we sang, heard a devotional and a pep talk with announcements. Then we went to age graded classes for Bible study and crafts. I loved the crafts; who knew there were so many uses for popsicle sticks? We had refreshments (cool aid and graham crackers) and recreation; “Duck-Duck-Goose” anyone? The morning ended with a “closing session” where we got more announcements and another pep talk about bringing a friend to VBS.
We loved competition back then. Groups competed over who could bring the most offering and the most visitors. My favorite was the competition we had one year to see who could memorize the most verses of Scripture. I won a Bible. My strategy was flawless. I started with the verses I already knew pretty well: John 3:16, Psalm 23, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. Then I moved to memorizing the shortest verses I could find. “Jesus wept,” John 11:35.
Everything built up to a graduation service timed so parents could come see their children. The most hardened of sinners would come to see their child sing a song, quote a verse and receive a certificate, just not my father who could smell manipulation a mile off. We made mortar board hats out of poster board and wore them. All of the kids processed in with their teachers and classmates like a real graduation. Names were called and certificates were given. After the ceremony the children took their parents to their classrooms where they greeted the teachers and gathered the works of art to be unceremoniously discarded at home.
I think it was in my mid elementary school days that we moved to evening VBS and made it for the whole family with Bible courses for the adults. The program was soon reduced to one week. Toward the end of the 20th century the anachronistic schooling paradigm of VBS seemed all but dead. Workers were hard to find and children had grown accustomed to Sesame Street and the Muppets. Kids Crusades were in vogue for a couple of decades. These were high-energy, nightly children’s church programs designed entertain and evangelize the children. Truthfully, I have always been a little uncomfortable with the hard sell altar call that many of the evangelists used. But done right they could be quite effective ministries to children.
In recent years our church has returned with others to an emphasis on VBS. The annual, themed events are a highlight of our church year. They are led by Vernice Blackaby, our Children’s Pastor. While not a traditional school, there is a well developed curriculum that includes Bible Study, crafts, activities, refreshments, devotionals, and competition. Each year our entire church building is transformed into a theatrical set for the theme. We were a Galilean Village one year and a Roman city the next. If you were to enter our building this week you would step into a tropical rain forest.
There are several things I like about this return to VBS, all-be-it, a modern version. First, they are a lot of fun and fellowship for everyone. We have as many adults and youth present every night as children. Most are workers, but several drop in just for the excitement. Second, the kids (and youth and adults) learn a lot. It is obvious these thematic, dramatized schools are effective teaching tools. Third, these programs surface talents not often honored in churches, talents like set design and art work. Finally, I am most blessed by observing our youth get involved helping lead the VBS. They work hard on setting up the decorations. They dress in character each evening and they are essential workers with the children. Under Vernice’s leadership our annual VBS represents the best of what it means to be the church, all ages working together creatively to communicate the Gospel and having fun doing it.
It is a lot of work. I am thankful for the event and its impact. I am thankful for all of the effort that goes into it. And to be honest, I am thankful I get to participate without being responsible.
July 11, 2010