I don’t remember many details about my time in the Vacation Bible School classrooms at First United Methodist Church in Monticello, Ark., but there’s some nostalgic fondness in recalling VBS as story time and playtime.
At Vacation Bible School, the kids in the church had the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better by spending a week of half-days in religious education, plus engaging in outdoor games and crafts. The parents and older youth were our leaders.
Elaborate programs, themes, and supporting materials weren’t part of VBS. In my time, it didn’t compete with video games and children’s museums; the home-congregation-oriented efforts to teach Bible stories and instill character have little similarity to today’s structured curricula with catchy trademarked names and logos. The Sunday school superintendent probably decided on some Bible stories and lessons for us kids who were too young for church camp. It was a low-budget opportunity to keep the kids out of trouble and tell us about the Bible and its people.
Vacation Bible School has a kind of profitable specialization now. Costs can build up, and some churches have to charge tuition.
Group Publishing’s VBS package “Weird Animals: Where Jesus’ Love Is One-of-a-Kind” is especially popular in greater Toledo this year. It‘s being offered by several churches: Apostolic, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian.
Featuring Axl, Fern, Milton, Shred, and Iggy — characters you won‘t find in a Bible concordance — “Kids will experience and be empowered by all the unexpected and, yes, weird ways that Jesus demonstrated unconditional love,” the Weird Animals catalog states. It’s promoted as the Golden Rule in action. The starter kit is $169.99, with resources for the director, leader materials for 12 people, and samples of student resources. More than 150 items, including music, clothing, and a water bottle, are on the catalog’s order form.
Group also sells promotion materials and training sessions at sites around the nation and on video, and it can facilitate background checks for the volunteers who will work with children. Group offers a companion program of five hour-long, host-led adult meetings, in association with Lifetree Cafe, so parents can learn and discuss the same Bible points the kids are taught. That’s an extra $49.99.
There are many more themed VBS courses on the shelves of Family Christian Stores, 4015 Secor Rd. — where I picked up a stack of catalogs — and other church-supply businesses. They include “Agency D3: Discover, Decide, Defend;” “Blast Off;” “God’s Backyard Bible Camp;” “SonTreasure Island;” and “Wilderness Escape.”
Bigger good in the world is practiced during some VBS activities. Sylvania United Church of Christ will build community with Under Construction: A Habitat for Humanity Vacation Bible School July 23-29. The children won‘t be putting up houses, but they will make coat holders, fleece-tie quilts, stepping stones, and tool boxes for families moving into Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity homes. Group, the Weird Animals VBS company, offers the opportunity to provide clean water for India by way of children’s monetary donations, through its teaming with World Vision.
The Vacation Bible School I barely remember, like many programs now, was a place to hear religious stories. More important, it provided an opportunity for children to get to know one another better and to form in the social intertwining of church friends, schoolmates, and band or team members. It was, and I expect still is, children’s church week during school vacation.
Some churches won’t offer special summer programming for children, and non-Christian religious associations and moral groups will also have vacation-time educational opportunities. Children won‘t be completely free of instruction during the summer.
If you’re looking for a VBS for your child, check the Blade religion calendar or contact a local congregation for theme, dates, times, and cost (and, if you need to, ask if the church offers scholarships). Please send information for your church‘s VBS or other summer religious education to firstname.lastname@example.org, our address for the religion calendar.