Vacation Bible school season in full swing

Growing up, I fondly remember attending vacation Bible school. I remember a positive experience with singing, crafts, exercise, and Bible stories, and retain memories of making bookends from quartz and plaster of Paris during crafts. Many local churches offer vacation Bible school experiences for kids today. In fact, in a 2013 report on vacation Bible schools, a Barna group study found more than 68 percent U.S. churches held them in 2012.

Vacation Bible school season started early in the Anchorage area, shortly after public school was out. Many programs were conducted in June. VBS programs are scheduled into August, though, so there are still opportunities for families to access them before summer’s over. I talked with three local churches this week in North, East, and West Anchorage, as a representative cross-section of various VBS programs.

Holy Cross Parish: Weird Animals

A large Catholic parish, Holy Cross Parish has offered VBS for 20 years. Theresa Austin, director of youth ministries, said their chosen theme package “Weird Animals: Where Jesus’ Love is One-of-a-Kind”, is a Catholic-specific package from Group Publishing. The parish chose a theme the other churches will not be doing. Holy Cross holds classes at Kasuun Elementary School from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 20-24. It charges $25 to defray expenses. Austin said 50 to 100 kids, mostly Catholic, will attend.

Each day starts with praise and worship songs, proceeding to various activities underscoring the Bible themes for the day. As an example, the daily themes are: Even when you’re left out Jesus, loves you; Even though you’re different, Jesus loves you; Even when you don’t understand Jesus, loves you; Even though you do wrong, Jesus loves you; and Even when you’re afraid, Jesus loves you.

The activities are “Bible Adventures” with a different daily Bible story; “Games” with different games played; “Kid Video,” linking to Bible points, and “Imagination Station” where Bible-linked science experiments are performed. To make things visually stimulating, sets incorporating weird trees, flowers, and animals plus waterfalls, balloons and a rainforest have been prepared. High school kids help her create the sets. Wanting the church’s VBS to be unique, Theresa explained “Protestant churches tend to do New Testament themes. We like to cover both the Old and New Testament, and also expose the children to Catholic Relief Services, or clean water initiatives for African villages. The kids bring donations which go to CRS.” VBS plays an important role in faith formation at Holy Cross.

Lutheran Church of Hope: Shining Star

After looking at VBS offerings from various publishers, the Rev. Julia Seymour of Lutheran Church of Hope chose “Shining Star,” an Abingdon Press package. The church expects the program, held July 27-31, to attract 70 to 80 kids, ranging in grade from pre-K to sixth grade, of which only 25 to 35 percent will be Lutheran. Running from 9 a.m. to noon, the church’s VBS program is free of charge and has five daily themes: Listening; Studying; Taking Action; Forgiving; and Being Stars for Christ. Its overall theme is taken from Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” The program rotates kids through Bible stories, games, music and crafts. On the final day parents are invited to a potluck. During the week the kids participate in a canned food drive for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska.

“We hope attendees will hear a message of grace, that God’s love exists, and that it’s for you to take advantage of your whole life,” Seymour said. “We want people to know about the love of Christ. It’s a taste experience. A week is a short time. We hope the Holy Spirit will come alongside.” She also advised “Parents need to do due diligence. Take five minutes and look at the church website to know where you’re sending your kids. See what we believe. Look at my blog to see what I believe.”

Lutheran Church of Hope’s VBS relies on volunteer staffing during the week, from seventh graders to retirees.

Baxter Road Bible Church: Journey Off the Map

Growing Baxter Road Bible Church has offered its VBS for seven years. In talking with Director of Children’s Ministry Kelly Carpenter, I was impressed with the importance of VBS for BRBC. She noted that it’s the church’s biggest outreach, with 50 to 60 church staff and members involved during the week of presentation. Many more help prepare. Planned for 4-7 p.m. July 13-17, it’s Indiana Jones-themed and called,“Journey Off the Map.” Presented inside and outside the church, the staff is preparing sets of jungle scenes, boulders, waterfalls, caves, and creatures. Kelly said two-thirds of the anticipated 100 kids are from BRBC, with the remainder coming from the community. All rotate through the various sections: Overlook, the opening sessions; Boulder Bridge, Bible study; Shady Grove, crafts; Rushing Waters, music; and Survival Springs, games and recreation. An added bonus will be pony rides and petting zoos before the start of each day.

“Kids come to us having attended other VBSs but tell us ours is the best. It’s a churchwide effort,” Carpenter said. “We want them to know Christ, start with His birth, and move to Daniel. If kids can see that living for Christ is a positive thing, a safety net, I believe it will change their life.”

The Barna group study cited earlier says, “… children’s summer Bible programs have committed their efforts to one goal: the spiritual development of children, who will hopefully grow into spiritually developed adults. In fact, previous Barna research indicates nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43 percent), and two out of three born-again Christians (64 percent) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday.”

Anchorage churches are investing heavily in providing faith formation opportunities for community kids. It’s good for the kids and ultimately for the community. I’ll keep an updated list of all the VBS opportunities I’m aware of at my blog: Churchvisits.com.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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