Sunday, July 10, 2011

2011 VBS Week

It was a busy week in our parish last week.  We had our annual VBS program.  For any readers who are not from a tradition that uses such an acronym, VBS stands for Vacation Bible School.  It's a Bible and catechetical opportunity for parish kids and guests sponsored by churches during the kids' summer vacation.

I've been told that in this area and some other rural midwest areas, VBS has had a variety of names throughout the years and also a variety of methods and timelines.  The one I found most interesting was that some churches that did not have a Christian Day School would hire a Christian Day school teacher from a different area to spend a chunk of his or her summer vacation teaching religion to the parish youth.  This lasted often even for a month or more each summer.  It was called parish school, church school, summer school, or parochial school.

When I was young, in Washington State, I think our VBS was all day for a five day week.  Most programs today seem to be geared toward 1/2 days for five days.

What Joe has worked out here that seems to work the best is that we use a program geared for a five day week, but have school for three full days.  The second half of the third day is a program or special activity of some sort.

The tradition here for crafts for many years has been that the older two classes do a nativity set during their last years of VBS.  In the end, they are able to take home a nicely painted porcelain nativity to use in their home and to remember their VBS years.  There were ladies here previously who had quite a system down for teaching the kids about the use of paints and layers and different looks.  Some kids had very colorful nativities, others had more antiqued or even a bisque white look.  They all ended up very nicely done.

Another tradition that these churches follow is that since its the parents' job to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), the teachers of both Sunday school and VBS are expected to be the parents of the children attending.  There are usually a few non-parents who step up to help out.  This tradition is much different from the one with which I grew up.  I grew up in a tradition that asked particular people to teach the youth.  The people who were most knowledgeable Scripturally and who had a certain affinity for teaching or working with groups of children were the ones asked to teach.  I see the validity of both systems.  But because this tradition is so unlike that to which I was accustomed, it was a bit hard for me to get used to this system when we first moved up here.

One of the drawbacks to this system is that if a certain parent is skilled in a particular area of teaching, when that parent's youngest child has been confirmed, such a parent generally is ready to be done teaching.  The VBS program can really feel the absence of such a person.  For the first 7 years we were here, two ladies did the nativity sets with the kids.  They ordered the sets as each child attained the age to do the nativity.  They took care of the paints and the brushes.  They taught the kids how to end up with a great finished product.  But four and then two years ago, these ladies had their youngest children confirmed, so they are no longer with our VBS program.

Hence, the painting of nativities seems to be coming to a standstill.  There are some belonging to the older kids, which are in various stages of paintedness; and the younger kids reaching the age when they ought to start theirs have not started them.  When we talked about it this year, prior to the start of VBS, there seemed to be nobody who felt ready to pick up the ball and keep the tradition going.

Another change to our VBS recently is the huge increase in the number of children attending.  For the first several years we were here, the attendees were mostly from two of the congregations, with an occasional child or couple of children from the other two.  But those other two churches have been so blessed with young families coming in that we now have a steady attendance from all four churches.  This year we had I believe, 35 children attend VBS.  We had eight non-member children attend.  We were missing several of our bigger family groups, because of conflicting obligations.  Had these groups been able to attend, we might have had up to 50 little ones attend VBS.  What a blessing to live among thriving and growing rural churches where the young people return to live near home when they are ready to raise their families!

This year we had one of our newer members offer to do the crafts.  Thank you so much to Lissette R.  What a feat, to handle all that, when you haven't been around in previous years to have a feel for how things work.  You did a great job!

Kelly M. taught our 7 three year olds.  Wow, Kellie!  What patience and organization!

Laura V. taught 6 PK and Kindergarteners.  She did such a nice job managing all those little ones and keeping them still and orderly!

I taught 6 first and second graders.  I did not feel quite as organized as I would have liked, but we made it through the week and I think they learned something.  They were fun kids to work with.

Tami S. taught 9 kids in grades three through six.  Tami also teaches that age group in our Wednesday school, so she has a good handle on what they are capable of.  Besides teaching the Bible stories, she works with them to get the catechism memorized and makes sure they are prepared for the higher level doctrinal discussions that confirmation class will eventually require.

Pastor taught the confirmation aged kids.  I believe he had 7 kids, but I don't have the list on this computer to check for sure.  He teaches them the stories, and works with them on the memorization, but also gets deeper into the bigger picture lessons the program is designed to teach.

I ought to explain here that my husband is a pastoral perfectionist.  One look at our house or his garage and nobody would peg him as a perfectionist.  But when it comes to his church work, he is. 

This perfectionism makes it very hard for him to use any pre-packaged materials.  Generally he either writes his own, or purchases from a group that offers a few pre-done programs that follow his preference for bare bones Bible and catechism studies.  The way Joe sees it, in a parish without a Christian Day School, if you only have the kids for three days a summer, you better make sure the stuff they are learning is of eternal value. 

So yes, this means no clowns, no space aliens, no wild west or tours of famous cities, in the name of teaching the gospel to the little ones.  Who wants the kids to remember the clowns or the other characters or places, but forget the Biblical content of what they've learned.

The program Joe hoped to purchase this year was a program on the Bible as a whole, done by the Answers in Genesis group.  This particular program used the acronym BASIC Training, where 'B' stood for the Bible, and focused on the unique nature of the Bible.  'A' stood for Authority, and taught that the Bible speaks truth and is the Authority about God's will. 'S' stood for Salvation and focused on the message of Salvation in Jesus.  'I' stood for Instruction and taught the purpose of the Bible being Instruction in righteousness.  'C' stood for the Confidence we can have in our Salvation.

OK, yes, the program did have space aliens, but from what we had heard, it sounded as though that part could be toned down at the discretion of the pastor and teachers. But when the materials came in the mail, they were apparently based more strongly on the life of some famous British Christian guy (John Wesley, maybe?  Or William Tyndale?  I've forgotten who Joe said) than on the Bible. Perhaps this man lead a good and noble life, but the knowledge of his life and work will not get kids into heaven.   Hmmm.   (I'm curious as to how they combined a historical British man of faith with space aliens, but then, what do I know.  I didn't read the original material.)

After receiving the sample packet, with very little time to spare, Joe took the original and added or changed the Biblical content, and got rid of the biography of the famous Christian and the space aliens.  Since Answers in Genesis is not from a Sacramental tradition, he also had to change the focus of the "C is for confidence" lesson.  Instead of exhorting the children to look to their decision to follow Christ and the intensity of their prayer life, he tweaked it to teach the Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, as the source of our confidence in Salvation.

In the middle of the rush to get the program rewritten, a storm ripped through southern Minnesota and blew more than twenty-five trees down on Joe's parents farm, one of which was landed on their house.  It is at times like this that the life of a pastor can pose a unique tight spot in a person's life.  Joe's parents had an emergency.  They have no other living children.  Joe is called to serve our churches here, way up in northern Minnesota, with God's Word.  But he is also called to be a son, and to honor and support his parents.

I'm not sure whether Joe had even considered going to help his folks.  Of course he wanted to.  He simply did not see it as a possibility.  But thank you to Kelly L., who called and encouraged him to consider going.  Just as God can provide help for Joe's parents, so too, the churches would get by without their pastor for a weekend.  The VBS prep would all work out.

So Joe finished the VBS re-write, got his sermon to the deacons at all four churches for them to read for him, using the family devotional Service of Prime.  Then he and our oldest boys left to help Grandma and Grandpa.  It turned out to be a very good thing for Joe, since some aunts and uncles and cousins who he doesn't get to see as often as he'd like came to help also.  Thanks to all those who brought man power and machine power to get such a big job done quickly.

The Kelly M and I, and Lissette with her crafts, finished up most of the prep work without him.  We ended up starting a little bit late on Wednesday, but the kids had fun playing and getting reacquainted.  And without further ado, we started in and had a successful week.

All the kids left with a tie-dyed T-shirt.  Instead of the nativities, Joe helped the older kids each make a flute. The younger kids made bookmarks, cross wall hangings, a tracing of themselves, and a picture frame.  Lissette took pictures during the days of VBS, so she took the frames home and will insert a picture for the kids and then deliver them to each church for pick-up.

On Friday afternoon, we invited parents, relations, and friends for the program the kids gave.   Several of the moms and grandmas provided bars for the standard, "Minnesota lunch,"  after which the kids gathered all their projects and headed home.

And it was three days of a wonderful whirlwind!

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