This is the first article in a four-part series about winning hearts and minds in the summer through Vacation Bible School. We start by looking at choosing a Vacation Bible School program.
I’ve been looking at Vacation Bible School (VBS) flyers and previewing Web sites since Advent, when summer seemed a distant date on the calendar, something I could put at the very bottom of my ever lengthening to-do list. By early March, I’m still anxiously debating which summer program is just right for my particular group of families. When I feel I should be unpacking my Starter Kit, I’m still debating between pandas and beaches, or maybe outer space. And what do these themes have to do with the Bible, anyway? Through the anxiety, however, I know the excitement of planning and preparing for a summer Bible program presents a new catechetical moment in the life of the parish.
How to Select a VBS Program
If you’re a veteran of the VBS scene, you may be familiar with choosing a Vacation Bible School program. If you’re new to the VBS scene and you’ve just been handed the responsibility of making this decision, you may be overwhelmed by the choices and wondering how one goes about deciding which VBS program to pick. And if you’ve never been involved in Vacation Bible School, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about and why Catholic churches are enthusiastically embracing what once was a primarily Protestant venture. How do the decisions you make regarding Vacation Bible School in your parish make a difference in the faith lives of children? How can a thoughtfully chosen VBS win the hearts and minds of children and their families?
When choosing a VBS program, I generally find it helpful to prayerfully reflect on who the families are and what their spiritual needs might be. Summer Bible programs offer the opportunity to engage children in faith experiences outside the confines of textbooks, assessments, and classroom walls. Through music, games, crafts, drama, prayer, and reflection, children are exposed to stories of faith in captivating ways. But determining which stories my families need to hear and reflect upon takes insight and spiritual guidance. I need to be paying attention all year to the spirituality and personality of my families in order to select the right VBS program for them. And which families am I trying to reach? Is it the “always available, ready to help with anything” family? Or the “barely noticeable, hardly ever there” family? My selection just might turn the “barely noticeable” into the “always available.” Before making a selection, I like to sit quietly with a list of families, and try to bring each family to the Lord in prayer, asking for the right program for these particular people. When I am able to do so, I can move forward with confidence that God’s Spirit will guide us all through the challenges of making VBS a reality.
Choosing a Theme with the Whole Parish in Mind
I also try to keep the needs of the parish community in mind when selecting a VBS program. Summer programs offer parishes an opportunity to highlight an ongoing effort of the community or reinforce a message for the whole community. For example, when our parish was in the midst of a major building project, we chose a construction theme for our Vacation Bible School. Children ran around wearing plastic construction hats and sang about building the Kingdom of God. The year we chose a “Fruits of the Spirit” County Fair theme, the down-on-the-farm feel captured the attention of all members of our rural parish and reinforced the message of “bearing fruit” during our Fall stewardship drive. Choosing a theme with the whole parish in mind can create a unifying, community building moment in the life of the parish.
Whatever program you select, it has to make sense for your particular location. When the message can be applied directly to existing circumstances, the whole community can embrace the program and be transformed by it. Whether you are still deciding or already decorating, continue to ask how the faith message of your Vacation Bible School can win the hearts and minds of everyone involved.