Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Paean to Vacation Bible School

I'll do VBS anywhere, anyhow. Just finished up another week of it, this summer hosted at Rolling Hills Baptist just down the street from Good Shepherd. We do an ecumenical VBS here in Fayetteville in cooperation with First Christian and Rolling Hills and Good Shepherd Lutheran. Because that's how we roll.

Water was the theme, all the ways God has saved through water in Scripture and in our lives. Straightforward bible theme that allowed lots of projects that helped the group escape from the summer heat. Outstanding teamwork on the part of the church staff(s) and volunteer leaders.

Speaking of heat, the summer I traveled for VBS's up and down the Rocky Mountain Synod, I put in a week in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The third day of VBS, this preschooler who everyone thought was the cutest child in the world, called out, "It's hotter than a one minute cheese melter out here." It was 110 degrees. I still don't know what a one minute cheese melter is, but I'll remember that sentence forever.

The very next week, after a wonderful week in Las Cruces (White Sands nearby is the most beautiful place I have ever been), we led VBS at a church in downtown El Paso. We started the week with 20 kids. We ended the week with 120 kids. I don't speak Spanish. But I learned how to say stand up, sit down, sing this please, etc. rather quickly. That week we made things up as we go, the inviting nature of the children transforming our VBS daily as we went along.

During seminary, I served as youth director at Peace Lutheran in Plymouth, MN. That summer we did a space-themed VBS. My senior pastor, Andy Sedlins, is a polymath and jack-of-all-trades. The week before VBS, he built an entire replica of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Campers came in through a kind of tunnel--the sanctuary had been emptied of all chairs and darkened, and each day we came out as characters in a space drama.

I was a robot. A wild and crazy robot who played guitar.

Mid-week I led a session building Estes model rockets. Late in the week a professional model helicopter pilot brought in a helicopter and did a demonstration. It was without a doubt the most complex, rich, quirky, and awesome VBS I have ever helped to put together. I think the camp staff that came out to help us with the week thought we were insane.

I've done VBS in Slovakia. I've done VBS in Mexico. I've done VBS in Lodge Grass, Montana, and Lynne, Massachussets. I've done VBS in seven different U.S. States. I've done VBS in the morning. I've done VBS at night. In most cases, my main gig has been to play guitar and teach camp songs.

I totally think VBS is perhaps one of the best summer inventions of all time.

Often folks get into debates about whether or not various VBS "themes" get in the way of making VBS about "Bible" and "Jesus." I typically find these debates misguided. Yes, you can do a VBS that is totally just bible. I've seen it done. You can make it developmentally appropriate. You can keep it focused, no gimmicks.

But VBS is more than just "Bible." It is also "vacation." So I love some of the theme stuff out there put out by the publishing houses, like "African Safari," "Kingdom Rock," "Holy Land Adventure," "re:new," "Promise Island," and so on. Yes, they're gimmicky. Yes, they want to sell you stuff to decorate your church. But short of flying the whole group of campers to a tropical island, setting a theme makes the week feel a little more away and free.

And decorations are fun! Streamers mean a party. And that is what I love about VBS. VBS more than anything else of which I'm aware turns church into a week long party.

More church should be like VBS. Most adults would benefit from a VBS experience for adults.

So I say game-on. And I think my friend Andy still has that robot costume stowed away somewhere in the attic of Peace Lutheran. I'd be happy to make a road trip to go grab it.

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