With a sizzling summer thus far across the Southern Tier, a desert theme at several area vacation Bible schools has proven quite timely.
The schools have combined fun and spirituality through games, music, arts and crafts, and other activities. One popular vacation Bible school program in 2006 has been “Fiesta: Where Kids Are Fired Up About Jesus.” It includes such offerings as “grande games,” “maraca munchies” and “hot Bible adventures,” as well as theme-related costumes and songs.
“Fiesta” also centers around “Bible points” for each of the five days: Jesus is our friend; Jesus is our life; Jesus is our leader; Jesus is our savior; Jesus is our helper. Scripture passages are utilized to illustrate these points, such as Christ choosing the first disciples on the “leader” day, and Jesus’ death and resurrection as the basis for the “savior” theme.
“Fiesta” was incorporated into the Bible schools that took place at Immaculate Conception Parish, Ithaca, July 17-21; All Saints, Corning, July 24-28; and St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo/Our Lady of Lourdes, Elmira, July 24-27.
“We went with ‘Fiesta’ since it is put out by GROUP Publishing and we’ve had great success with their products in the past,” said Greg Wesley, Immaculate Conception’s pastoral minister for lifelong faith formation.
Meanwhile, All Saints in Lansing cosponsored a “Fiesta” vacation Bible school July 17-21 with Lansing United Methodist Church. It involved two evenings at All Saints, two at the Methodist church and a concluding picnic event at a nearby park. Andra Benson, All Saints’ director of religious education, said the churches have partnered every summer for approximately 30 years to put on a vacation Bible school.
“The first night we were expecting 40 or 50 and we had 70 to 80,” said Debbie Cretney, an All Saints parishioner who is a vacation Bible school organizer. “It’s really wonderful, the fellowship between the two churches — a nice celebration in the summer that all of us look forward to.”
“We’ve been doing many things together. We can be a nice presence in the town together,” Benson added. “It’s extremely successful. We’re exhausted at the end of the week, but it works.”
This year’s Lansing vacation Bible school added a nice human-interest component through a book collection. Benson explained that an All Saints parishioner, Taylor McLean, is stationed in Ghana with the Peace Corps and is seeing that the books get delivered to an orphanage housing children whose parents have died of AIDS.
“It was a terrific response — quite a few piles of books. And the (vacation Bible school) children wrote (the orphans) letters,” Benson said.
Benson noted that vacation Bible school can have a long-term impact on participants and their families.
“We really push people to invite their neighbors who are unchurched,” she said. “Every once in a while (after vacation Bible school concludes) the kids ask their parents to go to regular church.”
Ecumenism has pervaded other Bible schools as well, such as the one in Hammondsport July 26-30 that was open to all area churches, including St. Gabriel’s Parish. In addition, Holy Cross in Dryden took part in a vacation Bible school held June 25-29 at the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in town.
The Dryden vacation Bible school was among the summer’s earlier offerings, whereas Holy Family in northern Steuben/southern Livingston counties (Aug. 21-23) will hold its program on the later end. Themes tend to vary; for instance, within Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County, the offerings included “Veggie Tales” (July 31-Aug. 4 at St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin); “Polar Expeditions” (Aug. 7-11 at St. James, Waverly); and “Treasure Seekers” (Aug. 7-11 at Trout Ponds, Newark Valley).
Though the target students are in lower grades, vacation Bible school also is a good way to get older kids and parents involved. For instance, Wesley said that several parents offer to take on leadership roles, as do previous participants who are entering their teen years.
Wesley said the overall vacation Bible school experience “is such an incredibly energized, exciting and fun time for the kids taking part that they literally do not forget some of the things they learn here.”
He observed that “since it’s optional and fun,” vacation Bible school is eagerly anticipated by children “who perhaps don’t look forward quite as eagerly to Catholic school or religious education.”