July 1, 2016

VBS for the Community!

We thought we were going to have to cancel it, just like another local congregation did for theirs. This summer’s Vacation Bible School, held at St. George’s and sponsored by both Church of the Ascension, Lexington Park, and St. George’s, Valley Lee, was on the calendar for a while. Our congregation’s VBS coordinator and, all around, VBS cheerleader was getting stuff ready. The starter kit was purchased, and plans were being made. The roadside banner was ordered, and the website set-up.

But no one was registered. A few registrations started to come in in the past month or so, one after another. But just a few. A bunch of our congregation’s regular kids and families were busy that week, they said, or they couldn’t otherwise commit to attending. Some were out of town on vacation or work trips. Should we cancel, too, we wondered?

Instead of cancelling, we decided to expand it. I told the VBS coordinator that I, for one, was ‘all in,’ and even if we had just a handful of kids it’d be well worth it. I was looking forward to a great week of formation and fun – and looking forward to helping touch the lives of those whom we know already, and those whom (I hoped) we didn’t yet know. Instead of 9 am to noon, or during the evenings, as some congregations tend to do, we even expanded the whole day, starting at 9 am and running to 3 pm – and leaving time for the parents to drop off the kids beforehand and pick them up anytime after the close-up time. Lunch and snacks were provided, we told the parents.

Our local postmaster inspired this idea last summer, at least in my head. “Why don’t you guys have a day camp?” she asked me last year, admitting that she was looking for a safe and positive place to bring her two children during the days and, plus, she drives past our church every day on her way to the Valley Lee post office. My answer made sense to me, and it’s probably what a lot of church leadership says: “It’s too much work and we don’t have the capacity to pull off a day camp.” Like I said, that answer made sense to me and, to boot, it was technically correct. But it’s not the answer she was looking for, nor is it, I think, a satisfactory statement on the part of the Body of Christ.

That’s why her question stuck in my head, rumbling around in there ever since she asked it last summer. Why don’t we have a day camp? We offer Vacation Bible School, I realized, but we offer it at times that aren’t necessarily conducive to parents and working families. And even if we offer it in the evenings, which we’ve tried before, I’m not so sure I want to endorse the idea of already-stressed-out, working families burning their candle at every which end! I don’t think that’s the mission of the church.

Plus, we realized, to expand a basic VBS program from three hours to six hours isn’t that hard. In fact, once you make the lesson periods 45 minutes long – expanding them from the suggested 20 minute blocks – you’re already at a full day’s schedule. Also, we’re talking about kids so you necessarily have to budget more than 20 minutes in each block in order to move them back and forth and help communicate even a simple lesson plan. Add to that a lunch time and play time – kind of like recess after the mid-day meal – and you have more than a full day planned. It’s a lot easier to do a day-long VBS which focuses on the kids, and the kids above all else, than a quick shot in the morning or evening with all the attention focused on the adult leaders and how the parish hall should be decorated. (That assumes the congregation has enough volunteers, of course, but if raising up a suitable number of volunteers is a problem, it’s no more, or less of a problem for a three-hour session compared to a six-hour offering.)

So that’s what we did. We had the banner say ‘9 am to 3 pm,’ and we put one at Ascension and another on the main highway. I paid $20 for a Facebook advertisement, which officially sponsored the announcement, linked it to St. George’s website, and in the five days leading up to VBS landed the ad in nearly 800 local news feeds. As of Sunday, the day before VBS, we still had only a few registered. On Sunday afternoon, the calls started to come in. On Monday morning, familiar faces walked through the door, as well as children and families who live in the area but whom we hadn’t met yet, as well. On Tuesday a few more came; same thing on Wednesday, and Friday, too. “Can we come to your VBS?” said a few, “We heard about it from our neighbor.” Or: “We saw the sign on the highway and wanted to come in. Is it okay if I drop off my daughter”?

This year’s VBS was well attended and, even more so, it was a blast! I was exhausted at the end of each day, but it was a holy and great exhaustion. We fed those children who came, literally and theologically, and they, I think, had a great time forming a unique community unto themselves that week, quite honestly taking over every part of our parish hall. And, even more amazing, nearly one-half of those children who attended were not members of this congregation, had never before stepped foot at St. George’s or Ascension, and yet who live in our immediate community.

Should we have cancelled it? No, we did the very best thing when we went the exact opposite direction – expanded it so that all may come!

Don't miss a blog post! Subscribe via email or RSS, using the grey box on the upper right.