Fr. Peter J. Daly
June 24, 2002
Vacation Bible School is over. It was fun (and work) while it lasted.
For a whole week we had a big top tent on the field outside our parish center. We had teenagers dressed up like acrobats, lion tamers and cowboys. We had cotton candy machines and popcorn makers. We had sing alongs and skits. We had face painting and craft making, and, of course, nearly continuous “snack time.”
The camp had about 90 children and more than 70 volunteers. Little kids travel heavy and they need a lot of supervision. They had a first aid station, musical instruments, stage crew, costumes, and art supplies. And did I mention “snack time.” Lots of snack time.
For a week we taught them Bible stories. These stories included David and Goliath, Deborah the judge, Jesus’ cure of the blind man, the three young men in the furnace (from Daniel), and the conversion of Paul. By the end of the week the kids were on a first name basis with all the characters. In our closing mass I asked, “Who showed God’s wisdom?” One little boy cried out, “Debbie!”
Like many of our Protestant neighbors, Catholic Churches all across the country are now sponsoring “Vacation Bible Schools.” VBS is a kind of religious summer camp. Generally they include children from pre-school to fifth grade. After about fifth grade the children are too jaded or too busy to want to spend a week learning Bible stories.
These Bible schools are a nice “coda” to regular religious education. We can do things we can’t do in a regular classroom. (A tent is not a regular classroom). But it is no easy task.
Our parish started one year ahead of time. An organizational meeting attracted about 20 people. I was surprised. I soon discovered that there is a VBS circuit. Some people go from one church to another, putting their children in these schools as a healthy way to fill up idle summer hours.
In January we had another meeting and really got serious about dividing up the tasks. We got a director and an assistant.
In February the VBS “shows” start at Christian bookstores. These are largely just sales pitches from the various publishers of VBS materials. It is big business.
Most materials are designed for Protestant churches of a decidedly evangelical bent. However, many of the publishers have a “Catholic” version of their material, which always costs more. These “Catholic packages” are no different from the Protestant versions except for add on materials for a liturgy or a section on the saints.
Publishers could do a lot more to tap into the Catholic market if they charged less and had materials on the saints and the sacraments. Right now, Catholics are treated as an after thought.
These materials are expensive. Our package was about $3,000. But they include music and tapes, banners and signs, posters and directions. The package does not include the obligatory T-shirt, yellow for kids, red for volunteers.
The package is only the first step. Then we needed volunteers. I left this entirely to the parish. People came out of the woodwork. The teens were especially amazing. More than a dozen middle and high school youth volunteered to help as clowns and ringmasters and face painters and actors.
In the closing mass, the children all knew the songs from the week. The singing was thunderous. They had that volume thing down, even though they could still use a little work on the tone.
As they were going home on the last day one little boy was sitting a picnic cooler by the curb waiting for his mother. I heard him singing to himself, “Blind man sits by the road.” He will probably remember that Bible story all his life I thought. The week was a success.