Learn­ing to share, learn­ing to care

Va­ca­tion Bi­ble schools of­fer kids a chance to stretch them­selves spir­i­tu­ally while hav­ing fun

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW CEPHAS acephas@somd­news.com

Ev­ery sum­mer, churches in South­ern Mary­land host week-long pro­grams known as va­ca­tion Bi­ble school to give kids an op­por­tu­nity to grow spir­i­tu­ally while hav­ing fun with their peers.

He­roes come in all sizes

Capes were blow­ing in the wind in Prince Fred­er­ick the week of July 10 as Trin­ity United Methodist Church held its an­nual VBS with a su­per­hero theme. Walk­ing up the steps to­ward the church, one could see chil­dren draped in the gar­ments of their su­per­hero of choice.

“We’ve hit 77 kids en­rolled this year. That’s an in­crease from 2016,” said Trin­ity United’s co­or­di­na­tor of Chris­tian ed­u­ca­tion, Rayelle Fin­layson, who just fin­ished her sec­ond year as VBS direc­tor. “I think there would be a big­ger en­roll­ment if it was an all-day pro­gram. Be­cause it’s a half-day and par­ents work, we do see a lot of peo­ple not do it.”

Trin­ity United Methodist Church’s VBS, which ran from 9 a.m. to noon, was pro­moted in church and fliers were dis­trib­uted to Calvert Li­brary and lo­cal schools. Dur­ing the pro­gram, chil­dren at­tend

var­i­ous ed­u­ca­tional and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar sta­tions for set in­cre­ments of time be­fore ro­tat­ing to the next sta­tion. Th­ese sta­tions in­clude story time, arts and crafts, singing, snacks and recre­ational games.

“Snack is a fa­vorite sta­tion. I would say that craft time is also a re­ally big deal. They en­joy the crafts that they get to take home,” Fin­layson said.

The va­ca­tion Bi­ble school had 10 to 15 adult vol­un­teers along with a large num­ber of youth vol­un­teers, who have aged out of the pro­gram. Fin­layson ex­plained that most of the vol­un­teers come from Trin­ity United, but she’s look­ing to ex­pand in fu­ture years by of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to lo­cal stu­dents who need ser­vice hours.

Re­fer­ring to the per­cent­age of VBS at­ten­dees who don’t have con­sis­tent church at­ten­dance, Fin­layson said the big­gest pur­pose of the pro­gram is “to let kids hear and know that Je­sus loves them and that the Bi­ble and Je­sus have the an­swers for life.

“Ob­vi­ously, some of th­ese kids are go­ing through a ton of things at home that we’ll never know about and it’s just our one chance to give them hope and give them those an­swers they might be search­ing for a lot,” she said. “Even if they’re not hit­ting hard times now, I know that as they grow up, they will,” she re­layed. “I hope that some­thing from VBS will stick with them when they hit those hard times.”

Fin­layson be­gan her work with Trin­ity United’s va­ca­tion bi­ble school in 2015 as a vol­un­teer be­fore ap­ply­ing

for the direc­tor po­si­tion the fol­low­ing year. Ini­tially not ex­pect­ing to ob­tain the po­si­tion, she said her time as direc­tor has been quite pos­i­tive.

“I’ve learned that you kind of have to work with what you get. We’ve lost a cou­ple of our key vol­un­teers and I’ve re­ally felt the hit this year. I’ve learned how to roll with those punches and how to bring new peo­ple aboard. Va­ca­tion Bi­ble school is not a one-man show. I’ve known that in the past, but I’ve re­ally felt it this year,” Fin­layson said when asked what she has learned as direc­tor.

Fin­layson ex­pressed how fun and en­gag­ing the job is, de­scrib­ing the joy she feels in see­ing the kids who come back an­nu­ally with high ex­pec­ta­tions and ex­cite­ment about the new theme and songs.

“Hon­estly what I’ve seen over the last two years di­rect­ing is [that] I un­der­es­ti­mate how much kids learn dur­ing our week of VBS. I un­der­es­ti­mate how much they’re re­ally get­ting. But I see them walk­ing through the halls and they’re recit­ing every­thing we’ve said to them. They go home and sing the songs and they re­ally do get it,” she said with a smile on her face. “It’s re­ally im­pres­sive.”

While grow­ing up in New Jersey, Fin­layson at­tended and vol­un­teered at va­ca­tion Bi­ble schools. She said VBS has been a big part of her life, and she aims to leave the same im­pres­sion on the youth who at­tend Trin­ity United’s pro­gram.

The Rev. Jim Swecker of Trin­ity United said va­ca­tion Bi­ble school is al­ways a won­der­ful week.

“I love the fact that it opens the church to the com­mu­nity and so many folks from the com­mu­nity come in. When that hap­pens a lot of fam­i­lies and chil­dren are af­fected and helped. It’s a re­ally big week for us,” Swecker said.

Ex­plor­ing the uni­verse

Win­dows were dimmed and dec­o­ra­tions of stars and plan­ets were sus­pended from the ceil­ing in Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist Church for its “ga­lac­tic star­veyor”-themed VBS, aim­ing to in­form youth that the same God who cre­ated the uni­verse loves them and wants to have a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship.

“The theme is search­ing the vis­i­ble, dis­cov­er­ing the in­vis­i­ble, so the kids are look­ing out to­ward the stars and look­ing at all that God cre­ated in the uni­verse that they can see. But they’re dis­cov­er­ing who God is,” VBS direc­tor Keri John­ston said, in­di­cat­ing some other Bap­tist churches in the area are do­ing the theme as well.

Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist’s va­ca­tion Bi­ble school ran morn­ings from July 24 to 28. John­ston said the pro­gram saw its high­est en­roll­ment with 200 chil­dren from preschool to sixth grade.

“A lot of those kids are kids who al­ready go to a church and the par­ents are want­ing to send them to dif­fer­ent va­ca­tion Bi­ble schools that dif­fer­ent churches around of­fer. At least 10 per­cent of our kids come from a back­ground where they don’t go to church,” John­ston ap­prised, de­scrib­ing an agree­ment be­tween the church and the St. Mary’s County pub­lic school sys­tem to send fliers to lo­cal ele­men­tary schools at the end of the school year.

When chil­dren walked into the church for VBS, they en­tered a 20-minute wor­ship rally where they sang songs and watched skits be­fore go­ing to age-spe­cific bi­ble stud­ies. They then ro­tated to var­i­ous sta­tions that of­fer ac­tiv­i­ties like mu­sic, snacks, arts and crafts, re­cre­ation time and mis­sion pro­jects.

“A lot of the boys seem to love re­cre­ation be­cause they get to run around and get all that energy out and play games. You see a lot of the girls get­ting into the crafts be­cause it’s some­thing they can go and make and get to take home. A lot of them re­ally en­joy the mu­sic, too. It re­ally de­pends on what that child’s in­ter­ests are,” John­ston said. “That’s what I like about [VBS], be­cause you can reach ev­ery­one and what they like. You’re go­ing to have some­thing that ap­peals to each in­di­vid­ual child.”

This year’s mis­sion project is in con­junc­tion with Op­er­a­tion Christ­mas Child, as chil­dren were asked to bring in school sup­plies to be put into shoe­boxes that the church puts to­gether. The project was made a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the boys and the girls, al­though John­ston jokes that the girls may have an ad­van­tage, as the sup­plies they were asked to bring in weigh more than the sup­plies re­quested from the boys.

Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist’s VBS had 67 vol­un­teers this year, the high­est num­ber the pro­gram has seen. Most of the vol­un­teers were women and youth, and many of them are mem­bers of Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist.

“This year we have a lot and we need ev­ery sin­gle one just to en­sure the kids are safe and con­trolled. Some­times it’s hard to find as many vol­un­teers as we need be­cause we do it dur­ing the day, so I’m re­ally, re­ally pleased at the num­ber we have this year. It’s great,” John­ston said, in­di­cat­ing the church held va­ca­tion Bi­ble school in the evening a pre­vi­ous year and saw a low turnout in at­ten­dees.

Carla Werme, mis­sion leader for the VBS, has been vol­un­teer­ing with the pro­gram for more than six years. She said her pas­sion for shar­ing God’s word and in­ter­act­ing with the chil­dren is what brings her back ev­ery year.

Fin­ish­ing up her eighth year as direc­tor, John­ston said she has al­ways loved teach­ing and see­ing the joy on kids’ faces when they learn some­thing. A

prod­uct of va­ca­tion bi­ble school her­self, John­ston re­layed that she wanted ev­ery child to leave VBS know­ing God loves them and has a plan for their life. When asked what she en­joys most about va­ca­tion bi­ble school, John­ston said “see­ing the kids ex­cited and happy and learn­ing about Je­sus.

“The big­gest thing I’ve learned as direc­tor is be­ing flex­i­ble and pre­pared. You never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen when there’s 200 kids and 60some adults help­ing. You need to be on your toes and ready for any­thing that’s go­ing to come your way,” she said, adding that the church be­gins pre­par­ing for the VBS in Jan­uary.

Learn­ing from Jonah

Chil­dren at Our Lady Help of Chris­tians Catholic Church in Wal­dorf spent July 24 to 28 learn­ing the Old Tes­ta­ment story of Jonah to recreate it dur­ing a mu­si­cal for their par­ents.

“The story teaches the youth to show for­give­ness just like God did to Jonah. It also shows them that you can’t es­cape God’s plan for you,” the Rev. Alain Col­liou said in the sanc­tu­ary while watch­ing the kids re­hearse for the mu­si­cal.

Around 70 chil­dren from age 4 to 11 en­rolled to Our Lady Help of Chris­tian’s fourth an­nual VBS, along with 50 youth vol­un­teers who as­sisted through­out the week.

“Usu­ally our num­ber is higher, but be­cause ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions tak­ing place in the church our space is re­stricted. We’re do­ing a whole dif­fer­ent style this year and we’ve writ­ten our own va­ca­tion Bi­ble school plan,” said Therese Thiede­man, VBS direc­tor and direc­tor of re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion. They even pre­pared a 35-minute mu­si­cal.

Thiede­man said most of the VBS at­ten­dees come from their church or neigh­bor­ing Catholic churches, al­though there are some non-Catholic chil­dren who at­tend as well. And of course, all were wel­comed.

The chil­dren learned and dis­cussed the bib­li­cal story of Jonah through­out the week to pre­pare for the play.

Jonah was a He­brew prophet who was sent by God to proph­esy the de­struc­tion of the an­cient city of Nin­eveh. Jonah at­tempted to stray from God’s path by board­ing a ship and ended up in the belly of a whale for three days be­fore re­pent­ing for his dis­obe­di­ence and thank­ing God for his mercy. The whale sub­se­quently spat Jonah out, and he wised up and fol­lowed God’s plan.

The chil­dren at­tend­ing Our Lady Help of Chris­tians’ VBS ro­tated to var­i­ous sta­tions, in­clud­ing drama, mu­sic, crafts, games and snacks. Thiede­man said faith is the thread that con­nects the sta­tions as vol­un­teers stressed for­give­ness, mercy, re­spon­si­bil­ity and re­spond­ing to God’s call.

“Chil­dren are try­ing out for the roles, al­though I pre­cast a cou­ple roles to some of the older kids. Each group has a spe­cial part to play like the 4- and 5-year-olds are fish and the 6- and 7-year-olds feed the whale, and the 8- and 9-year-olds are the sailors, and the 10- and 11-yearolds are the Ninevites. They all have a sec­tion to do so we can work on the whole play as we rotate around,” Thiede­man said, in­di­cat­ing chil­dren make props and cos­tume pieces dur­ing crafts.

Over her years di­rect­ing, Thiede­man said she has learned to trust the ideas of oth­ers.

“I have my ideas and I come in with my ideas, but you form a good team around you and you get peo­ple who re­ally want to par­tic­i­pate and you let them be part of the process,” Thiede­man said. “What I love most about di­rect­ing is the peo­ple. I love see­ing the kids happy, joy­ful and hands on learn­ing about God. I love see­ing the adults and youth in­ter­act­ing with them as well.”

Dis­tin­guish­ing Catholic VBS from other de­nom­i­na­tions, Thiede­man said they al­ways try to in­cor­po­rate the sacra­ments. This year the VBS had the op­por­tu­nity for a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, or con­fes­sion.

“Those who have al­ready re­ceived the sacra­ment of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion for the first time — usu­ally 7-year-olds and above — will also have the op­por­tu­nity to once again ex­pe­ri­ence the Lord’s mercy and for­give­ness through this grace-filled sacra­ment dur­ing the week,” Thiede­man said.

Col­liou, who has been pas­tor for eight years, noted how fast the kids learned the play and songs. He re­ferred to Jonah as a beau­ti­ful story for the kids to learn and ex­pressed how proud he was in the at­ten­dees and vol­un­teers.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

Above, chil­dren at­tend­ing Trin­ity United Methodist Church’s su­per­hero themed va­ca­tion Bi­ble school play with a beach ball out­side the church dur­ing re­cre­ation time while youth vol­un­teers as­sist. Be­low, chil­dren play a round of duck, duck, goose out­side Trin­ity United Methodist Church dur­ing the an­nual va­ca­tion Bi­ble school July 12.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

Chil­dren at Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist Church’s va­ca­tion bi­ble school got the op­por­tu­nity to play in­door bowl­ing at their re­cre­ation sta­tion.

Vol­un­teers at Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist Church’s va­ca­tion bi­ble school lead chil­dren from their wor­ship rally to their in­di­vid­ual bi­ble stud­ies July 28.

Preschool­ers make bead bracelets at their arts and crafts sta­tion at Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist Church’s an­nual va­ca­tion Bi­ble school.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

At­ten­dees of Trin­ity United Methodist Church’s va­ca­tion Bi­ble school en­joy snacks July 12.

Therese Thiede­man, direc­tor of re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion for Our Lady Help of Chris­tians Catholic Church, speaks to a group of chil­dren about the story of Jonah.

Chil­dren at Our Lady Help of Chris­tians Catholic Church’s va­ca­tion bi­ble school re­hearse their “Oh Jonah!” mu­si­cal July 25. The chil­dren per­formed the mu­si­cal for their fam­i­lies July 28.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

Chil­dren pre­pare for snack time at Our Lady Help of Chris­tians Catholic Church’s va­ca­tion bi­ble school.

Preschool chil­dren sing one of their fa­vorite songs about lov­ing Je­sus and do the ac­com­pa­ny­ing dance at their mu­sic sta­tion dur­ing Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist Church’s va­ca­tion Bi­ble school.

First- and sec­ond-graders re­cite Bi­ble verses dur­ing their Bi­ble study time July 28 at Lex­ing­ton Park Bap­tist Church’s an­nual va­ca­tion Bi­ble school.

Youth vol­un­teers lead chil­dren in a song at Our Lady Help of Chris­tians Catholic Church’s va­ca­tion bi­ble school.

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