A New Twist on VBS
Van UMC and Dickinson UMC applied creativity and intentionality when hosting this annual tradition in new ways this summer.
Youngsters in the Dickinson community stepped back in time to experience life in Egypt, complete with an 8-foot, three-dimensional pyramid. Thanks to the creative ingenuity of Faith UMC led by youth ministry leader Helen Childs the “Joseph’s Journey from Prison to Palace” theme unfolded throughout the week of June 13. The youth were organized in “Egyptian families” to enhance the reality of the role-play experience. The church estimates 85% of the participants were guests (non-members) of the church.
Meanwhile, in the heart of East Texas children also enjoyed the annual Vacation Bible School at Van UMC, but this year, Van members added a similar event for people of all ages with special needs. “One dad who attended was looking for his son during assembly,” shares Van UMC pastor Mark McClanahan, “and when he couldn't find him, started to get worried only to eventually find him up front helping to lead songs.” Another heartwarming story involved a girl who could hardly get to church fast enough. Notes Mark, "She told her mom, ‘I want to go right now,’ and when stopped by construction on the way, she then asked indignantly, ‘Are we or are we not going to the church?’”
The Back Story: Faith United Methodist Church
In a stroke of genius, churches within Dickinson’s Ministerial Alliance preplan and coordinate dates to stagger their VBS programs. The sequentially held events provide youth with a continued period of fun-filled spiritual activities to help jump-start their summer vacation. According to Rev. Lorraine Brown, Faith led this year’s VBS schedule by taking 78 participants on a journey of Joseph’s life from prison to palace. In contrast to their assignment to classes based on age, youth were divided in to four Egyptian families that explored the concepts of hope, spiritual gifts, wisdom, and forgiveness. “Throughout the week, youth explored how these biblical principles came to play in Joseph’s life from the time he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, through his stay in an Egyptian prison, his appointment as the pharaoh’s trusted advisor and finally, as the forgiving benefactor who saved his entire family,” shares Helen.
The week was hands-on and highly interactive. Another new and ingenious wrinkle engaged parents as well. “This year,” notes Helen, “Rev. Walters, as VBS coordinator, encouraged the parents to stay and become a member of their child's Egyptian family. We began each day together in celebration singing songs of praise with lively animated dance movements.” They then recessed to their family groups for family time where they learned a centering scripture that coordinated with the Bible principle for that day. Adds Helen, “A large part of the biblical account of Joseph's life centered around his family interaction so we organize the VBS participants into the: (1) Rosetta Family (2) Memphis Family (3) Giza Family and (4) Amarna Family.” During family time, the group discussed Egyptian family life and today’s family life. Afterwards, some families then journeyed to a staged replica of an Egyptian prison where Joseph (played by member Marcellus Walters), recounted his story of how he ended up in prison. Other families visited the market place, an important part of Egyptian family life, where the participants assembled various crafts. Finally, the families visited Joseph at the beautifully decorated palace. There, they also met the pharaoh (played by Marvin Walters). Participants learned how God was faithful with Joseph throughout his life’s journey. Each day, before adjourning, participants were told to keep an eye out for God in today’s life through “God sightings.” The next day, they wrote the God sightings on stone-pattern paper used to replicate the stones of Egyptian pyramids. These replicated stones were pasted on cardboard boxes and assembled each day to gradually build the 8-ft., three-dimensional pyramid that served as a focal point for the theme. As reiterated by Senior Pastor Rev. Lorraine Brown, “Vacation Bible school is very important to Faith since children ministries has always been a core value of the church.” This year’s effort led by Associate Pastor Diedra Walters, reaffirmed the church’s continued commitment to offer God’s love and teachings to children. Rev. Walters agreed, “By the excited smiles on the participants faces, we are assured that through this year’s journey with Joseph, the children did experience God’s love and spiritual growth.”
The Back Story: Special Needs VBS at Van UMC
“Most churches, including ours,” says Rev. Mark McClanahan, “really don't offer or know how to offer ministries for folks with special needs. However, a woman in our church, Angie Hullum, is a therapist who works with special needs kids in schools and she mentioned she wished churches could do something for these kids.” This pulled on the pastor’s heartstrings for several reasons. “I, too, have a vested interest in churches reaching out to special needs folks as my youngest son, Caleb, has autism.”
Within a few months of that conversation, Van UMC was planning the first ever Special Needs Vacation Bible School with Angie as its leader and focused on showing God's love to a sometimes-forgotten population. “We had Vacation Bible School, like we always do, one week in June, then used much of the same curriculum and supplies for Special Needs Vacation Bible School in July,” he shares. Twelve very special people attended in July, including two who traveled more than an hour each way. Adds Mark, “Ages ranged from 4 to 52. Everything was simplified and shortened, and based on the smiles, all thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Many volunteers did double duty, including Angie and Linda Ridout, a member of Van’s VCI communications team. Adds Mark, “We had enough volunteers for the Special Needs Vacation Bible School to assign a VBS buddy for each of the participants. Additional volunteers led the various snack, game, music, and story stations while others staffed the parent/caregiver lounge we had available to offer both respite time and supportive fellowship.”
Shares Angie, “The special needs VBS was the highlight of my summer! It honestly will be the first thing I share with my co-workers when I return to work. The participants were such a blessing to me, something that I will never forget.”
The goal of showing God's love was more than met as not only were Van volunteers able to share Jesus's love with the participants, the attendees reflected God’s love in return. “For me, as a pastor, this was one of the most joyful experiences I've had,” says Mark. “One of our leaders was heard to say, I've had my holy moment,’ and another asked, ‘Why haven't we done this before?’”