A Good-Book for Summer Break Religious Lessons Are Tied to Fun-Filled Days for Area Youth Attending Vacation Bible School

Article excerpt

Summertime, and the living is easy -- for kids.

It's a time of concentrated play, a time to read books, fish,

ride bikes, sleep late, hit baseballs, outfit Barbie dolls,

build tree forts, catch bugs, play Nintendo and, for at least

one week, learn about God.

Studying the Bible is a summer tradition for thousands of

Jacksonville children, as it has been for a century at vacation

Bible school.

The Jacksonville Baptist Association alone reports 12,043

attended vacation Bible school at 73 of its member churches in

the summer of 1997. That's only one denomination out of many

that conduct the volunteer-run schools.

Vacation Bible schools go way back. The reference section of

the Jacksonville Public Library says they started in 1898 in

Baptist churches and in 1921 in Catholic churches. Buddy Wall,

historian of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, said he

attended a vacation Bible school in the 1920s at Margaret Street

Baptist Church, which no longer exists.

"I won a New Testament by memorizing the 100th Psalm," he said.

"When I joined First Baptist in 1931, they had it then."

Yet vacation Bible school is still growing. Both San Jose

Episcopal Church and St. Joseph's Catholic Church on the

Southside are only in the third year of fast-growing programs.

It's also on the Internet. Electronic Vacation Bible School is

posted by Port Jervis [N.Y.] First Baptist. It offers a complete

week's program called Wild Frontier Bible Theme Park, complete

with a recipe for Resurrection Cookies.

Good snacks, crafts, games and silliness are a big part of

encouraging children to come back.

The Rev. Jay Huddleston of Shindler Drive Baptist Church said

fun is important at vacation Bible school.

"I think all the crafts and extracurricular activities that

they do just combine for a timeless message in a very fun,

creative way. There's the continuity of a week, three hours a

day, as opposed to their coming one hour a week to Sunday

School. They may be building a birdhouse on Monday and be

painting it on Tuesday and talking about God creating a bird on

Wednesday."

Silliness wins a lot of attention in vacation Bible school.

Take Michael Moore, a NationsBank loan officer given a week off

work to help run the vacation Bible school at San Jose

Episcopal. Each morning last week, he was wrapped in aluminum

foil with a butter tub on his head, acting and talking like a

robot in the opening assembly to teach the gleeful children

object lessons about Christian attitudes. The lesson was the

robot was missing a lot of parts it needed to operate, such as

being thankful, kind and faithful.

Alex Taylor, 6, said of the San Jose program, "I tell my mommy

I have fun. The robot is fun. He never works."

Dedicated volunteers are what make vacation Bible school works.

Dessie Mathews, an assistant principal at DarnellCookman Middle

School, skipped lunch at school for two weeks so she could leave

early enough to be at St. Stephen AME Church on Davis Street in

time to direct its two-week evening vacation Bible school.

"It's a long day but I enjoy it," she said. "We had about 90

students this June and the theme was `Hooked On Jesus.' The

scripture that it was focused around was the beatitudes in St. …