`Vanners' Have Come Far since Their Humble Origins

Article excerpt

Calgary

In the humble beginnings of the Sunday School Caravan Mission in the 1920s, if a van driven by missionaries (or vanners, as they were commonly known) broke down or became stuck, the enterprising young women hired to bring Sunday school to children in isolated communities would either push or repair the van on the spot or hike through swarms of mosquitoes and miles of bush to the nearest civilization.

In the 21st century the vanners need only push a few buttons on a cell phone.

Yes, Eva Hasell would be astonished at some of the changes to vanning in the diocese of Calgary, home to the only such program still in existence in Canada. The program, which, except for a couple of blips, has been in operation for 80 years, is seeking up to four recruits for July and August this summer.

Calgary's vanning program is light years away from the 1920s, when well-meaning young women recruited for the Lord's work by English-born Miss Hasell would arrive fresh off the boat from England and set off for months at a time in sturdy, sparsely-equipped Ford vans.

Those vehicles, modelled after World War I ambulances and painted a blue-grey -- "a better match for prairie dust and mud" -- carried the women, their Sunday school lessons and minimal provisions to remote communities in western and northern Canada.

Today, the vehicles are modern, rented minivans and the young vanners are fresh-faced youth from the diocese. Like anybody working with children in the 21st century, the vanners complete a vigorous application, police check and screening process and they train for a weekend before hitting the road, says Linda Clayton, who chairs the diocese's vanning committee.

The vanners travel on a set schedule to a different community each week. Those communities, usually too small to sustain a regular Sunday school throughout the year, contact the vanning committee in the spring to "book" their week with the vanners.

The young people are billeted with a local family and take suppers with different families from the parish. While in the community, they run a vacation Bible school program from Monday through Friday for children ages four and up.

Ms. Clayton says the program is an outreach tool in the community, as the children who attend are frequently either from another faith or are not churchgoers. The vanners teach a theme from the Bible and use games, crafts and drama to build on it. …