Summer Fun with the Bible; Church Uses Skits, Songs to Keep Children Engaged

Article excerpt

Byline: Liz Essley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Blue Jell-O represented the Jordan River one summer at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Northwest. The memory stuck with vacation Bible school participants.

The kids just ate that up, literally and figuratively, said Lisa Wackler. She sends her children - ages 4, 10 and 13 - to vacation Bible school every year.

With school out in summer, churches - across denominations and across the nation - jump on the opportunity to minister to children. Vacation Bible school (VBS), dating back to the early 20th century, differs from church to church but often uses hands-on activities, songs, snacks, skits and recreation to educate youngsters in the Christian faith.

Sherry Waldrep, chairwoman for VBS at National Presbyterian Church on Nebraska Avenue Northwest, said her 8-year-old triplets usually talk about the skit after coming home. Other kids look forward to the songs.

One mom told me she's looking forward to getting the new music because they continually listen to last year's music, Ms. Waldrep said. People who have gone to VBS who are young adults now will tell you they remember the songs.

And they remember the stories, said Mary Theresa Heneghan, director of Religious Education at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Rockville. If you ask them about it a year later, they still remember.

The interactive, hands-on aspect of vacation Bible school is relatively new in its long history. Programs of the past were more traditional.

They were more like a Sunday school lesson back [in the 1920s], just very churchlike. I think now the focus is more on fun, with a Christian background, said Marcy Levering, an editor of VBS curriculum for Standard Publishing.

VBS became more widespread and elaborate in the 1980s as churches began realizing they needed to offer more to children, she said.

Most modern VBS activities present Bible stories, such as Moses and the burning bush, within a weekly theme. Crocodile Dock, where fearless kids shine God's light, and SunRock Kids Camp, where kids build their lives on the rock: Jesus, among other themes, will debut this summer in the D.C. area. Because churches purchase curricula from a limited number of publishers, many share themes.

The Rev. Meredith Lovell, associate pastor at St. …