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
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
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. …