How One Church Met The Challenge of Vacation Bible School.
Rev. Dr. Barry Johnson
Due to the novel Coronavirus, this is a report of the method our church (Southern Star Baptist) used to celebrate Vacation Bible School 2020.
Normally, our Vacation Bible School (VBS) is conducted during the first week following the end of the public-school calendar. However, as we know, our school systems went into a tailspin because of the COVID-19 crisis, concluding with the Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) methodology that was delivered to students in their homes. After several internal debates and much reassuring prayer, I brought my plan for virtual VBS to my Sunday School Superintendent and VBS Director. It was initially difficult to visualize VBS in any format other than our traditional model, which included graded classes – four-year-olds to adults – with arts and crafts, music, and nutritious meals. Our VBS would meet each night from 6:30 to 8:00 P.M., complete with assemblies, lesson reviews and discussions, and certificates presented at the conclusion of the week (much like most churches celebrate this exciting week). Although it has been only a year since we last hosted VBS, cannot you still hear the cacophony of children moving through the building, the greetings and laughter of the adults assembling their projects during arts and crafts, and (lest we forget) the aroma wafting from the kitchen and dining hall, making everyone hungry! Under these circumstances, how could a virtual VBS ever replicate, or even come close to, the traditional VBS we remember? These questions, and more, were the challenges we faced; however, we were determined not to allow our current situation to deter us from our goal – a successful VBS, through which we would connect, instruct, and fellowship with our adult and youth congregations.
Since Southern Star has not hosted any in-person services since March, we have utilized the online application Free Conference Call as a method of worship and connection. What convinced us of this particular platform is that many of our members are seniors, who are not skilled in the use of technology and do not own a computer. Free Conference Call allows our seniors to receive our transmissions on their personal smart phones and their home (landline) phones. Because we were already using this application for weekly Bible Study, Sunday School, and as a supplement to our Radio Broadcast, we designed VBS around this platform. Instead of a five-night series, we reduced our session to three days and evenings. Our schedule began on Monday, with the Adults covering Lesson One from 12:00-1:00 P.M., and Lesson Two from 7:00-8:00 P.M. The combined Youth Group covered Lesson One from 5:30-6:00 P.M., and Lesson Two from 6:00-6:30 P.M. This same format served as Tuesday’s schedule, during which we covered Lessons Three and Four. On Wednesday, our Youth concluded their last Lesson Five from 5:30-6:00 P.M., and our Adults, from 7:00-8:00 P.M. While we did not have arts and crafts or dinner provided, we had a wonderful VBS experience! Each of our teachers taught virtually from their homes (or the church), and our Director provided encouraging remarks each session, as well as closing salutations that were positively rewarding.
One of the greatest motivators for this year’s VBS was the music. We utilized the VBS kit published by the R.H. Boyd Company, entitled 2020 Vision: Seeing Clearly Through Christ (Habakkuk 2:2-4). The highlight of the VBS music was that it was composed to reflect the individual themes of each night’s lesson. Lesson One was entitled “Learn to Trust God,” with the accompanying song, “Habakkuk.” Following lessons were (Day Two) “See the Light” with song, “See the Light;” (Day Three) “Practice Stewardship” song, “Give It Back to God;” (Day Four) “Faith and Finances” song, “All to Him I Owe;” and (Day Five) “Heed the Call for Help” song, “He Saved Me.” These selections just happened to have been composed and produced by this pastor, and recorded by First Lady Denille Johnson and the Southern Star Youth Choir! The fact that the young people of our church contributed to this recording (and that it is being used across the country) was a central factor that motivated Southern Star to hold VBS – because of the contributions of our youth. Most likely, our youth do not understand their impact, but as they mature, their contribution to VBS 2020 will surely be realized.
I pray that we, as a unified church family, will utilize all the technological tools at our disposal for the Glory of God, during a time that social media can be detrimental and depressing. Whereas, valuable technology can be used for evil, Christians must use these same devices for good! During this unusual time, we will be blessed by our Heavenly Father because we have not forsaken to worship Him in “Spirit and Truth” – we have not ‘fallen off of the wagon’ or become apathetic just because we cannot meet in our houses of worship. We have no idea what may lie ahead; nonetheless, in the midst of this new normal, I am convinced that God remains in control.
Next month, we will continue to examine Choir Rehearsals, recommended products for cleaning electronics, and the need to follow recommended guidelines for Houses of Worship. We will return to Choir Festivals, Special Concerts, and the need for special collaborations at a later date.