As a Protestant “it” was a must-do summer event. Every church I knew saw “it” as their greatest evangelizing week. Of course, I’m talking about one of the greatest weeks of summer, Vacation Bible School, otherwise known as VBS.
Growing up as an evangelical and mainstream Christian, some of my fondest “Jesus memories” stem from that amazing week. We hit scripture hard. I’m fairly certain I still have my Bible memory trophy as a testament to my stellar ability to recite every book of the Bible in under a minute. I can still sing the song, by the way. We enjoyed lots of singing, crafts, games and snacks. Of course, we ended the week with an altar call (Protestant-speak for inviting non-believers to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior by walking to the front of the congregation and declaring their belief). It wasn’t until I converted to Catholicism that I began to uncover why Catholics fear VBS, yet why they should embrace it, own it, love it and participate in it.
The music brings them in. Without a doubt, the hand motions, the catchy tunes and the simple messages hit home and encourage the children to sing and dance, all in the name of God. It’s often been said when we sing, we pray twice. There is something inspiring and motivating about seeing a roomful of children proclaiming their love for Jesus through song. It just might give you goose bumps. The music allows us to reach even the most difficult and stubborn child.
VBS encourages a love of scripture. Myth #586 about Catholicism? We don’t understand and value scripture. I protest! Every Sunday, we proclaim the readings—Old and New Testament and a Psalm. Scripture is interwoven into the entire liturgy. During VBS, the Our Sunday Visitor curriculum integrated a scripture reading that tied to that day’s Bible story. The kids acted out the story and saw scripture come alive. Perhaps the next time they’re at Mass and the priest proclaims the Gospel, they just might brighten up and say, “Hey, I’ve heard that story!”
The saints become real people. Each day, during snack time, the children learned about a different saint. This year, we had the headliners: St. Mary Magdalene, St. John, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Dominic Savio and St. Augustine. We talk big about living a life of sainthood, yet we forget to share with our children the real struggles many saints had with living their faith. It was fantastic to hear my kids say at the end of the day, “Mom, did you know that St. Clare was rich but gave it all up to serve God?” Yeah, that’s awesome.
The service component directly ties to Catholic social justice teachings. In our parish, we collected food for a local food bank. I didn’t weigh all that food, but it was a monstrous amount. We integrated it into the concluding Mass by giving it as our offering. Our middle schoolers even participated in a service project that benefited our confirmation candidates.
The concluding Mass will bring you to your knees. Not every Catholic parish does this and to them I say: What are you waiting for?! During his welcome at the beginning of the week, our priest told our children that they were entering into a retreat, of sorts, with God for the week. He reminded them that at some point during VBS they would experience “the miracle.” While “the miracle” was different for everyone, I couldn’t help but tear up during communion as the children came forward, one by one, to receive a blessing or the Eucharist. Behold, the miracle. Through all those crafts, tasty snacks, fun games, great Bible stories, and awesome singing we experienced Jesus. At Mass, we dined at table with Him. It’s my hope just one family was strengthened because of their child’s experience at VBS.
Fear not, I say. Embrace your parish’s VBS program and make it as inspiring and faith-filled as possible. If you don’t have one, do what I did. Meet with the priest, call as many friends as you know to help, pray a mountain of Hail Mary’s and get it started. Take the leap. Your children are worth it.