The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many church leaders to be creative in ministry to fulfill the mission of the church; to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Vacation Bible School is one of those disciple making ministries children look forward to each Summer. Over the next two issues, we will feature a few of the many congregations that held VBS in new ways and changed lives of children, families and the leaders themselves.
Parking-lot VBS Reaches Out to Families
Many church traditions have changed in the past six months. One tradition to which children look forward to every year is Vacation Bible School . Many children’s coordinators wondered how it would look to provide a program during a pandemic. Yet, leaders pushed through creatively so children would not see 2020 as the year of no VBS.
At Christ United Methodist Church in Oregon, Ohio, leaders Morgan Williams and Tracy Thiel built on the drive-in worship concept already in place. “We wanted to include families,” Thiel said.
Families were invited to spend one hour a week in the parking lot to experience VBS while staying in their vehicles. Bags of snacks and activities were given to occupants of each vehicle as they arrived. The evening included a skit with study characters, music and activities to be enjoyed as a family. At the end of the evening, each family received a bag to take home to build on what was learned that night.
The ministry team took seriously the restrictions presented by COVID and kept the program engaging and fun. Crafts and snacks were purchased prepackaged, limiting contact. Vehicles were parked at a distance for safety; yet, friends could see each other.
On the final evening, Kona Ice provided a truck to have shaved ice treats available for the families. Twenty percent of the proceeds went back to the Oregon ministry.
Christ UMC-Oregon parking lot VBS reached 20 families and 40 children, most of whom were from the community and not church members. With a change in format, the congregation touched people individually. Thiel said, “The personal connections we’ve been able to make is huge.”
Vacation Bible School Embraces Virtual Realities
Shifting to all-virtual worship has been seamless for the congregation at Linworth United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. One reason is that online worship was an option for the congregation years before the COVID pandemic hit.
In July, the Rev. Anna Guillozet led Linworth in using the online platform for Vacation Bible School.
The Rev. Brooke Hilliard, director of discipleship ministries, and Shelby Elliot, membership and outreach director, transitioned the Cokesbury study, “Rocky Mountain Railway” into a four-week virtual experience.
Participating students got a package of study materials for the duration of the program. Parents were given access to online videos produced by the Linworth team and from the curriculum. Each week, parents received an email from Rev. Hilliard to help keep them on track. This format allowed parents to do the study with children any time of the day.
Community is an important part of VBS. With participants divided into small groups, Zoom meetings were coordinated for students to see each other with their leader. Also, the “Word of the Week” from the study integrated what was learned in VBS into Sunday worship. In opening worship, children were challenged to listen for the number of times they heard the Word of the Week and report their answer for rewards.
As United Methodists strive to understand what it means to be in ministry during a pandemic, virtual worship and ministry continue to bring members and the community together. “Feedback has been nothing but good,” said Guillozet.