Archive for Wednesday, July 18, 2012

VBS a great tradition

July 18, 2012

When I was young, I remember looking forward to Daily Vacation Bible School at the First Baptist Church of Garnett. It was both a learning and social time for me and others. While much different from the 1940s, VBS continues today as part of the summer activities for many youngsters.

Of course, in those days, Vacation Bible School lasted two weeks and was a lot more like regular school. Today, it is sponsored by several churches in Bonner Springs and is held in the evenings and lasts for four days. I know that such cooperation did not exist among churches a few years back. I believe that the combination will result in a much better experience for children.

In addition, there are a number of independent vacation Bible schools in all three communities.

Back is the “good old days” vacation Bible school was much like regular school – you attended classes and listened to teaching. About the only prop was a flannel board where felt cut-out characters were put on a felt background to add visuals to the story.

I will admit I enjoyed Bible school as it usually came at a time when I was getting bored with summer and wanted to do something different. Certainly my favorite time were recreation and the end-of-school picnic. While the teaching we had in those days would probably bore modern kids, I did learn the Bible stories which I always found interesting. I believe those stories appealed to my love of history and resulted in further Biblical study.

I drifted away from vacation Bible school as I reached my teens when I started mowing lawns and getting involved in Boy Scouts and other summer activities. I can safely say that attending summer Bible school was a big part of my early growing up and I have many pleasant memories.

I was amused to read that one of the early Bible schools was held in a former tavern. In fact, the idea of summer religious training is relatively new arrival, dating back just a little over 100 years. The idea first started as a way to keep children off the streets and safe during summer months. And like so many other worthwhile movements in the United States it began as a volunteer movement and spread across the country. As a result, thousands of lives have been touched and, yes, it still remains a largely volunteer effort.

Actually, the first recorded vacation Bible School was held in Hopedale, Ill., in 1894, and was directed by D. T. Miles. The program lasted four weeks and was held in a school building. They utilized a nearby public park for recreation. The idea was to keep kids learning about religion because officials felt an hour or so of Sunday School each week simply wasn’t long enough to provide sufficient religious teaching.

The movement’s first big step forward was in 1898 when Eliza Hawes of the Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City decided to increase religious education and safety of children with a summer Bible school. The only suitable quarters she could secure which she could afford was a former tavern and the program was held in that location for seven years.

As you might expect in the early 1900s when prohibition was a hot issue church leaders had problems with the tavern and more suitable quarters were found.

Probably one of the biggest programs was in the early 1900s. Dr. Robert Boville of the Baptist Missionary Society organized a five-week program for children from kindergarten through juniors. He had Union Theological School students serve as teachers at five different sites in New York City and over 1,000 students were involved.

The idea of a summer Bible school program was swept across the nation. The program was simplified when religious publishers began preparing material for one or two week schools. The old Chieftains contained many stories and announcements of Bible school and their traditional end of class programs. The movement slowed a bit during World War II, but came back stronger than ever, particularly during the religious revival during the 1950s. While VBS has survived it faces a variety of competition. In many cases, it became difficult to find leadership during the day time and the program modernized and moved to the evening hours. Also it became more streamline in response to a variety of competition including the explosion of youth sports.

The curriculums have been updated. Yes, religious learning is still the core of the program, yet the teaching methods have been modernized in keeping up with the times. I want to congratulate all of the dedicated volunteers who give of their time to keep the vital programs going. And, yes, I hope today’s kids have the same pleasant memories of VBS that I have.

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