by Beth Herrinton-Hodge
Standing on the edge of summer, while many of our churches have not returned to “in person” gatherings, we continue to wrestle with questions about engaging with our families, children, and church communities. Many “tried and true” activities that we look forward to each summer have changed – or have been cancelled. Summer conferences, camps, day camps. Sunday morning faith formation. Vacation Bible School.
While many of us, church leaders and church members alike, find ourselves staying close to home with vast expanses of time and energy available. What will we do with our summer? What is the best use of our resources to carry faith formation into these long summer days? What is safe, practical, and beneficial to our churches, our children and families, our communities?
APCE Ministry Teams anticipated these questions and have been offering a wealth of resources on our Advocate blog, APCE Facebook page, and under the VBS Resources tab on APCEnet.org. There are also ideas and food-for-thought at Hope4CE.net. We’ll provide links to some of these resources here and offer our thoughts about summer planning and activities.
In April and early May, APCE offered Zoom Roundtable Discussions to explore the question, “What to Do About VBS?” These meetings promoted helpful conversation among educators from across APCE about the variety of considerations and options for summer church activities. One helpful take-away from these discussions is a discernment worksheet to help churches think through your goals, expectations, needs, and limitations for offering VBS (or any summer church engagement activity).
If your congregation remains committed to offering adapted VBS through social distancing and/or social media, a number of publishers and groups are developing resources for such adaptations: Illustrated Ministries, SALT Project, SHINE, Cokesbury, GROUP, BOLT, and The Presbyterian Outlook. Additional publisher websites are included on the Zoom Roundtable Discussions notes (see link above).
Some of the discussion from the Zoom Roundtable included creative ways to offer VBS:
- holding weekly social media/VBS meet-ups to extend across the summer instead of the traditional, intense, single-week format,
- gathering with local congregations in your community to share the VBS planning and leadership load,
- adapting a Workshop Rotation model by drilling down into one theme or Bible story through art, drama, cooking, games, video – each on a different day,
- enlisting a wider array of church members in reading stories, leading cooking or building demonstrations, leading science activities to enhance your VBS offerings,
- promoting a “spirit-week” with participants dressing-up for different theme days: silly socks, backwards shirts, all-red clothing, etc.
Many educators are exploring different emphases for their summer ministries. After several months of in-home schooling, many families are looking for a break. Perhaps there is need for a grace-period for ourselves and our church families in these days. Now is an opportune time to think about what families need, in general. We might offer families activity suggestions as well as give them permission to take a breather and practice an intentional sabbath this summer.
We can offer resources to parents for things to do at home to enjoy their time together, to promote remote faith formation as families, to engage in mission together. Vibrant Faith offers a wealth of family centered faith formation activities that families can explore. In addition, educators can offer short, family-friendly ideas and activities for people to choose to engage in together at home:
- convene weekly story time and involve church staff, elders or other members as readers,
- host weekly book groups for children and families together, or for older children and youth,
- focus on hands-on mission activities that families can do remotely, include local agencies and contacts that receive mission support or donations,
- designate a song or hymn of the week and provide a church-made recording to sing along,
- promote weekly walk-abouts in neighborhoods or around the church with a focus on noticing God’s presence and gifts during the walks.
As we stand on the edge of summer, know that your APCE educator family stands with you in these days. We are witnessing and participating in a church and a world in constant flux while we seek to respond to God and hold on to hope. Be gentle with yourselves, APCE friends, as you try to discern what is helpful, what is faithful, what is life-giving.