As churches have made adjustments to their regular Christian education programming since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Advocate blog (and APCE leaders) have offered suggestions for program adjustments. We thought we’d follow up with one congregation who offered a virtual VBS program to see what they did and what they learned.
Rocky River VBS Goes Virtual
By Lisa Watts and Bette Case
Each June, for more than 20 years, Rocky River Presbyterian Church has hosted a joint Vacation Bible School with the Catholic parish in our Rocky River, Ohio community. It has become an important faith tradition for kids from both churches and the surrounding community.
In mid-April, it was apparent that an in-person VBS was not going to be an option this year. Our first solution was to move our planned event to late July. We soon realized that this would not be an option either. What to do?
The four leaders who coordinate the program began meeting on Zoom to talk about options. We decided to present a virtual VBS, even though none of us felt overly confident about how successful it would be. We knew we didn’t want to skip even one year of this popular program. We hoped to conclude our virtual event with an “in person” closing celebration, but Covid-19 didn’t cooperate. Our entire program went virtual.
We decided to offer recordings as opposed to live-streaming our VBS activities, so people could participate at home when it fit their schedules. We hoped to reduce stress on already stressed parents.
We looked at our usual 2.5 hour daily schedule and structured the virtual experience to mirror it. We used Great Big Beautiful World from Shine/MennoMedia. From this curriculum, we drew the themes, graphic elements, and worship/drama elements. For crafts, music, and our mission project, we used resources developed by our staff, drawing on their professional expertise. We recruited different folks to each take a piece of the program, with responsibility for crafts, worship, storytelling, music, prayer, and mission. We gave each person the daily scriptures and themes to work with. We continued to meet every two weeks by Zoom to keep track of progress.
We usually choose a mission project for the kids to learn about and collect a cash offering for the chosen organization. Since this process would be difficult to do virtually, we decided that our giving would be more than financial. We challenged participants to complete acts of kindness to the earth and to others throughout the VBS week. They found ideas and kept track of their kindnesses using a prepared scavenger hunt sheet. Some examples of acts of kindness included, “Make a card for a neighbor,” “Donate food to a local food pantry,” and “Share one of the Bible stories you heard this week with someone.”
We had no idea how many kids would be involved. We did not charge fees for the program, but we required parents to sign their kids up using an on-line program. We set a deadline for registration at two weeks before the July VBS date to allow us time to put together materials for everyone. We ended up with 79 kids registered, representing both of our congregations as well as folks from other churches.
Once we had all of the pieces and parts decided, we assembled a bag for each child with daily craft supplies, puppet making supplies for the daily presentation of scripture, the mission scavenger hunt, a song sheet, and a newsletter with the details for the week. The bags were available the week before VBS for families to pick up at the churches. Because our VBS was virtual, we had two households from out of state who were sent their packet of supplies. Out of 79 bags assembled, only 5 were left unclaimed. We were happy with this positive response.
We have music educators who lead our VBS music each year. Our partner church allowed us to use their music license and our videos were not made public. Only families who were sent the link to our daily videos had access to the music that the leaders recorded.
Each part of the VBS day was recorded separately by the person responsible and put into a common folder on Google drive. The pieces were then edited together using Animotica, in the order we would use them at an in-person VBS. The priest from our Catholic partner offered the opening prayer, the pastor from RRPC offered the closing prayer. The daily schedule included a call to worship, a worship puppet skit, mission update/reminder, crafts, and music throughout. Altogether, the daily videos were about 25 minutes long. The link to each day was sent out to the families each morning via email.
Once we realized that there would be no closing in-person event, we asked families to send in photos and brief videos of their VBS experiences at home. These were compiled into a single video set to the VBS music, so the children could sing along as they watched. We were thrilled to receive over 100 photo and video submissions.
It is our hope to never have to do Vacation Bible School this way again, but we feel confident that many of the skills we learned and the practices we developed can be modified for use during the upcoming program year until we are able to be back at church in person.