Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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June 22, 2012

Bible school traditions continue, but with innovations

Athens — Nothing makes me feel as young, or as old as helping at the church Vacation Bible School.

The kids, 6th grade and under, seem to be motorized, like a room full of energizer bunnies. The goal is not to slow them down, which is a hopeless endeavour, but to get them moving in a direction similar to the one you’d like them to go.

I first attended Bible School more than 50 years ago, but apparently the idea goes back farther than that. One source traces it back to Hopedale, Ill. in 1894. That early VBS lasted for four weeks, and sounded like it was lot more  Bible than vacation.

Today millions of dollars are spent around the country on new and entertaining ways to get that message across to the kids. Our Bible school was called “Sky,” and most of the songs were about soaring above the clouds, and soaring up among the stars.

My  job is to get them to sing and do motions that relate to the lyrics. It’s a workout, as much for the mind, as for the body.  One moment you’re crouching down to imitate a baby bird just getting its wings, and the next you’re soaring up high like an eagle.

I’m from a generation where singers stood in front of a microphone, and didn’t venture very far away. Today, kids are used to seeing acts that roam from one edge of the stage to the other while bouncing up and down. That’s OK, because all the kids are also jumping up and down.

Day one of the Bible school, I felt like bounding about the stage, and feeding off the energy of the youngsters. By day three, I had pretty much planted my feet, and dared them to move. Day five came ,and the eagle had pretty much landed.

Another important part of VBS is the snacks. At Wildwood Baptist Church, when I was growing up, we had the only snow cone machine around, and it wasn’t hard to get kids to come on a hot July morning, just to get a taste of  crushed ice and grape syrup. 

And I’m not talking about that powery snow we have today.  Snow cones that day were little rock-hard pellets, that would destroy my teeth today, even the expensive ones.

Then, after a few minutes of delight, we would return with our purple lips and fingers to the classroom for mission stories and memory verses. It was a challenge for the teachers to reign us back in after the snow cones, but they did a good job.

Now, the snacks have to be more imaginative. We had jello and strawberries, popcorn, pretzels and cheese, and a lot of other unusual combinations that came out pretty appetizing to the taste and to the eye.

Games have always been an  important part of Bible school. You hope they’ll expend a lot of energy without really injuring anyone. Our youth leader, Cody, did a good job with that. One game had the kids closing their eyes, and helping carry a big beach ball.

The idea was for him to give them directions, which they followed blindly until they reached a helper, who was holding a hoop.

When they reached the hoop, he instructed the kids to drop the ball, which  fell right through the intended target. It’s kind of a metaphor about following God’s prompting and letting him lead you in the right direction.

Another part of Bible school when I was young was crafts. The first couple of times I went to VBS, we were instructed to bring one of our dad’s cigar boxes, which we decorated with macaroni, then spray-painted gold. I haven’t seen a gold, macaroni-covered cigar box in years. Perhaps its just as well.

One year the craft was to create an artificial flower arrangement. Yeah – the guys too. I messed mine up so bad, the teacher had to throw out the original idea, and help me make an arrangement with the flowers I had left. I think mine turned out to be the prettiest arrangement of them all.

Studies show that kids don’t care much for crafts these days. At the end of the Bible school week, a lot of them just leave them at the church, and never take them home. To remedy that, our church used that time for science experiments.

The best one was a little rocket that the kids filled up with water, then a little fizzy stuff. Wait a few seconds, and it flies into space, or at least above the roof top. I thought it was pretty cool. If the kids don’t learn any Bible, they can at least make a bomb.

Don’t worry,  It’s harmless – just don’t stand too close.

Rich Flowers is News Editor of the Athens Daily Review.

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