The View From Childhood

Vacation Bible School takes place this week here at First Methodist. Watching as an adult, one notices many things: the times of organized chaos, the constant need to manage and monitor one’s charges, the happy children, the sad ones, the pouting ones, and, yes, even the somewhat unmannerly ones. The tremendous amount of effort expended behind the scenes to make it all work is obvious to adult eyes. There is also a great sense of enjoyment in watching all these children become caught up in the experience, laughing and carefree. All that from the height of an adult.
But, in the end, the purpose of Vacation Bible School is not to do anything for adults. Rather it is intended to bIMG_2246e for children. It’s ultimate goal is to place a spark of faith within their hearts and to provide a child-sized measure of experience with worship. All those who work in VBS–out front, as teachers and leaders, as support behind the scenes, as financiers–labor together to plant a small seed within the children who attend that they hope will sprout and grow and bring forth the fruit of regular worship. In other words, to make them into churchgoers, into the people who gather to worship God.

At child level, Vacation Bible School looks quite different. It begins with a great rush of excitement–fun for some, bewildering for others, a little scary for a few. The time passes in a highly present-tense mode, with little knowledge of what comes next. Some of that will be mastered by the last day, but then its over. With the passage of time, the detail of what happened fades. The small clutch of artifacts collected and carried home will outlast most memories of these few days of early summer.

But that doesn’t mean VBS has little impact. Rather, the opposite. For the valuable memories are formed not in the mind but in the heart, in that thing we call the spirit. If Vacation Bible Schools works as intended, then these children learn how faith and fellowship feel. They experience them, probably with little conscious realization. They learn at an emotional level that these things are best, are richest, are what Jesus intended when he said in Matthew, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”