Vacation Bible School is engrained in Southern life and I am so thankful! I have loved Vacation Bible School for as long as I can remember. As a kid in Frankville in the 1980s, it was the highlight of the summer. It was the only week in the summer that I willingly got up early because Frankville Baptist Church had VBS in the mornings.
VBS actually started with a parade the weekend prior to the event. It wasn’t a fancy parade, just a couple of trucks, some balloons, a lot of kids and a whole lot of noise. We rode down every dirt road and pig trail to invite every single kid around to VBS.
Every single morning of VBS, all the children would line up and parade in. In my mind’s eye, I can still see us in the parking lot and on the church steps wearing our “play clothes.” Three lucky kids were chosen to carry the U.S. flag, the Christian flag and the Bible to the front of the sanctuary. If you were really lucky, you got to carry these in on Friday evening at parents’ night. I can vividly remember marching in as the piano played. I also remember the tiny paper Order of Worship booklets that had the sheet music to songs we would sing. We had to leave them in the pews each day.
Cookies and Kool-Aid were LIFE to us! That was our snack every day. Sandwich cookies and those butter cookies that can be placed on one’s finger are what I remember most. They were placed on napkins adjacent to Styrofoam cups of red Kool-Aid. Fresh watermelon out of a church member’s garden was always a treat!
The lessons and crafts were always fun. It was different from Sunday School because it was more interactive and there were more people in attendance. The rooms were also decorated in whatever theme Lifeway, called The Baptist Bookstore at that time, had set. The songs, the memory verses, the crafts and every single activity were centered around the theme. We also had mission moments when the clunky VCR and TV cart was rolled out to show us what missionaries were doing throughout the world.
VBS for rural kids before the era of instant communication meant that for five days, we got to see our friends every day. It also meant loading up in the car with a friend after VBS and going to spend the night at their house. If you planned it right, you could have sleepovers every night of the week!
For Frankville area kids, the culmination of VBS meant getting to go to Bladon Springs State Park on Friday after our lessons. The adults grilled hotdogs and we rode our bikes that had been loaded onto a truck and brought to the park. It was seriously one of the absolute BEST days of summer! We dared each other to take a drink of the yellow-tinged, Sulphur spring water. I declined this challenge. We weren’t the only church that did this! My husband grew up in Coffeeville Baptist Church and has memories of doing this as well! Fun fact, we went to VBS together as children at Ulcanush Baptist Church in Coffeeville when we were kids! Both of our grandmothers were members there!
After sixth grade, we were considered “youth” and got to help with VBS. I am thankful for the memories I have of working VBS in many places. My favorite memories include teaching VBS in Birney, Mont. (population 108) when kids rode up to our outdoor classroom on their horses and tied them to whatever stationary objects they could find!
The way that VBS is done has changed through the years, but the mission has not. It’s still a time for crafts and music. It’s still a time for friends. It is still a time for students to learn about God and mission work.
Churches likely don’t load up kids and bicycles and give kids free rein at a state park anymore, but I am thankful I got to experience it.
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Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.