Dressed in shades of yellow, four groups of children and adult volunteers at First Presbyterian Church attempt to pop up in unison when it’s their turn to sing, “Hallelujah! Praise ye the Lord!”
The result is less than unified — they look almost like popcorn, bursting up with energetic randomness — but that just adds to the fun. Off-tempo shouts and giggles punctuate the familiar Sunday school song, adding to the excitement.
Here, as at several churches around the city, Vacation Bible School is under way.
“You learn more than in regular school, where you just have to sit in one room and study and don’t have activities like at Bible school,” said 10-year-old Diana Jung, one of the 52 children registered for the weeklong program at First Presbyterian Church.
Many of the programs use a curriculum designed by major Christian publishing companies. The use of such professionally developed curricula allows churches to easily incorporate technology and organize activities to teach children basic Bible lessons in an appealing way.
Ann Bouchard, director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church, said she’s impressed by the improvements made to Bible school programs each year. “They really try to keep up with the times and use technology to share God’s message,” Bouchard said.
There was a time when Vacation Bible School was little more than Sunday school with a few games thrown in, but no more, said Jody Brolsma, a senior editor for Group Publishing. Based in Loveland, Colo., Group Publishing is a major nondenominational Christian publishing company that has offered Bible school curricula since 1996. Its “Lava Lava Island” curriculum was a popular choice locally, including at St. Thomas More Newman Center, Calvary Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church.
“Now, churches go all out — the emphasis has moved from ‘just another Christian education opportunity’ to ‘let’s wow kids and show them how exciting church can be,’” Brolsma said. “(Vacation Bible School) directors haven’t lost sight of the real focus of VBS. They just know they’ve got to present it in a cool, multisensory, unforgettable way.”
First Presbyterian Church is using a curriculum provided by Gospel Light Publishing, which has offered fully themed, comprehensive summer programs since 1983. This year’s theme, “SonGames 2004,” incorporates Olympic-style games, crafts and other activities to teach Bible lessons.
Bouchard said the curriculum was appealing because it draws on the excitement of the upcoming summer games in Athens and provides ample supporting materials and supplies. “Everything’s so polished — there’s clip art, PowerPoint slides and all sorts of graphics and set decoration,” she said. “There’s no need to supplement the materials and there are so many activities to choose from. It’s easy to make it work for your individual church.”
Broadway Christian Church, which had about 150 children register for Bible school, is also using “SonGames 2004.” Coordinator Stacey Tonyan said that in the past they’ve designed their own programs, and now that they use published curricula they still incorporate their own experience. “(The curriculum) is very helpful. They give lots of ideas — (our) leaders take it and run with it,” she said.
The Olympic theme carries through all aspects of SonGames 2004, from the “Bible Bites” cereal boxes (inspired by Wheaties) decorated in the craft room to the edible “swimming pools” (graham crackers spread with blue icing and topped with red licorice “lanes”) enjoyed for a mid-morning snack.
But it was the theme of teamwork that Bouchard said she most wanted the children to take away from Bible school. “We really try to promote cooperation and friendship,” she said. “It’s about being a part of God’s team.”