The Bible Belt Tradition: Vacation Bible School


When I was a young kid, my family attended a church where there was not yet a kids’ program (other than Sunday school) and we kids had to endure an hour of fire and brimstone sitting on a hard pew alongside the adults. I had been content to doodle on attendance cards until cousins on my dad’s side told me their mom gave them Tootsie Rolls and lollipops during their church service.

So I asked Mom, “Why can’t we have Tootsie Rolls during church?” and Mom replied, with some umbrage, “Because,” (you see, her people would never have doled out out more than a mint or cough lozenge during worship), “church is no picnic.”

Amen, sister. It was hard on a kid to sit still and attend to the service, especially wearing a fancy dress and squeaky patent shoes. The one exception was Vacation Bible School, which was eagerly anticipated. We got a sticker for bringing a friend, we sat down front in the sanctuary and recited memory verses, and our lessons were punctuated with red fruit punch and flower-shaped butter cookies, the kind you could put on your finger and nibble around.

In contrast, my kids have always had Sunday school programs designed just for their age group, with carefully scripted lessons and a craft project worthy of a blue ribbon at the state fair. A snack is a given; in fact, they may not have an appetite for lunch after their feast of graham crackers and punch. They have only known pleasant experiences at church. Yet as a working mom, I’ve never sent them to a summer VBS program for fear of complicating a fragile summer schedule. Other moms would happily have picked them up and even kept them afterwards, but it was just too much to ask of someone who already had her own kids to handle.

I think of VBS as a sort of rite of passage, so my more flexible schedule means this is the summer they are going to get their VBS experience. If you look around, the opportunities for VBS or a similar religous summer program are far and wide.  Moms are already decorating classrooms, coordinating thematic activities and arranging refreshments (dare I admit this is the best part?)  for an intense week of instruction that in most cases begins the first week of June. These almost always are free or at nominal cost to participants, and all are subsidized by the church budgets to ensure they are well resourced.

The child-centric church experiences offered today probably came about as a result of women’s increasing leadership in children’s ministries and our advances in understanding child development. Many, if not most, curricula are developed by professionals in instructional design and the materials are as high-quality and entertaining as any commercial production. All are based on biblical characters and values and few emphasize denominational doctrines.

If you’re looking for wholesome opportunities for your kids this summer (and, let’s be honest, new childcare options), VBS programs are hard to beat. Your kids get to make new friends and develop their biblical knowleldge in a program of fun and games. Maybe VBS really is a picnic.

If you have a VBS you would like to see added to the BirminghamMom calendar, please e-mail the relevant information to .

Why the rooster image? An homage to the old VBS anthem: ”Booster, booster, be a booster; don’t be grouchy like a rooster. Booster, booster, be a booster, and boost your bible school!” (Tune of the chorus of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”).