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When class is out, Vacation Bible School is in

A week of Vacation Bible School doesn’t come easy. A summer staple, VBS takes months of preparation, a slew of volunteers and a mountain of refreshments. Volunteers will spend hours planning lessons, assembling craft supplies and decorating the church for VBS.This summer – like every summer – churches all around the University City area open their doors for VBS, welcoming hundreds of children from the church and the community for a week of fun and Bible learning.The children’s faces, VBS leaders say, make all the work worthwhile.“It’s so much fun to see them enjoying learning about the Bible and what Jesus can be in their lives,” says Donna Benson, director of children’s ministries at University City United Methodist Church, which has held VBS since the church opened in 1988. Church halls transformedVacation Bible School started in the late 1800s in Illinois, where a public school teacher who was also a Sunday school teacher started a four-week daily Bible class in the summer so she would have more time to teach children about the Bible. Over the years, churches have supplemented VBS Bible learning with games, singing, snacks and crafts. Many churches now begin planning soon after Christmas, first choosing a curriculum and theme for the week. Often times volunteers will transform the whole church, such as for a recent outer space theme where church hallways became black-lit galaxies and sanctuaries became spaceships.“It’s fun and it’s different,” says Sarah Grace Montgomery, director of Christian Education at Mallard Creek Presbyterian. “We decorate so much it’s kind of like walking into a different world.”Many churches in the area, including Mallard Creek Presbyterian, now hold VBS on weekday evenings, often to accommodate working parents’ schedules. The Reverend C.N. Morrison, who was pastor of Mallard Creek Presbyterian during World War I, held the church’s first VBS.Other area churches, including Prosperity Presbyterian and Hickory Grove Baptist Church’s north campus, are holding evening VBS programs.At Prosperity Presbyterian, children will journey to Egypt to talk about some of “the most mysterious and intriguing questions known to man regarding human life,” according to the VBS curriculum. Hickory Grove’s VBS uses a New York City theme.This year, Mallard Creek’s VBS theme is “Shake It Up Café,” where children will explore the Bible as a “cookbook” with recipes for living out its teachings. The week’s activities will center around cooking.“It’s kind of a fun hook to get them in the door, and all of the Bible studies are around those thematic elements,” Montgomery says.Taking parents to churchA VBS day usually opens with a large group meeting, where children meet together to sing, watch a short video and learn about little about the Bible verses they will study that day. This year UCUMC is using a curriculum from the “Go Fish Guys,” a popular children’s Christian band that has played at the church before.Children then move to stations, making crafts, discussing a Bible story, playing games and learning music. At UCUMC, children will be asked to bring a Bible each day or to use a Bible provided by the church. UCUMC’s program topped out at about 500 children four years ago, Benson says. VBS uses the entire church and more than 150 adult and youth volunteers. Almost 80 of those are youngsters, many who loved VBS as children and began volunteering when they aged out.“That’s why we have so many of them helping us,” Benson says. “That’s their touch that they can put on another child’s life.” VBS programs vary in what ages children they serve, but VBS usually is for ages 4 through fifth grade.VBS is always open to the community, and Benson says about 40 percent of the children who attend VBS at UCUMC don’t attend the church. Sometimes children enjoy VBS so much that their families end up attending the church after it’s over. Benson said one of her VBS co-directors this year was one of those families.“Once kids have come to Vacation Bible School one time, they want to come back (to church),” Montgomery says. “I’ve seen it over and over again. (Adults will say), ‘I wasn’t planning on coming (to church), but my kids were up and ready on Sunday morning.’ ”While VBS leaders admit that some parents see VBS as safe and affordable – or free – care for their children, the churches see it as a community outreach and a way for children to have fun while learning about the Bible.“I want them to leave this place and know that they were in a holy place where they were loved,” Montgomery says. “We also hope that they take away some Bible truths, that they are children of God and created by God.“I certainly hope they take away an understanding of Scripture, more than just ‘We cooked for a week or talked about heroes for a week.’”Benson said she believes VBS is so popular in the University City area because it’s a close and diverse community that cares about children.“One of the phrases I like to use here is that instead of a village, it takes a city, University City, to raise a child, and that’s the mindset here,” Benson says. “I think people just relate to one another and they want to help the kids and support the children.”

More informationVacation Bible Schools-Mallard Creek Presbyterian ChurchJune 10-14, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Free.1600 W. Mallard Creek Church Road704-547-0038; Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church

-Hickory Grove Baptist Church North CampusJune 20-24, 6:15 p.m.-8:45 p.m.2350 Odell School Road704-547-9906; Hickory Grove Baptist Church North Campus

-University City United Methodist ChurchJuly 18-22, 9 a.m. – noon. $12 fee per child to cover materials; maximum $30 per family3835 West W. T. Harris Blvd.704-369-8000; University City United Methodist Church

-Prosperity Presbyterian ChurchAug. 7-12, 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.5533 Prosperity Church Road704-875-1182; Prosperity Presbyterian Church