Thursday, June 25, 2015

Insights from Half a Week of Vacation Bible School

I am tired this week.  I knew I would be:  full days at work followed by long evenings at Vacation Bible School.  I didn't anticipate additional work stress, as these weeks between quarters are usually quiet.  Not this week.  I've heard from students angry about grades ("No, I can't call your teacher; she's on vacation in Paris.  This will have to wait until July 9 when she returns").  There are issues with staffing and classes: faculty who may or may not be with us then and decisions that must be made by others before I can proceed in finalizing the schedule.  These are problems which will be solved in good time, but my strength/weakness is my efficiency, and when I feel I'm not being (or prevented from being) efficient, I get snarly.  There is more dealing with traffic.

But then I get to VBS, and I get to do this:

Making Paper Snowflakes/Masks/Abstract Art

and this:

Creating with Clay

and this:

Decorating Quilt Tops for Lutheran World Relief

I've written at more length about the restorative power of arts and crafts at the end of a hectic day in this post at my theology blog.  For this post, let me collect an assortment of other insights from this week:

--Several children at Vacation Bible School are special needs kids.  I thought about how I approach them with more patience and encouragement.  What would happen if I thought of all the people with whom I interact in any given day as a special needs kid?  At the very least, I would be less snarly, which would be a good thing.

--With all these children, I'm amazed at how loving/enthusiastic/trusting these children are to us.  We are many of us basically strangers to each other.  Many of our VBS kids come from the surrounding neighborhood or they are friends or relations of members; we see them once a year at VBS.  But you wouldn't know it to look at our gathering:  lots of hugs, lots of earnest talking, lots of play.

--We are lucky that we are a church of trustworthy adults and that we have safe space regulations that we hope will eliminate any chance that predators have for finding prey.  But I still worry about the openness of these children.

--I spend a lot of time with college students and adults who are not so trusting, and I wonder if we could restructure all the things in adolescence that strip us of our trusting natures.  I see so many closed-up people, people who would not enter enthusiastically into the arts and crafts activities that I have planned.  And then to spend an evening with kids--the contrast is startling.

--I love the adults who show up to help with VBS.  We have a small church--70-100 worshippers a week, so we really need every adult who can drive at night to show up to help in some capacity.  There are the big jobs of being a teacher for a class or making the meal.  But there are many smaller jobs.  Last night my Arts and Crafts assistants were great teenagers who helped these children who had a variety of skill levels--I hadn't anticipated how helpful they would be.  And let us not forget the clean up crew.  Last night while I put supplies away, a helpful mom swept up all the scraps of paper that had floated to the floor.  I got home 15 minutes earlier because she pitched in.

--This VBS group has worked together through the years, and it's high intensity times like these that make a bond between us.

--I've written in several places, most recently this post for the Living Lutheran site, about VBS as neighborhood outreach:  "It means that the most effective form of neighborhood outreach for our congregation is vacation Bible school. Even the food pantry doesn’t see this much traffic."

--I wonder if we could do something similar for other institutions.  And yet, let me not forget the basic lesson that we haven't determined a way to translate enthusiasm for VBS into more regular attendance: "How I wish we had the resources to offer a vacation Bible school experience more often, say quarterly, instead of once a year. How I wish I knew how to make other elements of church inspire the same passion and enthusiasm." 

--Should we?  Maybe we should just accept the grace of this week and not look to do more.

--And maybe I should remember how soothing it is to cut paper when work leaves me frazzled.

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