By Pastor Devin Strong, Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church.
In June, Spirit of Peace teamed up with our Highway 144 next door neighbors, St. Elizabeth Episcopal church, to present a week-long Vacation Bible School (VBS) to 25 children, ages 3-8.
As relatively new pastors in our churches, Rector Dwayne Veras and I both had been looking for friends and connections and, since our churches are theological and geographical neighbors and about the same size, partnering for VBS made perfect sense. We chose “Feeling Groovy” for our theme, and I can tell you that – after grooving with the kids for three very energetic hours a day – this guy was ready for a nap!
Our VBS story centered around the prodigal son parable found in Luke:15. A father has two sons, the younger one goes off and spends half of his inheritance then returns home with his “tail between his legs,” where – much to his surprise and relief — he’s warmly welcomed home by his father.
We chose that story to encourage the kids to talk about their feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic (wearing masks, attending school virtually, etc.), and to let them know that God loves us no matter what we do or what our feelings are.
While watching and listening to the kids move through five VBS stations (Bible, music, crafts, games and, of course, snacks), I noted a few significant life lessons. Since this was our first joint venture with St. Elizabeth’s, the volunteers were understandably a little nervous. When it rained torrentially on the first morning of VBS, they wondered if all the children would even show up. But there they were — lined up outside the door with big smiles on their faces, ready to rock and roll. Lesson learned: Find a way to be joyful in the midst of whatever’s going on!
That day, I watched as the kids (all from diverse backgrounds) embraced a brand-new experience with such joy. Because they came from two parishes and the greater community, most of them didn’t know each other. But rather than letting doubts and fears get in their way, the students simply walked into the room assuming kids were there that they’d enjoy being with and who’d enjoy being with them, too. So, of course they’d make some friends! Lesson learned: Walk into any new situation assuming it’s going to be positive!
The kids were grouped by ages and, when asked their grade level, they surprised us by calling out the one that they’d just completed rather than the one they were going into next. That made me think about how, as adults, we’re aware that it’s the mid-point of summer, so we’re already thinking about what’s coming up next. Kids don’t do that.
They’re far too busy living in today to think about tomorrow, and they’re sure not fretting about summer being half over.
Lesson learned: Rather than always looking ahead, relax and enjoy where we are right now!
Partnering with St. Elizabeth for VBS was a wonderful opportunity for the two congregations to start getting to know one another and laid a solid foundation for sharing future activities together.
Rector Veras and I don’t know exactly what’s next, but we’re excited about a wide range of possibilities. We even dream of building a sidewalk “bridge” between our two churches, so we can share special occasions like the traditional Psalm Sunday processional. We also hope our partnership will one day extend to other church neighbors and will help reduce denominational barriers. Perhaps, as VBS so clearly showed us this year “...and a little child shall lead...” us!
God loves you, and so do I!