Keeping Connected with Church Families This Summer

Keeping Connected with Church Families This Summer

Summer will soon be upon us as church educators are discussing the new reality emerging during the pandemic. The question should not be “WILL we have a Vacation Bible School this year?” It should most definitely be “HOW can we have a Vacation Bible School this year!”  As we ponder new ways of doing faith formation with our church families, faith formation leaders are realizing how important it is to keep connected more than ever before.  For several months now, having church outside the building has led to amazing innovations out of necessity.  And here we are, re-creating church and faith formation in ways that perhaps we only dreamed of or tried without getting any support or success in the past.

John Roberto of Vibrant Faith Ministries has created a new guide: Transforming Faith Formation in a New World.  He begins with bringing attention to the perspective from Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard in “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” which uses 3 helpful images: the blizzard state, the winter season, and the ice age period.  In terms of understanding the capacity of our situation in this pandemic, the “blizzard” represents taking shelter, the “winter” implies it is only a season to be concerned with but the latter implies the most helpful perspective.  In order to thrive in the” ice age”, we must adapt to a new reality and rebuild.

Our SNE churches are in an “ice-age” period but are re-creating what VBS can look like during our hot summer months.  Churches large and small are making it a priority to stay connected with their families and are offering a variety of VBS experiences.  Churches in many states have moved out their VBS dates to the end of the summer or even as a one day welcome back event happening in the fall because their church phasing back criteria will allow them to meet on the grounds with safety measures in place later in the season.

For many other churches, the church building will remain closed and therefore the virtual VBS is ideal for their families to engage in.  Some churches are combining their event onsite and virtual in clever ways.  The week-long August program at the Seekonk Congregational Church in MA, will involve one daily morning zoom hour with scripture, music, prayer and one daily afternoon zoom hour that will be a guided “How To” experience with art, baking, dress up, and show-n-tell.  On the last day, there will be a drive-thru experience in the parking lot to view animals for their “At the Zoo” theme and a slideshow will be released of pictures sent in from families doing VBS at home during that week.  Prior to the event, teens will put together VBS packets that will be given to families to utilize at any time during the week.  Mary Catherine Gherardini,  a parent and member on the Board of Christian Education at Seekonk commented,  “This year, we need to realize that the  'At Home VBS' experience must be kid friendly and exist with or without a parent’s guidance especially when we know many parents are working from home like myself.”

Another VBS approach during the pandemic is creating small group opportunities in neighborhoods.  Some churches identified groups of families in neighborhoods and made them individual VBS Kits to run an outside neighborhood VBS experience.

Director of Family Ministries, Rosemary Lamie of the First Congregational Church of Greenwich, CT is contemplating their decision to do VBS.  “I want to do something during the summer but I am sensing parents aren’t looking for that right now. They need a break so I may wait until July.”  Many churches, including Rosemary’s, are considering Illustrated Ministry's VBS offering, “Compassion Camp” because it celebrates the expansive image of God through open, inclusive, and progressive language and theology. The compassion theme focuses on Be Loved, Be Kind, Be You.  This At-Home theme provides a perfect opportunity to encourage parents to talk more about relevant issues like racism, starting with the youngest of ages.  There is an urgency to foster these discussions in our households and offering VBS for At-Home version can allow the conversations to happen.  Engaging conversation with teens is valuable during VBS opportunities. Another church decided to utilize a great resource on racism for their virtual VBS teen program and will utilize a film kit for the book “Selma, the Bridge to the Ballot”. 

Julia Manners, Christian Education and Youth Minister at the Niantic Community Church in CT, will be offering a "Staycation Bible School" experience for families to do at home.  She is also using VBS "Compassion Camp " and plans to have packets distributed and youth lead virtual yoga, crafts and music.  There will be a family scavenger hike planned and a closing music & photo video.  Julia is adapting in these times and said, “I’m excited that we can try a new way to offer VBS and perhaps include families who otherwise would not have participated and I like that families can do this together -- faith formation at home with all ages!”  Many of the virtual VBS style resources are with free sample downloads so families can access them easily.

During these times of innovation, one RI church stands out with their own creative VBS plans.  Director of Christian Education, Denise Inman, will be implementing a 5 week VBS experience that offers a weekly email engaging her theme: “Where in the World is the Disciple?” (similar to the Carmen San Diego game) and will travel on journeys to India, Russia and Egypt.  Denise mentions, “We will be on a Road Trip with the Disciples (Acts of the Apostles) and will give information on a country or city, food, currency, a historical fact, a current fact, and clues to which Disciple”.  She will also include a related recipe, a theme game and craft and links to related music or videos.  It will all be home based and will be offered to anyone of any age, something that Denise was proud to offer for all the generations.

Here is the question again… “How will you do VBS this year?”  Maybe rephrasing the question is more helpful… “How will you keep your connection with parents, children and youth alive and well this summer?”  At the very least, many churches can offer At-Home resources and packets or free VBS downloads that easily can be implemented by parents at their convenience throughout the next several months.  Know that your faith formation engagement and connections will promote more faith at home and encourage the nurturing of faith by parents and church leaders, TOGETHER

To find Illustrated Ministry's Family VBS -Compassion Camp link here.

To find Selma- The Bridge to the Ballot link here.

To find more resources suitable for family activities link here to AUCE's website. 

To find resources curated by your SNEUCC Faith Formation staff, link here.

Kristin Putney is a Christian Education and Youth Ministry resource consultant and faith formation leader on the Discipleship Team of the SNEUCC. 

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