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By John D. Pierce

Kool_Aid_ManA headline in today’s online Atlanta Journal-Constitution jumped off the digital page: “There’s still time to register your child for vacation Bible school.”

It seemed more like a headline from The Catoosa County News in 1967 than a major city/regional newspaper filled with stories of national tragedies, nasty politics and the remarkable ability of the local baseball team to score eight runs and still lose via bases-loaded walks to an also-lowly competitor.

Vacation Bible school (VBS) goes back more than a century to churches’ expanding Christian education efforts — and the opportunities afforded by summer breaks from school. It has morphed over the years to match societal change. Yet it has endured, thankfully.

VBS was a big deal in the Boynton community just east of Chickamauga Battlefield in northwest Georgia during my growing years. It was pretty much a community-wide event — not just something for those of us who attended Boynton Baptist Church a minimum of three times weekly year ‘round.

Summers ran long back then with Labor Day as the end mark. Even today some debate the actual start of summer as being Memorial Day weekend, summer solstice or the last day of school. I hold to the notion that summer officially begins at the first dusk in which a lightning bug is spotted.

VBS ran long too — two full weeks beginning with an enlistment parade led by a sheriff’s car or a firetruck with lights flashing and siren blaring.

With most of our mothers not working outside the home and several retirees clocking out of 30-year jobs before hitting age 60, there was an ample supply of volunteers.

Tasks ranged widely from teaching Bible lessons and telling mission stories to assisting with the amalgamation of glue, glitter and Popsicle sticks that was generously defined as a “craft.” Then there were those faithful souls who prepared and served the all-important daily snack.

Vividly in my mind I can see Mrs. Howard, ladle in hand, dipping Kool-Aid into our cups from a large stainless steel cooking pot: a perfect sugary complement to the floral butter cookies with holes that we’d slip onto our fingers before eating.

We learned a lot in two weeks from flannel graph boards, out-of-focus missionary slide shows and theme songs, I’m sure. We honed our artistic skills building tie racks and gluing colored popcorn into the framed image of a rooster.

Perhaps more than anything, however, there was a growing awareness that we were loved — by God and by those placed in our paths. Such nurturing and personal investments conveyed that were valued individually and as a community. Those kinds of affirmation stick.

So it is encouraging to see that despite the sweeping societal changes of recent decades VBS continues to find a rightful place in churches, communities and even big-time newspapers. Cheers to those who make it happen in all kinds of ways and in vastly different places.

It is not easy. Whoever first called it “vacation” Bible school never worked in one.

John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce is editor of Nurturing Faith Journal — the signature publication of Baptists Today, Inc. He is also publisher of Nurturing Faith Books and Resources. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates.