Gold Medal Ministry – the VBS Olympics

Creating a Vacation Bible School from scratch may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it! It is an opportunity to flex my creative muscles and work with some pretty fantastic people. It was only a few years ago that I was introduced to the idea of creating my own VBS by Pr. Joie Baker while working with the churches in Sharon and Hermitage. There has been no looking back.

In my last four summers with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, our VBS participants have been superheroes, spies, sailors, and Olympians. This being an Olympic summer, it only made sense to link this great DSC_9851world-wide tradition with stories from the Bible. Using the values of the Olympics and Paralympics – friendship, respect, equality, courage, inspiration, excellence, and determination –  each day we explored them within the stories of Ruth and Naomi, the Good Samaritan, David and Goliath, Nehemiah, and the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The themes are highlighted in a rotation of daily activities: music, science/art, storytelling/snack, and games. We keep our VBSers and volunteers busy the entire two and a half hours they are here.

It is quite amazing to see God at work in this ministry over the last few years, guiding us in steady growth. In 2013,DSC_0368 we hosted 27 children and about 13 volunteers. This summer, we hosted 55 children and had 27 volunteers! It is
hard to find the words to express the amazing community that continues to be built around this ministry. We see many of the same families, as well as meet new ones, and it is so much fun to watch the children grow from year to year.

I will be honest, as I really started thinking about VBS back in April, my biggest concern was not having enough volunteers for the number of children that I anticipated. It is all well and good to have an influx of children, but you absolutely need the adults to match it. I was overwhelmed by the response to my plea for volunteers from around our St. Stephen’s community. We had members of the church, Nursery School teachers, parents, grandparents, and teens offer to share their gifts with us for the week.  It was a comfort to know that we could handle a significant amount of kids in a fun and safe environment.

DSC_0039Volunteers are the heart of this ministry and, I believe, are the reason for our success. Ministries within the church are about lifting up and sharing the gifts that God has given us for continual building of the Kingdom, which is something that I strive to do within a VBS program. Being able to mold your program to the strengths of the volunteers is one of the benefits of creating your own program. The volunteers have just as much fun as the children who participate. And in the end, VBS is truly a team effort.

While much of our program remains the same, we are constantly evaluating it and finding ways to improve. One of the things that I am already thinking about for next summer is how to accommodate further growth. There is always something to adjust from year to year, but that is part of the fun!

Vacation Bible School is a great ministry that all churches can offer. It is a DSC_9741wonderful way to engage both the church and the wider community. It also brings a wide range of ages together to learn and share with each other about the love of Christ. As I said before, I love Vacation Bible School. It is an important and worthwhile ministry that I am always happy to talk about and share with others.

Missy Greene Christian Formation Associate at St. Stephen’s, Fairview

“Youth Group and Christian Outreach” by Nina Palattella

Welcome to a new series where we will hear from Nina Palattella about her experience as a Christian in her senior year of High School.  Nina will write a blog post about once a month over the course of the school year. This is her second installment.  Click here to see the first one.

Hello again and thank you for joining me for my second blog post! I hope you have all had a swell month. My time has been occupied by the beginnings of college applications and lots of essays as my senior year of high school has progressed in full force. In addition to the new school year, the arrival of the fall season also brings a new year for my youth group, which led me to the idea to make this post about Christian outreach. I would suggest that any teens and youth in the audience especially stick around for this one—make yourself comfortable and stay a while!

11954753_482870405213312_9168523237462758084_nWhen I was younger, I participated in youth programs that were specific to my church, such as Sunday school and Rite 13, our small teen fellowship group; last year, program leaders from three churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania in my area, including my own, banded together with the idea to combine the youth groups from the three churches into one “Episcopal community for youth” known as The Vine; the group takes its name from a verse in the Gospel—“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 5:15). Anyone from those churches (and any friends who are invited and always welcome to join) in middle school through twelfth grade can participate in the group’s biweekly meetings that may include mission trips, fun outings or overnight gatherings.

While the three congregations mentioned above constitute the roots of the group (pun somewhat intended), other churches in the diocese have helped the group and our mission, whether by spending time with our group, hosting us in their parishes, or simply by expressing their support, and with their help the impact that our work 11081471_421588111341542_4785778058643413919_ncan have reaches far beyond the limits of our central congregations. This past March, the Vine took a “mini-mission” trip to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brookville, PA. I had never visited the small parish before, and I was stunned by the beauty of the church building; the wood in the church’s interior needed some restoration, and after the volunteers from Erie exchanged greetings with the members of Holy Trinity who would be joining us for the morning, we began our task, armed with buckets of polish and rags with which to do our work. It was nice to have a job that gave some degree of instant gratification—after a few minutes of polishing, the walls, pews and altars had a shiny, richer color; they felt smoother and better equipped to endure decades of more worship. Once we had completed our labor, we were given a tour of the surrounding small town, and took part in a variety of activities, including a short late-night worship service and a movie. The next morning, the approximately twenty members of The Vine joined the regular Sunday congregation at Brookville for a spirited worship service led by Rev. Melinda Hall, a great preacher and friend whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know for the past few years at summer camp.

11406955_850522778357978_5965102601537077651_nSpeaking of summer camp, this is a great time to mention that, while youth groups are likely the most common way that young people can get involved in their church and its ministry, they are by no means the only way. Each summer, I attend an overnight camp for Episcopal youth who have completed grades two through twelve, the majority of whom are from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Throughout the week, campers participate in many religious activities, such as daily Eucharist, program sessions based on that day’s Gospel lesson, and a Taizé service; in addition, the camp offers a variety of activities that are just plain fun, like hiking, crafts, 4 Square, and night swims (which is just about the coolest thing you could possibly imagine when you’re ten years old). It’s an excellent place where kids can get to know their religion, teens can explore how their personal faith is important to them, and everyone gets to build a community with each other that will remain after the week has ended.

Though not every church may possess these opportunities exactly, each church has something to offer in terms of outreach, whether that means volunteering at community dinners or food pantries, handing out bulletins before the service, or simply getting to know some of the people whom you see every Sunday—but it doesn’t have to stop there or be just that. I’ve learned from the experiences described above and others that some of the best Christian outreach happens outside of the typical places like churches or even youth groups. It can be as simple as helping someone through a difficulty in their life or spending time with the people whom you care about. There are an infinite number of ways to be kind, and as Christians (and as people) that is what we are most called to do.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post; please leave any questions or comments below!

Nina Palattella,