In Praise of Vacation Bible School
Do you remember the first time you opened a Bible?
Perhaps this question could serve as an “opener” during adult formation.
I attended vacation bible school (VBS) for about three summers. For un-churched kids who attend VBS, all the Bible stories are new, everything is new. It may look like camp, but it is more like being invited to a friendly foreign land, with juice.
One rainy VBS day we were completing a puzzle that involved looking up answers in the Bible, when our time ran out. It was not in the nature of VBS to have homework, but the teacher suggested that we could finish the puzzle at home. “Do you have a Bible at home?” she asked my group.
To my 4th-grade ears, it sounded like she was saying “You DO have a Bible at home, right?” At that moment I realized two things: 1) It was normal to have a Bible at home; 2) The only Bible at our house was a heavy red decorative tome which may or may not have been in English (my grandmother was an Italian native). What would the nice volunteer lady think if she knew I didn’t own a Bible? I was too old to believe she’d toss me out of VBS for that, but I certainly did wonder if she’d find it scandalous.
I hedged my answer, and VBS ended. My next encounter with church came when I was 13. After spending the night at a friend’s house, I’d occasionally follow her to Sunday school. The junior/senior high class was taught by Mr. Henning, the father of my classmate, Chandra. Mr. Henning was possibly the world’s most laid-back man. He did everything slowly. One day he asked me directly, “Do you have a Bible at home?”
Here we go again, I thought. This time I took a deep breath and answered, “No. Not one I can really read.”
Of course, no one fainted or slung accusations. The church basement remained as quiet as before. Mr. Henning walked slowly over to a cabinet, carefully took out a Bible, and with absolutely no expression, placed it on the table in front of me. “You can have this one,” he said.
That was it? I thought. Just like that, I have my own Bible? I could hardly believe my luck. At home I opened it and saw magic in its pages, in the stories of Jesus, in the little blue pencil illustrations scattered throughout (it was a 1980s Good News Bible). Reading could be an act of worship.
Faith evolves, of course, as children grow. As I crashed against the realization that the Bible may contain the Word of God but is a collection of stories written by fallible men, reading it began to feel a lot less like worship and more like regular reading. It wasn’t quite magical, at least how I’d thought.
However, thanks be to God, a faith kindled by a few sessions of VBS, and the gift of a Bible, survived. The Good News Bible eventually gave way to an NIV, then ESV with NRSV on Sundays. Reading could be worship, again.
I do miss those little blue illustrations, though.