Vacation Bible School, why do you vex me? I have to say that I HATE, HATE, HATE Vacation Bible School. Oh, I think it’s fine for
heretics Protestants, but Catholics? I think of it as little more than cheap summer daycare. And bad summer daycare at that. Why am I posting about VBS? Because there is yet another bulletin insert and a large table display in the foyer at our church regarding this year’s summer extravaganza “SonRise National Park VBS.”
But Annette, what could be wrong with bringing the little ones to Jesus? Well, let’s step into the WABAC Machine and look at the origin of VBS.
Starting in the late 1890s on New York’s East Side, Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes of the Epiphany Baptist Church, noticed a rapid increase in immigrant children in East Side slums and decided there was a need for Bible education. In 1898 she rented a saloon (the only available place) and started a six week program structured around worship music, Bible stories, and Scripture memorization interspersed with games, crafts, drawings, and cooking. A more complete description of the history of VBS can be found here.
So, what could be so wrong about wanting to teach sweet, impressionable immigrant children about the Bible? Well, without proper investigation (cause, after all I’m in the middle of a class on biobanking and the law and this is supposed to be a quick, off-the-top of my head blog post to avoid doing my actual work) I would suspect that most, if not all, of these sweet immigrant children were not Baptist. I’m going to assume (and please correct me in the comments) that most of these children were Catholic or Lutheran or Jewish.
Hey all you hardworking immigrant moms and dads, don’t have any place to put your children while you’re working 18 hours in a sweatshop? Send them over to Mrs. Hawes Bible classes where they will stay out of trouble, have a hot meal, and be indoctrinated in some good ol’ Baptist theology. To be fair, apparently Mrs.Hawes went to NYC from Charlottesville, Virginia with her physician husband. He specialized in a medical ministry to children and while there she expressed concern about the injuries they received as they played unsupervised. So Bible school provided several benefits: supervision and religious re-education.
Now let’s fast forward to the curriculum offered at my parish (and possibly at lots of Catholic parishes since it’s sold by Liguori). “SonRise National Park VBS” seems to originate with Gospel Light VBS (their motto: “Jesus Every Day”). And what do we know about Gospel Light VBS? Well, Gospel Light was founded by Henrietta Mears, a Christian educator and author who (according to Wikipedia, I know, don’t hate me), had a significant impact on evangelical Christianity. Gospel Light’s website states that
“VBS is a unique and exciting opportunity to make an eternal difference in kid’s lives. You can count on Gospel Light to keep the focus on Jesus and His message of salvation…Gospel Light is the only VBS program that includes the salvation message in every lesson and daily evangelism opportunities.
So, why not Catholic VBS? I mean if you have to have a VBS program (which I don’t think you do), then at least use a Catholic program. I see this as just another slide down the slippery slope to becoming completely indistinguishable from Protestants.
What do you think? If you are Catholic, do your kids go to VBS and if so, do you like the program? What do you think should be different? And, if you have any further information on Gospel Light’s VBS program, educate me! Do you know of any excellent Catholic curricula that could be adapted to a week-long program?
As a former Protestant, I spent many summers helping with VBS at my Evangelical church. I see those same hokey programs offered in many Catholic parishes. It makes me uneasy for the same reasons you outline in this post. I mean, I assume nothing too heretical is being preached to our kids at VBS, but I’d truly hesitate to use a non-Catholic program if I was in charge.