Summer is the time for Vacation Bible School! My church Saint Michael and All Angels hosts VBS on July Friday nights from 5:30 PM-7:45 PM with the date night model for parents in mind. We typically run four consecutive Friday nights in July and early August, but once again, the pandemic scaled things down a bit. Last summer we had only one VBS night, this year I made the call to extend it to two, as the children and youth look forward to this event.
“Journey with the Saints to the Mountains” was this year’s theme. I created this curriculum, “Journey with the Saints” nine years ago after watching “The Way,” a film written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez with his father Martin Sheen as co-star. “The Way” is about a pilgrimage of friends making their way along the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain; an archetypal journey similar to the Wizard of OZ.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, our “pilgrimage” program for children and youth was entirely outdoors this year. Fortunately, with the long California summer days and warmer temperatures, the pandemic safety guidelines were not cumbersome. Our evening began with check in, permission slips and photo release forms signed, and payments made by the parents who happily exit to return in two hours. Due to the success of the program, our expenses have grown, so we now ask for a nominal fee. At the starting point, each child was given a backpack, a pretend passport (which gets stamped along the way), a colorful broad brimmed hat, and a lanyard.
Friends of mine helped paint the sets of the mountains on the backs of voting booths. I originally thought about the theme of mountains in the Bible because there are so many of them! God meets and visits his people on mountain tops in stories throughout the Bible—Mount Ararat, Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, Mount Zion, Mount of Olives, and the Sermon on the Mount.
“As the mountains surround Jerusalem so God surround his people from this time forth and forever.” —Psalm 125:2
“I will lift of mine eyes to the hills, from whence come my help?” —Psalm 121.
My wish has always been to instill in children and youth an understanding of the bigger picture of other cultures so they might better see God and the ministry of Jesus in whatever city or location they travel. I want to be ecumenical and interfaith. While we journeyed to biblical mountains on the first Friday night of VBS, on the second Friday night we will travel to the iconic mountains around the world—Mount Fuji, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest, and Mount Zermatt.
On the North Wing patio of our church, participants gather to hear a short teaching time and reflection on the Gospel message. I lead this part each year as I know once we get started on our pilgrimage, I will spend most of my time corralling the sheep as we journey together in a big group, ages three-years-old to thirteen. This year, I have a Saint Bernard puppet named who will help me talk about Saint Bernard de Menthon or Bernard du Mont-Joux, the Archdeacon of Aosta and his hospitality in sharing the gift of safety, food and compassion to weary travelers making their way to a holy spot. Christian compassion and loving kindness and self-sacrifice, the Hebrew word of hesed is often embodied in hospitality.
After the teaching time, the children and youth will pilgrimage to our outdoor labyrinth and into the campus gardens. It will be here that they hear more stories shared by parishioners. The children will see Beth of Galilee, Myrna’s Mountain, and a guest appearance made by Moses standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and beside the Burning Bush! Craft time will follow as well as dinner served on the patio. We have found that mac and cheese, dinosaur chicken nuggets, sliced apples, carrots, cookies, pita chips and hummus are a tried-and-true menu. As children finish at different intervals, I have colored chalk on the patio waiting for the whim of the budding artist. Free time to play is also a favorite at the end of the evening before it is time to go home. This year, we added a final time of regrouping in a circle to share around a make-believe campfire. My prayer each year is always two-fold: that children remain safe and happy. The Lord has always answered in a marvelous way, and I am thankful.