Originally published in the Miami News-Record, June 14, 2015
I’ve been going to VBS pretty much my whole life, starting back at Hudson Creek Baptist Church in the late 1970’s up until present at Hart Baptist Church. I made my fair share of God’s eyes from popsicle sticks and yarn, cigar boxes covered in glued-on macaroni and spray painted to a lovely golden sheen, a Bible made out of a bar of soap and a piece of black velvet, and many other gems. It was at VBS where I learned the pledges to the American and Christian flags and the Bible. I have sung “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Father Abraham” more times than I can even fathom. There was nothing more fun in the eyes of the elementary school set back in my day than dividing the church down the middle and one side singing “Hallelu—Hallelu—Hallelu—Hallelujah!” and the other side echoing “PRAISE YE THE LORD!” Oh, and who can forget “Deep and Wide”?
When I was a kid, Ella Lou Reynolds was the church pianist and she took care of all the accompaniment needs of the church. There were no themes having to do with space, jungles, or beaches – just five days’ worth of stories about Jesus and you came up with your own songs. So after the giant hoard of children pestered the VBS director (usually my mom or Helen Merit) on the front steps of the church to pleeeeeeeeeeease let them be the one to hold the American flag during the pledges, everyone lined up and marched in with their class while Mrs. Reynolds played the “marching-in song”. Everyone filed in to their designated pews and participated in the pledges and their assigned songs: Pledge to the American flag paired with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, pledge to the Christian flag paired with “Onward Christian Soldiers”, and pledge to the Bible paired with “The B-I-B-L-E”. We awaited the “sit down chord” and then we were welcomed, informed, and encouraged. After the offering was taken up, the littler kids marched out (after the “stand-up chord” was played and the “marching-out” song was played) while the big kids were treated to a story about a missionary in the Congo or Brazil. You know, purely “big kid” type stuff because they didn’t fidget after sitting in the sanctuary too long.
I remember learning about Jesus walking on water, Zaccheus, Moses and the Ten Commandments, John the Baptist (and everyone always went “EWWWW” when the teacher said he ate grasshoppers), the names of all 12 apostles, and other Biblical wonders. Craft time was the creating of the treasures I mentioned above – things that would now make any good Pinterest-er cringe. Recreation was tag, leap frog, hide and seek, dodge ball, kick ball, or jump rope. There were no themed games like “Space Tag”, “Beachside Hide and Seek” or anything like that; just good ol’ smacking each other with plastic balls or getting whacked with a rope. And raise your hand if you’ve had a Styrofoam cup of red Kool-ade and ate a Hydrox cookie off a napkin in the church fellowship hall more than once in your life. Because if you grew up around here, that was the staple of every VBS snack time. Even visiting a friends’ VBS, no matter the denomination, we got the Hydrox/Kool-ade combo.
I have been student, teacher, and director in all my 42 years. I have an allergy to red dye, so my Kool-ade drinking days are over, but I still love a good Hydrox cookie every now and then – especially off of a napkin in the fellowship hall. And just last week I caught myself transported back to that old sanctuary at Hudson Creek Baptist Church as I heard the words “No running in the sanctuary!” coming from my own mouth, not directed at me. VBS has changed a bit…..but I guess maybe it really hasn’t. As long as God’s love is the underlying theme, that’s what matters.