Another Vacation Bible School is now in the books. This past week Chetek's one-and-only “Multi-Church VBS” was held at Chetek United Methodist. “SonTreasure Island” was well-attended (67 kids plus approximately 30 volunteers) and as usual, was lots of fun. Who would have thunk that the Methodists were not only open to the idea of having sand in their fellowship room (on their relatively new carpet) but were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place! There were little waterfalls and palm trees in different rooms of their facility along with all kinds of decorations that gave the illusion that we really were on an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Having a kindly pirate walk around throughout the day as well as the presence of a real live parrot (Duke not Polly) only helped contribute to the atmosphere.
|His name is Duke not Polly|
|Of course you find sand at the beach|
|"You think you've got troubles..."|
|Paul may get to school yet|
In 2 ½ days (SonTreasure's planning group chose to conduct a 5-day VBS in half the time with a Sunday evening, and all-day Monday and Tuesday faith experience) the kids raised $818 and some odd-change for Ekisa Ministries, an orphanage in Jinja, Uganda that cares for approximately two dozen children with various types of disabilities. Our goal is to raise $1800 which would enable three kids from Ekisa to go to school. We're nearly half-way there and the five participating fellowships have yet to receive an offering.
When we moved to town in 1991 there were five Vacation Bible Schools that were held during any given summer in Chetek – at Prairie Lake Covenant, Faith Baptist, Christ Lutheran, Chetek Lutheran and the Multi-Church VBS (Advent, Alliance, UMC and Refuge). What that meant is that if you were a parent of an elementary-age child you could pretty much sew up planning half of their summer mornings by just enrolling them in one school after another (and some did just that thing!) But the dynamics of the various faith communities have changed over the last twenty years. Prairie Lake, Faith and Christ Lutheran have all ceased to provide this kind of faith experience at their respective fellowship and this year for the very first time Chetek Lutheran joined “the Four.” We were only too happy to have them on board.
|The White Witch points the way ('12)|
Since the mid-1980s our “Multi-Church VBS” has been presented annually to the kids of our community. In my time here we have been to SonCreek Junction (2001) and SonHarvest County Fair (2003). We've turned different facilities into an army base (Boot Camp, 2009), an ancient market (Jerusalem Marketplace, 2008) and even a castle (SonCastle Faire, 1999). We've been to Narnia (A Journey to Narnia, 2012), held a sports camp (Mega Sports Camp, 2010) and dug for gold (Gold Rush, 2011). We've been to the savannah of Africa (SonMountain, 1992), the wilds of the Okefenoke Swamp (SonRise Balloon Adventure, 1997) and down a perilous river gorge (SonCanyon River Adventure, 2002). Some of the kids who have grown up attending VBS have gone on to serve at it (at this year's VBS there were kids helping in rec who not too long ago were playing in those games as participants and our youngest daughter, Emma , was one of our teachers.)
|Classroom at SonRise Balloon Adventure ('97)|
|The rec crew from Jerusalem Marketplace ('08)|
|SonZone Discovery Center ('00)|
But to me the most remarkable thing about this VBS is that over nearly thirty years the players have changed (none of “the founders” remain in our community and I am the only one left who has participated in some way or fashion in the past 22 campaigns) and from time to time the format as well (we've tried an evening school, a family school, an off-site school and this year's half-week version) but the message remains the same: Jesus loves children and calls them to himself. Granted there are many ways to go about affecting the growth of the kingdom of God in our kids; VBS is but one way to do it. And while tradition can become a dead-thing this annual coming-together persists in our town and has proven over time to be life-giving to those who attend as well as to those who serve.
|They throw a good party|
There is one other subtle and yet tangible benefit to this annual tradition: it sparks and promotes unity within the Body of Christ in our community. For several months leading up to VBS, folks from the participating fellowships meet regularly to strategize, brainstorm, dream about and pray together for our upcoming school. A working harmony naturally develops which in turn fosters camaraderie and, if you will, Esprit de corps. Frankly, it's just a whole lot of fun. This year, Refuge shut down on the Sunday VBS began and joined Chetek UMC for a combined worship gathering. Pastor Carrie asked me the next day, "So when do we do that again?"
|The last time we were on Main Street|
When the party is over and the last decoration is taken down and put away for me its rather a melancholy thing, like closing night at the Red Barn when the set is deconstructed and we all say good-bye. The good news is that if the status quo remains by March of next year we'll all start coming together again planning the 2015 school at Advent Christian. I always like it when it's there because we're on the main drag and that gives us high visibility. Some of our best sets have been there (SonCastle Faire, 1999, and Gold Rush, 2011). But what I like best of all is being with some of my friends from the other fellowships in town working together to see the Kingdom come in greater fullness to our city. I can't wait.