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After a year off, South Georgia UM churches resume VBS


VBS is back.

A summertime staple, vacation Bible school has returned to South Georgia United Methodist Churches.

Most congregations canceled VBS last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as restrictions ease and more are vaccinated, many churches felt they could safely return to in-person vacation Bible school this summer.

Richmond Hill United Methodist Church’s VBS has long been a huge outreach effort with hundreds of children and volunteers participating. Last year, church leaders adapted past years’ curriculum to create a “Time Machine” virtual staycation Bible school. They created videos and provided families with a supply list and support to pull off an at-home VBS experience. 

This June, they welcomed more than 400 children and volunteers back to in-person vacation Bible school, with a few modifications and practicing what they learned during the past year.

“We’ve spent the entire year doing in-person kid’s worship and our afterschool JAM (Jesus and Me) program, so I knew we could do VBS safely with masks and distancing protocols,” said Janine Blakeborough, Richmond Hill UMC’s director of family ministries.

Instead of one massive opening celebration, they hosted five smaller opening events. Snacks were eaten outside, leaders instituted a car line for drop off and pick up, and they changed traffic patterns throughout the church.

“We plan to keep most of the changes because things we never would have tried before, ended up working better than we could have imagined,” Blakeborough said.

While Centerville United Methodist Church wasn’t able to host their VBS event last year either, lead pastor Rev. Tommy Odum said church leaders did learn a few things to take into this year’s vacation Bible school event.

“Be prepared, be aware, and be fluid,” he said. “We needed to be better prepared to meet the guidelines this year if we were still under restrictions, be aware of what's happening in the community and people's feelings of the pandemic, and be fluid enough to make changes on the fly. The last part was extremely important as things can change quickly in situations like these.”

Excited to be able to host VBS this summer, the Centerville UMC congregation was ready to reengage the community in a meaningful way and provide an outlet for people who haven't been able or been ready to get out in the community.  

“The most exciting part was the engagement with people after a year of separation and inability to meet in a larger setting,” Rev. Odum said.

While VBS attendance was lower than in previous years, the church still welcomed nearly 40 children and 15 volunteers each night. Social distancing was encouraged, as was mask wearing. Safety and cleaning measures were put in place and modifications were made, but food was served and the experience was as close to normal as possible, Rev. Odum said.

“The experience was somewhat of a sweet accomplishment,” he said. “We didn't know how it was going to work out or what attendance would look like. The accomplishment of hosting the event and getting to reopen the facility in that way felt good. After we were finished we felt it was one of the best we’ve done, and, all and all, we felt good about getting the opportunity to host VBS.”

Park Avenue United Methodist Church simplified their vacation Bible school.

Eager to offer it again this summer after missing last year, director of children’s ministries Lynn Yost said this year’s event was pared down, without elaborate extras but with a focus on solid content and connection.

“We learned to appreciate the fact that we were able to have VBS,” said Yost, who welcomed nearly 200 children and 120 volunteers to the event. “We planned with the intention of having a simplified VBS in which there is no doubt Jesus is the main thing.”

Hosting an in-person VBS was important to the Park Ave. UMC congregation and the Valdosta community because it relayed a message of hope, faith, and God’s faithfulness, Yost said.

She also said it was an important time to be able to come together as a faith community and to share the love of Christ with one another and their neighbors.

“It’s important for people to connect in person, to see and experience the love we have for each other, and to share the love of Christ through service, worship, fellowship, and the study of God’s Word … and fun!”

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