VBS at Risk of Turning into Daycare Center

( [email protected] ) Jun 19, 2004 05:37 PM EDT

Summer is here, which indicates the time for Christian leaders to shift their attention to Vacation Bible School -- known as VBS, for children who are on summer vacation. However, despite its long history and popularity within churches, some VBS coordinators are concerned over VBS turning into daycare center as many schools are experiencing low number of volunteers and teachers.

"There is a growing problem with people ... seeing vacation Bible school as an outlet for childcare," said Denise Peckham, director of children’s ministries and associate pastor at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Texas.

According to Peckham, operators of local small daycare centers attempted to leave their children with Holy Covenant’s VBS while they are away for break but the church had to turn some away because there were not enough volunteers to take care of those children.

"It was not that we didn't want those children," said Peckham, "It was an issue of safety. We only had enough volunteers for 125 children.

"Unless we have an influx of volunteers, we're going to tell (walk-ins) – 'If you would like to stay with your child, you are welcome to stay," Peckham added, "But you can't just drop them off.' "

Holy Covenant is not the only church that is struggling with such issue. Other churches are also talking about the issue, seeking to find solution to the problem.

"If you get too many kids for the number of volunteers, you get to the point where you're not really doing VBS anymore," said Susan Bryan, who coordinates children ministries for the North Texas conference of the United Methodist Church.

Meanwhile, other churches are gaining success in coming up with solutions to the problem. Some of the suggestions made by the leaders include: offering VBS in the evening, focusing more on parental participation, and increasing flexibility.

First United Methodist Church is one of the churches that remain flexible in accepting children.

"We made a decision a few years ago to keep the crafts, the snacks and the activities simple so that we can accommodate as many children as possible," said Lynda Whitman, children’s minister for First United Methodist Church of Lewisville. "We try to remember that it's about relationships, not about the stuff you take home."

Northlake Baptist, for instance, has created evening VBS programs to have working parents participate and help avoid the problem of parents or daycare operators who "dump and run."

As many Christians know, vacation Bible schools are special summer schools offered by churches, Mon. – Fri. for children K-12. The main goal of VBS is to teach the Bible but it also seeks to provide meaningful and memorable summer for children by organizing various activities and events.

According to Seven Gertz, Christian History columnist of Christianity Today, VBS originated in 1870s when the Methodist Episcopal Church offered summer Sunday school. It was Bishop John H. Vincent who introduced the idea of including summer educational cultural programs in 1873 for children. The actual VBS began in New York by Walker Aylette Hawes of the Epiphany Baptist Church 20 years later. In respond to the growing number of immigrant children in the slums, she established a Bible school which included a six-week program of Bible study, worship music, games, drawing, cooking, etc. and taught those children during the summer.

VBS became nationally known in 1991 as Dr. Robert Boville, who worked for the Baptist mission Society established the Daily Vacation Bible School Association. By then there were 19 schools across the nation. In 1923, VBS spread internationally as Boville established the World Association of Vacation Bible Schools. While crediting Boville for establishing VBS as a movement, Gertz credited Stand Publishing in Cincinnati for making VBS popular. According to Gertz, the publisher created a full-scale VBS program in 1923, divided it by grade level in 1948, introduced a single-theme concept in 1952, and by 1987, offered more than 120 tools for churches wanting to run a VBS. By 1998, there were more than 5 million children who attended VBS programs.

VBS leaders in Texas see the current crisis is challenging VBS, yet they remain hopeful considering the problem as an opportunity to help children at the daycare center, who might be in most need of love and to engage more parents to participate in VBS.

"Even if it's about three hours of free babysitting for the parents, that's OK," Peckham of Holy Covenant said, "if the child comes home ... learning something and feeling loved."

"I have no problem with a daycare center bringing their children here," said the Rev. Danette Schader, children's minister at Christ United Methodist in Plano. "But they do need to drop off some teachers, too."