By: Amanda Willis
For more than 15 years, three churches in the small town of Eyota, just east of Rochester, have jointly offered a single Vacation Bible School program for children in the community. But this year, for the first time, the group decided to expand the program to include people of all ages.
The number of people willing to lead the summer program had been dwindling over the years, so Rev. Mark Woodward of Faith United Methodist Church came up with a solution: Involve the whole family.
“We got to build community and we got to have all the leaders we needed,” he explained.
About 170 people (out of a community of about 2,000) gathered each evening from June 7 to 11. Faith UMC, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, and Peace Lutheran Church started planning VBS in March around the theme “God’s Creation.”
“God blessed us with good weather, happy people, and well behaved boys and girls with a lot of enthusiasm,” Woodward said. “It must have been ordained for it to happen because it all fell together.”
Woodward; Nichole Paladie, the Christian education director at Holy Redeemer; and Rev. Kris Ferken from Peace Lutheran worked together with some energetic laity from all three churches to plan the week.
VBS took place outdoors at Olmstead County’s Chester Woods Park, just west of town. Families arrived around 5 p.m. to share a meal. Each church took a turn cooking the meal and delivering it to the park.
“The different parents got to know who some of their children’s friends were, and they got to build relationships between different neighbors… they soon realized that they had more in common than not,” Woodward said.
By having the VBS night, parents of the children were able to attend without having to take off time from work. Younger adults (ages 20-35) from the community and grandparents were also involved.
After dinner, families could enjoy the outdoors and learn about Jesus in a setting similar to a Christian day camp. The took part in activities such as nature hikes, planting flowers, and learning about how God created everything from the Earth to small critters. Of course, s’mores were also served on a few of the nights.
The churches advertised VBS through their own networks, but also through the Dover-Eyota public school system. The schools allowed the group to hand out fliers to students, which was very helpful in getting the word out.
The Eyota churches have agreed to do a similar program next year because of the success of this year. They are now seeking parent evaluations on how to make it even better, and the park wants the group to come back.
“It was just fun to watch the moms and dads have fun and play with their children… they were having family bonding time in the midst of this Christian setting,” Woodward said.
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church