Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Children enjoy a song at vacation Bible school at St. Anthony Parish, Portland.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Children enjoy a song at vacation Bible school at St. Anthony Parish, Portland.
Every summer parishes across the Archdiocese of Portland help kids reconnect with their faith and the Bible.

At Vacation Bible School, children learn parables, play games, take part in skits, sing, dance — a number of activities to help them understand the Bible more, grow in their faith, and gather evidence that God is at work in the world, say organizers.

Programs like the ones at St. Andrew Parish in Northeast Portland and Immaculate Heart Parish in North Portland have been helping teach children during the summer for more than 30 years.

"We want what the children experience to go home with them and be a part of their lives and their hearts forever," Edna Hicks, a member of St. Andrew Parish and organizer of their Vacation Bible School, told the Sentinel last year.

Most Vacation Bible Schools adopt a theme for their lessons. For this year's Vacation Bible School at St. Clare Parish in Southwest Portland, school-goers will enjoy the theme of Treasure Island.

Jean DeLaney, coordinator of children's and youth ministry at St. Clare, says that the Treasure Island theme will focus on the ocean.

All the rooms where teaching and activity take place are are decorated without the them, and the biblical theme is also tied in.

"The themes bring it all together," said DeLaney. "The physical atmosphere of the themes make it fun for the kids; it helps change the atmosphere or the parish hall or the school cafeteria into a place of wonderment, for them to relate to God in a different setting."

DeLaney also adds that because of the themes, the scripture is presently differently than it would be normally in a religious education format, and this sparks a curiosity in the children about what they are learning.

The concept of the program began in the midwest at the turn of the 20th century by a school teacher who felt constrained by the limits public schools placed on her teaching the Bible, so she offered courses during the summer.

In 1898 Eliza Hawes, director of the children's department at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City, started an "Everyday Bible School" for slum children at a rented beer parlor in New York's East Side. Dr. Robert Boville of the Baptist Mission Society, became aware of the Hawes' summer program and recommended it to other Baptist churches. Boville established a handful of summer schools which were taught by students at the Union Theological Seminary. During one summer, one thousand students were enrolled in five different schools. In 1922, he founded the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible School.

One year later, Standard Publishing produced the very first printed VBS curriculum. Enough material was provided for a five-week course for three age levels (kindergarten, primary, and junior). Now, several Christian publishing companies offer materials for Vacation Bible School adapting materials to their individual faith groups.

For more information about a Vacation Bible School program, contact your parish to see if they have one slated for this summer.