By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

During the summer Jesus is coming into homes and unpacking a suitcase filled with items from the tropics, Rocky Mountains … all over the world, as well as songs, fun activities and stories to let children and their families know that he loves them and is with them through virtual Vacation Bible Schools being offered in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

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Melissa Harshbarger, director of faith formation and technology at St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge, is dressed for the tropics as she presents St. Patrick’s VBS “Seeking a Savior.” Photo provided by Melissa Harshbarger | St. Patrick Church 

 

St. Joseph Church– Ponchatoula  

Paige Bacile, parish school of religion coordinator at St. Joseph Church in Ponchatoula, said the theme of St. Joseph’s virtual VBS is “Jesus the Son, the Healer, the Warrior, the Helper, the Servant.” 

“We enlisted volunteer parents, catechists, youth and young adults to create the videos in areas of Scriptures, saints, music, snacks, crafts and games,” Bacile said.  

In addition to these resources that are specified for fifth grade and younger c­ampers, there’s a daily family challenge. There are also prayer resources for older siblings, young adults and parents.  

According to Sarah Fox, St. Joseph youth minister who helped create the VBS, the program allows participants to experience the many different ways Jesus is present in their lives.  

The families have responded enthusiastically, according to Fox.  

“It’s been beautiful being part of people’s prayer lives. It’s been so humbling to see their openness,” Fox said.  

It’s also been fun, as well as faith-building for volunteers.  

Ian Waller, who plans to attend St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict this fall, enjoyed getting together with his friends to produce videos in which they acted out stories from the New Testament. Waller, who is accustomed to working with teens and young adults, said he “reached into his heart” in order to present the stories in a way that children can understand.  

“Sometimes you don’t remember the exact words that were said, but you remember the way people ‘acted’ with joy in the way they shared the Gospel,” said Waller.  

He was also reminded to look at the heart of God the father with childlike wonder and trust.  

“You have to remember ‘I’m a child of God’ – there’s so much confusion in the world,” said Waller.  

People can access St. Joseph’s VBS at stjosephsonline.com/how-this-works.  

St. Alphonsus Church – Greenwell Springs 

When it became clear the coronavirus pandemic would impact the summer VBS at St. Alphonsus Church in Greenwell Springs, Elizabeth Norwood, director of adolescent formation, found an old VBS CD and with some creativity and updating of materials produced “Lava Lava Island: Where the Love of Jesus’ Flows.”  

Participants can access a Google Docs folder containing daily local videos featuring traditional VBS décor of volcanoes, toucans, flamingos, a frog and parrot and Bible story beach house. Children are also presented activities, challenges and reflections.  

“I really wanted to give the children an experience of what they are used to when they are here,” said Norwood, who enjoyed presenting Bible stories when she was a VBS volunteer. “I enjoy being my silly self with my kids.”  

A former science teacher, Norwood said the VBS theme easily allowed her to introduce science-based activities. But most importantly, each theme allows children to see that Christ is with them during difficult times: “Jesus brings us joy; Jesus follows God’s word; Jesus gives us courage; Jesus saves us; and Jesus gives us a reason to celebrate.”  

Norwood’s daughter, Clare, 14, said she also enjoyed making the videos.  

“It was fun decorating and I liked being able to help give the kids a chance to have VBS. I enjoyed seeing how the videos came out after the filming,” she said.  

To access St. Alphonsus’ VBS, visit  drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Dir9TfvKCw1JNbayn LYvcdRCi2bc-qr6.  

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Playing Over and Under as part of the virtual Vacation Bible School at St. Joseph Church on Ponchatoula’s VBS are, from left, Grace O’Neill, Kylee and Faith Hoffmann and Brigid O’Neill. Photo provided by Sarah Fox | St. Joseph Church 

 

St. Patrick Church – Baton Rouge 

In July, St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge is allowing people to bring the island home in a “staycation Bible school” themed “Seeking a Savior.” Parishioners can obtain from the church office a kit filled with Vacation Bible School lessons, activities and, beginning July 6, access music and story time videos made at St. Patrick. Parents will also have access to faith formation videos, such as FORMED.  

With so many things being put “on hold” at this time, it was important to make sure children’s faith formation continues, according to Melissa Harshbarger, director of faith formation and technology.  

She said the VBS will allow children and families to continue their connection with St. Patrick.  

“I think it’s great that people can see and be comforted by familiar faces,” said Harshbarger. “It’s joyful to learn things in a new way. I think it will be helpful for our PSR program.” 

St. Patrick normally does an intense, two-week PSR program during the summer. The parish is considering its options for this year’s program, said Harshbarger. 

For more information, visit stpatrickbr.org/vbs.  

St. Jude the Apostle Church – Baton Rouge  

St. Jude Church in Baton Rouge had such a positive response to last year’s in-person Vacation Bible School it decided to forge ahead through the pandemic with its VBS “Rocky Railway: Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through,” scheduled July 20-24. 

According to Michaelyn McGinnis, director of Christian Formation and Sacramental Records at St. Jude, the on-line program urges parents to become involved in the age-appropriate lessons and activities as prime catechists in the home. But if they are unable, the children will be able to follow the program independently. 

She said during a time when many children are confused and scared because the activities they are used to doing are being canceled, the message of the St. Jude VBS will help them find Jesus as the rock of their faith.  

“He gave us his hope and his power and he wants us to be bold,” said McGinnis. 

For more information, visit stjudecatholic.org.