It's been 70 years since Tommie Braley went to Vacation Bible School.
"It was a small church in Georgetown, Tenn. A school bus came around in the mornings and picked us up and took us to the church," the 79-year-old recalls, smiling at the memory.
"We played outside, painted things, made things. But the best part was the picnic on the last day — you'd go to Bible school that morning, then come back in the evening with your family for a picnic and program," says the resident of The Lantern at Morning Pointe of Collegedale, an Alzheimer's and memory care center.
Vacation Bible Schools
First-Centenary United Methodist Church, 419 McCallie Ave.; 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; call 756-2021, ext. 3111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tyner United Methodist Church, 6807 Standifer Gap Road; "Camp Discovery: Jesus at Work Through Us"; 5:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday-Friday, July 12-17; free dinner provided; 3 years old through fifth grade; 892-0444 or email@example.com.
One Accord Community Church, 343 Sweetland Drive, Red Bank; "Journey Off the Map"; 6-8:45 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, July 12-16; ages kindergarten-adult; 875-8377.
Red Bank United Methodist Church, 3800 Dayton Blvd.; "Journey Off the Map" 6:30-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, July 19-23; ages 3 years to fifth grade; registration kickoff is 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 12, or call Pattie Pope at 240-5342 or visit rbumc.org.
* Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, 4131 Ringgold Road; "Bible Blast to the Past - Discover God's Everlasting Love"; 6-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, July 20-23; ages 2 years through sixth grade; registration kickoff is 6-8 p.m. Sunday, July 19; 624-6073.
But each morning last week, Braley was again hanging out with kids at VBS, playing games, making art, laughing and sharing stories as youth from Collegedale Seventh-Day Adventist Church brought their VBS to the senior adults for the third year.
"I'd forgotten how much fun Bible school was," Braley says.
There might have been seven decades difference in their ages, but the girls and senior women were all giggling over neon-hued manicures, putting silk flowers in their hair and pouring root-beer floats.
Called "Operation Generations," the VBS is part of a service camp for ages 10 to 13, while younger children participated in a more traditional VBS at the church.
Will Hurtado, youth pastor at Collegedale SDA, says he had 100 students enroll in the VBS service camp along with 20 teen counselors. The preteens and tweens were divided into five groups that rotated between 10 service projects. Each day brought a new experience for the kids — and to the senior residents at The Lantern since a different youth group visited each morning for Bible school.
Vacation Bible School — that rite of summer when religious education is paired with games, crafts and music — continues to reinvent itself as VBS directors try to keep the interest of today's tech-savvy generation of children. The popsicle-stick crafts and marching into morning assemblies that everyone from baby boomers through Generation X experienced have evolved into themed weeks that are often costumed, have interactive music and stage performances as well as video components.
Less than five years ago, Vacation Bible Schools in the area began adding community service projects into their programs, some in the form of crafts that were donated to local nonprofits at the end of VBS week, others supporting missions of the church. Now Collegedale SDA has taken community ministry one step further by taking its Vacation Bible School on the road.
In addition to leading Bible school at the Lantern, Hurtado says some of their service projects included a youth posse visiting the home of a low-income resident, where they cleaned and did yard maintenance; others volunteered at The Samaritan Center. Some comprised a road crew that picked up trash around Collegedale, while others made "lolliflowers" — lollipops decorated with flower cutouts — and gave these pick-me-ups away at Collegedale/Ooltewah businesses.
Some kids washed cars at the Ooltewah Bi-Lo for donations to fund an upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua, others wrote letters to abused children in that country and Haiti, telling them someone had prayed for them that day. Happy, uplifting thoughts — "Have a nice day." "Praying for you today." — were jotted onto Post-Its and these "beautiful notes," as they were called, were stuck to windshields of cars around Collegedale/Ooltewah parking lots.
The "Operation Prayer" group walked neighborhoods where they knocked on doors and offered to pray for residents who answered. Ten-year-old Lily Staddon made one of the Operation Prayer visits.
"I was pretty comfortable with knocking on doors because it was near a church in an older neighborhood, so I figured the people would be older. They were really nice and didn't yell at us or shut the door on us," says the rising fifth-grader at Apison Elementary School.
Lily says her group prayed for each home's resident "to have a good day" and included any special requests if they were asked. She says one woman requested that they pray for her daughter's drug problem, another elderly woman asked to include prayer for her husband, who had been living in a nursing home several years and was missed at home.
Hurtado believes the benefits of this VBS service are twofold for the Collegedale youth.
"It helps them become servants, to serve people different from themselves, and, after a while, they find they aren't different at all. They learn we're all the same. It's also valuable because this service helps younger teens not be so isolated in their own world," he explains.
"We could have made it all fun and go to the lake each day, but we are doing something that shows kindness and love to others and I like to think that's our purpose here. What we're doing is a great form of education."
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.