For the last four years, two unique congregations have combined their resources and children for the summer Vacation Bible School program – and in doing so, they’ve shared in teachings, renewal, and blessings.
Every July, St. John’s Chapel in Monterey – a traditional congregation that worships with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer – hosts the students of San Pablo Apostol in Seaside, a primarily Latino congregation. While St. John’s has plenty of indoor and outdoor space for VBS, its volume of children had sharply dropped. The Rev. Bob Ott, St. John’s rector, reached out to The Rev. Martin Juarez, San Pablo’s vicar, with an idea.
“We have very few kids here, but we have a nice facility.” says Ott. “on the other hand, Fr. Martin has a small facility but a lot of kids. I said to him, ‘Why don’t we be partners,’ and God bless him, he said yes!”
On a visit last Wednesday, July 11, the program was in full swing, with around 20 kids gathering for morning songs and prayer, then splitting into groups for different segments – arts and crafts, outdoor games, a science-filled “imagination station”, a “Bible Discovery” segment that begins with an outdoor skit and ends in a darkened chapel with candle “torches”, and more — before regathering as a single group for the Funshop Finale, featuring music and lunch. There is no cost for kids to participate.
“We’re excited to do this together and we learn a lot,” said Juarez, of San Pablo. “This community helps us to have contact with other people, with other faith communities, and see how they worship and how they fellowship.”
The Revs. Ott and Juarez made a fine team during the “Bible Discovery” segment, complementing each other’s talents. Ott spoke to the kids in costume as Gideon, recruiting them for God’s army and guiding them to smash false idols (actually red cups, seen at right). Juarez closed the segment by leading the kids into the dark chapel with battery-powered torches and a discussion that brought the message home that “God is with us.”
With a goal of 50 kids, both Ott and Juarez are working to expand the program by reaching out to the wider community, with a particular focus on incoming military families. For now, they and their congregations are sharing the benefits of the VBS partnership.
“We realize we’re the same brothers and sisters in Christ,” says Juarez. “We have different gifts, but we are on a journey together… no matter what kind of duty or job or situation we’re in, we are here to support each other.”
The program is such a hit that a spinoff program may be on the horizon for adults, too. Both Ott and Juarez point out that several adult volunteers – many of whom never attended VBS as children – have quietly expressed an interest in their own VBS.
“What I’ve discovered in my congregation is that by doing these kinds of activities, they relax,” Juarez adds. “They find peace and they find renewal with the message.”