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Churches plan alternate approaches to Vacation Bible School

With social distancing guidelines still in place, local churches had a decision to make about their annual Vacation Bible School efforts, which in many cases are the lifeblood of children’s ministry.

Though some churches have canceled or postponed VBS plans, others are moving forward—albeit with new approaches.

Two local churches, Asbury United Methodist Church in North Shelby County and Westwood Baptist Church in Alabaster, will hold a different sort of VBS this year.

“People are being creative because Vacation Bible School is such an opportunity for us to show the gospel, to tell people about Jesus and to showcase your church and your ministries,” Westwood Families Pastor Ric Callahan said.

Asbury’s Vacation Bible School will be held virtually July 13-16.

After realizing about a month ago that a traditional VBS would not be possible on the dates that had been planned, Children’s Ministry Director Angie Gongwer said church officials decided they wanted to offer the program even if it meant the children would participate from home.

“We’ve got a lot of great people and great resources, so we knew we could pull that off,” Gongwer said.

Over the next two weeks, educational videos will be recorded focusing on worship, crafts, science and more.

The videos will be streamed online at AsburyOnline.org at 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday during the week of VBS, with church leaders on hand to communicate via chat functions. Each session will be less than an hour, Gongwer said.

“We’ll create as much of the energy of VBS as we can in that way,” Gongwer said.

Participants should register at AsburyKidsTown.org/VBS and then drop by the church to pick up a bag with needed supplies and a T-shirt.

“We’re trying to make it as fun for the kids as we can but also simple for the families,” Gongwer said.

Also planned are Zoom calls in the evenings for kids to show off their crafts and projects, and connect with each other.

Though the normal mass of more than 100 volunteers was not needed for this year’s virtual VBS, Gongwer said about 30 people still pitched in.

“We’ve had a great response. We’re all used to this now, so no one was surprised,” Gongwer said about worship services and other aspects of life being held online during the COVID-19 quarantine. “I think everyone is just excited that we’re offering it in some way. There’s so much excitement around VBS at Asbury.”

Registration began April 1, and those who wish to participate must register by June 8 to receive a bag of supplies, which will be handed out the week before the event.

Meanwhile, Westwood Baptist Church leaders are preparing for “Backyard VBS” to be held at various host homes across the area June 15-18.

“We are asking people to stay in the backyards and have a safe environment for the kids, with several adults leading each location,” Callahan said.

Registration for Westwood’s Vacation Bible School begins June 6.

The church will provide all the needed materials, as well as pre-recorded videos to be shown as part of the two-hour sessions that can be held in the mornings or evenings depending on the host’s preference.

The goal is 30 host homes, Callahan said. Host homes in Calera, Jemison, Montevallo and several neighborhoods in Alabaster have already been identified.

About 10 children ages 4-12 will be allowed to register for each home.

All hosts and leaders must be Westwood members and submit to a background check, and training will be held at the church on June 3.

Each host home will be able to decide whether to offer the sessions in the morning or evening, with worship, crafts, lessons, games and snacks provided at each session.

Callahan said a benefit for the Backyard VBS is the opportunity for the host homes to become “community missionaries” for families around them—a point of contact for assistance.

“The idea is we want to take VBS to our community,” Callahan said. “It’s not about building Westwood, it’s about building the kingdom, but there will be opportunities to let them know Westwood loves them as well.”

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