Recently, Southern Living Magazine ran an article about Vacation Bible School being a mark of growing up Southern. I disagree. Bible school was very much a part of my Midwestern upbringing, and I sense the same for other parts of the country.
As today, Bible School was centered around a theme, such as Noah’s Ark or Bible heroes. Around 1960, the focus was mission work in Central America. To drive the focus home, the church ladies in charge fried up some banana slices in an electric skillet.
I had never heard of fried bananas before, and certainly didn’t know that you could fry them. Many of us thought the “treat” was gross, but we learned something about another part of the world that needed Jesus, which was the whole point.
Bible School songs—always new ones every summer--usually involved hand gestures that edged dangerously close to dancing, and if your congregation discouraged such activity, you know what I’m talking about.
Crafts usually involved Popsicle sticks. One year we--or the teacher, rather-- made tiny churches out of them. The gap at the roof line was to insert coins for offerings though I never could figure out how to remove the money without destroying the Popsicle church.
Typical Bible School treats were sugar wafers in strawberry or chocolate or vanilla, and a waxed paper cup filled with red Kool-Aid that stained our lips. I understand this hasn’t changed.
Games included Drop the Hanky, Ring Around the Rosie and London Bridge. I don’t know what those had to do with the Bible or church, come to think of it.
As church history goes, VBS is a recent invention. Accounts vary, but it’s generally thought that the first Vacation Church School was founded in the last half of the 19th century.
Was it the Baptists who started everything or the Presbyterians? Maybe neither. One claim credits a Methodist pastor’s wife in Hopedale, a village near Peoria, Ill., for starting an interdenominational summer Bible School.
Early VBS models offered several weeks of religious instruction during summer months to otherwise idle children. I doubt that many children were very idle during the 1890s, what with farm and household chores.
By the 1920s, VBS had been adopted by thousands of churches nationwide and truly blossomed with Baby Boomers in the 1950s and 60s.
This summer, VBS programs are back from the COVID years, offering Bible stories and Popsicle crafts and the same sugar wafers and cherry-flavored Kool-Aid… classic memories.
---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Her latest book is Going Plaid in a Solid Gray World: Collected Columns, published by Red Hawk Publications. Contact her at email@example.com