School is OUT! At least around here. With school being out that means it’s time for a southern staple, Vacation Bible School.
I will explain this phenomenon for those of you from parts of the country that are not afflicted with this Sunday spectacle called “church”. You see, in the South, some take the opportunity that summer vacation offers to put children in a week-long day camp. It’s a lot like school, with no buses, and religion is allowed.
The children have fun activities and the church gets to teach kids more about whatever branch of Christianity they like. The parents have one more week of sanity before the kids are turned back over to them for a week of fun and eight weeks of complaining about being “bored”.
Some of my repressed memories of this event from youth surface from time to time. I remember Camp Lystra on Lake Wateree (real original name there…) near Camden, South Carolina. It was a lakeside campground owned by the church, complete with a large “mess hall”, docks for fishing, and a wooded area. Part of the weeklong competition was building a hut in the woods out of natural materials. Sort of like the housing on Survivor, without all the cameras and scripts to memorize. Best hut wins…ummm, I don’t remember, I guess we got to sacrifice the goat or something. Maybe not, Christians don’t do that any more… religion went all soft around the fourteenth century, until they started burning women at the stake.
Back to Camp Lystra; I remember fishing. I remember the hut building, and running around in the woods. I also remember boring speeches in front of the lower-case t by the water’s edge, and no air conditioning. When I was a kid, the thing I remembered was that it was just bible school. I learned a few things too, including that if you hook yourself with a fish hook and your friends remove it without too much injury that you don’t have to go get a tetanus shot if you don’t tell your parents.
Now the bible schools all have “themes”. It might be Alaska, or Aviation, or Midwestern, or any other mass-produced national bible school program. It’s no longer something the church has to put together and run. There are cut-outs and pin-ups and full lesson plans. Give any person that volunteers a manual, and send them to teach lesson 15.
My own daughter goes to Vacation Bible School (VBS) each year, not because I participate in any major religion (although Buddhism sounds better every year) but because grandma DOES. Grandma is like the church version of those scrubbing bubbles. She handles the religion thing, so I don’t have to. She also knows that if she doesn’t, the closest thing my child will get to religion is praying for a good grade when test time comes around. Since the kid is proving herself well off in the brains department, she might not have to worry about that. If there’s one thing any god is probably not concerned with, it’s your grade on a fourth grade math quiz, so I really think it’s just up to you and studying.
The thing about Vacation Bible School, is it is free. Drive kid to church. Drop kid off. Wait several hours, pick kid up. Praise kid for macaroni pictures, popsicle-stick crafts, and in my case, not drowning sister in the lake. No cost involved for the parents.
Until I saw this:
Okay, standard stuff…
We got our “super hero” theme… we have our location, dates, times, and…
Ten bucks for the first kid? Five bucks for every other kid?
What the Duck? My first thought was this was to cover some kind of cost. Volunteer time? Food? Materials? But then I thought deeper, and my cynical self kicked in. It has taken years for me to develop my cynical, negative side, and I think it’s just about up to par. Why would a church, especially a HUGE church that also runs a private school, charge for bible school?
Isn’t bible school all about getting people to come to church that might not otherwise do it? Sunday school is boring. Church is worse, but turn the event into a week of FREE day care, and even the most anti-churchy parents may think “hey, this stuff is a pretty good idea!”
So what’s the dilly-o? A few ideas spring to mind:
1. It makes sure you are going to come to the whole thing. Odds are, if you pay for it, your kid will be there in the beginning and stay until the Friday program. They aren’t just going to “not show up” the first day, and they aren’t going to stop coming after day three.
2. It ensures only those who really want the kids to be there, are going to come. Sort of like #1. But with an emphasis on keeping registration to manageable levels. After all, parents will jump at the chance for free baby sitting. That’s how a lot of them view public school, any way.
3. It keeps away parents who will only jump at free baby-sitting.
4. It keeps out the really dirt poor. Private schools have a reputation of being sort of snooty and elitist. Why would you want your snooty elitist kid to have to go to VBS with a bunch of commoners that only come to church once a week in June, and (oh the HORROR!) attend PUBLIC school? For a very poor person, having to drive back and forth to VBS ten times, and pay $25 for their brood to attend, may just be out of reach.
5. Or they could just be drumming up money for Lottie Moon. That lady must do a LOT of missionary work, people have been raising money for her forever.
So thump your bibles, bring your kids, and make some macaroni pictures. And have fun. Unfortunately, I don’t think they get to build huts anywhere in town, but they don’t have Steve pulling out fish hooks with rusty pliers down by the shoreline, either.