It wasn’t long after the new church in Morrison City opened up that we held our Vacation Bible School in it. We normally had a couple dozen children from birth through high school in our Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School always improved on that number, sometimes doubling, oftentimes tripling that number. Seeing the church full of other young’uns made us aware this was going to be a fun time.
We were directed to sit in the sanctuary’s new pews (where the slick wood made a place to slide and scoot and otherwise move around when we were supposed to be still). After gathering, someone would call us to order, offer prayer, and tell us how excited they were that we were there. Then my mom or the preacher’s wife would get up before us to lead us in some VBS songs. “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart,” “Deep and Wide,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” “Sunshine Mountain,” and “Happiness Is the Lord.” Of course, we also sang “This little light of mine,” which included our custom verse, “Let it shine over Morrison City, I’m gonna let it shine!” These were the sounds of contemporary worship in the late 1960s. We’d sing at various rates of enthusiasm, and then be directed to follow our teachers in single file to whatever room we were assigned to be in.
Class would usually be a lot like Sunday School, except that once we had done the reading or storytime, we could go to another area for a craft, and another for refreshments. You could sit through the lesson knowing something fun was coming up.
Crafttime was usually in the fellowship hall of the church. This room had quilts in frames leaning against the wall at the end of the room, and in the beauty of the Quilters’ handiwork, we would create. I’m sure we made macaroni art, you know, glued macaroni on paper plates. Everybody has to do that. It’s pretty much standard, and I’m sure it’s in the Bible somewhere, if only written in the back flap. But the older kids got to burn matches and make beautiful crosses out of those burned sticks of wood. We couldn’t wait until we were able to create one of those things. Mrs Elva led us creating molded plaster plaques. Once we had poured the plaster, we were allowed to paint them in whatever colors we wanted. I’m sure we made a mess, but it was VBS and you were supposed to put your heart into it. And the church ladies would come by with “oohs” and “aahs” to encourage us in our art.
Refreshments were offered on a little table at the end of the kitchen, near the basement doors. You got to take a couple cream filled cookies and a cup of kool-aid. That was it. Same menu every day, different color of Kool-Aid. This was before Jonestown, and “drinking the kool-aid” didn’t mean what it does today. We drank it dutifully, like it was communion, crunching on those cream-filleds like they were consecrated. The way refreshments were set up, we were directed outdoors to crunch and sip our sweet communion.
Sometime during the schedule, each class would be directed upstairs to the sanctuary where we were tutored in the finer nuances of the VBS songs. We learned the motions, mastered the words, and were directed to stand and sing “louder” and “smile”. I’m not sure we could do that so well, but I’m also sure we sounded like little angels intoning our special songs. These were songs we never sang except during VBS. They seemed mysteriously special, and appropriately kid-friendly.
It was the regular rhythm of life that we would have VBS right after school was out each year. With our commitment to five whole days, in the mornings, (9 a.m. to noon), it helped us transition from one pastorate to another, from one grade to another, from toddlerhood to elementary ages, to middle school aged, to “youth”. I’m not sure any of us became better people because of it, but it was a way the adults of our church were being faithful, and it was a good way for the community to build relationships. Our church was building the Kingdom, and it was built on plaster praying hands and Kool-aid.