Vacation Bible School-Yesterday and Today

It’s that time of year again when churches around the country hold Vacation Bible Schools in various formats. For a week or more the church is turned into a biblical marketplace or an underwater reef or a host of other locales to combine Scripture, music, crafts, and games to communicate the Gospel to children and others.

But where did this tradition begin? It seems that the first recorded summer Bible school in the United States was instituted by Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes in 1898 in conjunction with Epiphany Baptist Church on New York City’s east side. Mrs. Hawes noticed how many immigrant children were roaming the streets in the summer, so she searched for a rented facility where she could begin a six-week summer school. The only available facility was a saloon and thus VBS was born in a bar. Continue reading

What’s a Salon?

I thought a salon was a place one went to have their hair “done” or to get a pedicure. Only recently did I learn that salon originally referred to an important place for the exchange of ideas. According to wikipedia.org, a salon, commonly associated with the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, is a gathering of people in someone’s home for the purpose of education and enjoyment. Salon is thus the perfect name for adult conversational gatherings in private homes.

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Stepping Stones in Faith

One Church’s Process to Identify the Basic Milestones on the Journey of Faith…

Over twenty years ago in my early days as Minister of Education at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA we began to talk together about what were the most important concepts to teach our children, youth and adults. We needed a plan and a goal. So we formed a committee! But what a gift this committee became to me and our ministry together. For as we met over more than a year and a half we began to solidify what became the foundational book of our Christian Education at Peachtree – Stepping Stones on the Journey of Faith. I don’t remember the term milestones at that point in time but our work does seem to relate to the emphasis that is now found in many churches in providing milestones for the journey of faith.

As we got started I did some research to see if there was a document in existence that listed what the important concepts of our faith were and at what age they should be taught. I remember having a conversation with Liz McWhorter at the PC(USA) national offices who told me they had always talked about creating something like this but never had that she knew of. She challenged me to create it. So we began our work together at ground zero and it was well worth it.

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Visual Parables: Connecting Faith and Film

Fr. John Culkin inspired me to develop bridges between faith and film when he wrote that were Jesus to begin his ministry today, he would become a filmmaker. The best storytellers are working in Hollywood, so that is where he would be in order to reach the masses with his message. VisualParables.org is the culmination of my media ministry (Presbyterian) that began in the Seventies with writing reviews for several Catholic magazines, followed later by reviews in Protestant and secular newspapers. VisualParables.org moves beyond merely reviewing films by providing tools for church leaders to use them with their people to explore faith and personal and social issues.

The site offers about 1200 free reviews with one or more Scripture references attached. (Sometimes I spend almost as much time searching for the relevant Bible passage as in writing the review.) Each month the VP journal, available by either annual subscription or individual issue, includes the reviews plus a set of questions, ranging from 4 or 5 to as many as 20. Preachers tell me that they usually read the column “Lectionary Links” first because it suggests one or more films related to the Sunday texts of the Common Lectionary. Methodist chaplain Doug Sweet contributes a column that reviews film books and new DVDs. There are special articles, such as “Celebration of the Dance in Film,” and “Social Issue Films Reviewed in Visual Parables,” arranged according to category/themes—the latter lists almost 550 films. Cindy Corey, director of a Presbyterian resource center, reviews various short films.

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St. Andrew’s FISH – Families Integrating Sunday and Home

Like many churches these days, St. Andrew’s had limited volunteer resources and sporadic attendance at Church School. The “regular” families were frustrated and burned out. And my experience had taught me that parental involvement is the single most important success factor in Christian formation. We were ready to do church differently.

We’re an Episcopal church, with a rich liturgical tradition. I have long believed that worship is the most formative thing we do, and worship was working well. We have strong and consistent attendance for our Family Service, which meets during the readings, sermon and prayers of the primary service. We do all the same things, in a more family-friendly setting. Then we rejoin the primary service for Communion, every Sunday. We don’t have any rules about what ages belong where, or parental accompaniment; we let each family make the decision that suits them best. Many parents choose to worship with their children. Continue reading

Flag Day

This Sunday marks a holiday in the United States that is mostly forgotten–Flag Day. It commemorates the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes as our national flag on June 14, 1777. Before this there were many flags in use and so the adoption of one flag style was an act of unifying the colonial forces fighting during the Revolutionary War.

Flags of the American Revolution

In many sanctuaries this flag is accompanied by another called the Christian flag. Did the Christian flag come to be as an act of unifying the forces during the Crusades? Was it designed by an ecumenical church council that drafted an accompanying creed or confession? Continue reading

Selecting Children’s Bibles

At a recent gathering of the East region the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators, Elizabeth “Lib” Caldwell, retired professor of Christian Education at McCormick Seminary, led a discussion of things to consider when choosing a children’s Bible.

She offered a variety of criteria, or lenses, through which to examine children’s Bibles. Continue reading

PRC Webinars for Church Leaders

The internet has ushered in a new way of doing almost everything, from shopping to research. Here at Practical Resources for Churches (PRC), we’ve seen an increase in the use of the internet in how we interact with people, provide resources, and offer learning and growth opportunities. Although we still offer face-to-face experiences through our workshops and roundtables, our webinar program is continually expanding. Continue reading

It’s Planning Season!

Sharon Ely Pearson shares some excellent ideas here on planning for next academic year’s educational ministry programs. I thank her for permission to reblog this post from earlier this month.

Rows of Sharon

540281_10152022877675252_1946054493_nAll the planning, implementation, and celebrations of Holy Week and Easter Sunday are now a joyful memory, and those of you working in a congregation have hopefully had a quiet week of reflection and rest. But there is no rest for the weary . . . it’s time to begin evaluating this past year and begin planning for the next program year.

A checklist for the coming weeks:

  • Collect feedback from volunteer leaders and teachers about what worked and what needs improvement. Plan how you will be recognizing and giving thanks to all those who have given their time and talents this past academic year.
  • Begin the discernment process for calling new teachers and volunteers for next year.
  • Evaluate the programs and the resources you have been using. Do they need tweaking or refreshment? Poll participants, including children and youth, about what they have found memorable and life-giving over the past…

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Quicksheets for Youth Ministry

Quicksheets are free quality resources for youth ministry produced by the Presbyterian Church (USA). They are designed to offer quick practical resources for youth leaders and parents of youth. Some of the more recent titles are also available in Spanish language versions. Gina Yeager-Buckley and a team of writers and editors offer new Quicksheets each year. Here’s the link to the complete listing that begins with the most recent.

Two titles that may be especially timely are Faithfully Simple Living by Beth Greaves– a great series of ideas especially appropriate leading into Earth Day and Summer Ideas by Christy Williams and Shannon Guse–giving you many ideas for crafting quick and meaningful lessons for youth during the summer months.

Kathy Dawson, Associate Professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary