I worked to get them there and I worked to prepare lessons and projects as a teacher. The week wore us out but it was wonderful.
Lately I’ve been wondering about the origin of Vacation Bible School and how long these sessions have been popular around the country – so I looked it up.
According to my sources, the unofficial roots of VBS can be traced back as far as the 1870’s in New York when a Methodist Episcopal Church offered summer classes for children.
More than 20 years later, in 1894, a Bible school began in Hopedale, Illinois when a public school teacher (and Sunday School teacher), D.T. Miles, wanted to teach the children about the Bible but couldn’t find enough time during the school year. She began a daily Bible class for the kids during the summer. Her first school had forty students and lasted four weeks, meeting in a school building and using a nearby park for outside activities.
In 1898, Epiphany Baptist Church in New York sponsored an “Everyday Bible School” for low-income children. Eliza Hawes rented a saloon for the project which ran for six weeks during the summer. By the time she retired, she was running seven separate Bible schools focusing on scripture memorization, games, crafts, drawing, and cooking.
Another Baptist leader heard of Mrs. Hawes’ program and suggested it to other churches. Finally he had one thousand students enrolled in five different schools and in 1922 founded the World Association of Daily VBS.
A year later Standard Publishing printed the first VBS curriculum – for a 5-week course for kindergarten and elementary kids. By 1998 it was reported that over 5 million children were attending VBS every year.
In reading these statistics, I was intrigued by the time frame of the Bible schools. Wouldn’t our teachers today get short of breath and weak-legged if someone suggested VBS to run for four or six weeks – or all summer? Makes me tired to think about it, but the children would love it, I’m sure.
In the early days, of course, all the schools were offered in the daytime when children and workers were fresh, attentive, and energetic. With many of today’s VBS classes being at night, sometimes the children are more tired and maybe not quite as attentive as in the mornings.
Regardless of time frames and session lengths, the churches and teachers do a great job establishing a Biblical foundation for our kids as they teach the Bible stories and songs and allow the kids to use their skills in arts and crafts. It’s a good feeling to know that after over a hundred years, the VBS program is still alive and well all over the country today. In our area the sessions usually run for one week, but in some of the large inner-city communities, the programs may still last much longer than that.
… So teachers, keep up the good work – the kids will never forget their VBS days. They’re learning more than you realize, and at unexpected times, they will recall what you did and what you said and how tight you hugged them when they needed that special touch. It’s a very special time and God will definitely bring fruit from your labors.
(Lora Ann Huff is a Wenasoga resident and special columnist for the Daily Corinthian. Her column appears Friday. She may be reached at 1774 CR 700, Corinth, MS 38834.)