Fun yet fundamental: VBS programs strengthened the faith while school was out
FORT WORTH — For many children in the diocese, learning about Jesus and praising God this past summer has never been more fun or fundamentally rewarding.
From May through late July, about 30 parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth hosted Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs to continue fostering faith in the youth and nurturing kids’ love for God throughout the summer.
The mission for VBS is to “proclaim the gospel, teach the faith, pray, and work for vocations,” said Jason Whitehead, director of evangelization and catechesis. His department coordinates religious education and sacramental preparation for the Diocese of Fort Worth.
Although the programs are well-known to “concentrate more on the fun component than their regular catechesis,” Whitehead asserted that “the strength of VBS is that it helps secure holy habits in the lives of not just the children, but Catholic families.”
Whitehead believes that “everyone notices the summer elbow room in Mass. That’s not a good thing, but VBS helps deal with that. It is really for the whole family because it keeps the entire family plugged into the larger life of the parish.”
After all, while the program is tailored to educate younger children, teens and parents alike volunteer with the activities and coordination, which, Whitehead said, provides everyone in the family with the opportunity to actively live a life of faith, remain connected to the parish community, and significantly impact a child’s respect and love for God.
“Most of the time, you know, the older kids of the parish, they're kind of off on their own doing their own thing, and they're kind of disinterested in the life of the little ones. But then, all of a sudden, they start getting paired up on the team trainer buddy system deal, and that's just the coolest thing in the world for a third grader,” Whitehead commented.
He hopes families recognize “that VBS is more important than you think. I remember VBS more explicitly than I do my regular religious education. It’s [a memory] that’s important to draw back on.”
“We have to take the initiative to make sure that we are providing [children] with the faith year-round,” Whitehead continued. “VBS helps with that because even with a family that’s going to Mass every week, it’s when you’re out of your normal routine that it’s frankly really easy to fall out of holy habits.”
Equally invested in helping the flock cultivate a strong life of faith, many of the diocese’s seminarians also worked as volunteers in VBS programs this summer.
Seminarians Lane Tschirhart and Luke Vina joined volunteers in the Vacation Bible School program working with about thirty kids aged 9 to 12 at Sacred Heart Parish in Seymour.
“They were terrific kids. It was really awesome to go out there and, over three days, teach them some Scripture,” Tschirhart said.
The Sacred Heart Parish’s VBS program theme touched on shining Jesus’ light and was space-themed, providing children with the opportunity to play games, watch videos, and reenact Bible stories.
But for Tschirhart, working with the kids was the best part.
“It was really neat to say, when times get hard or when you see something that you're grateful for, or when you see people that help, or need some positivity in their life, that's a great time to shine the light of Christ. So it was all about that, thinking about, talking about different situations where they might be able to do that,” he said.
For both Tschihart and the youths alike, the memories of this summer’s VBS will be hard to forget. “Some kids left saying, ‘Vacation Bible School is my favorite school!’ and ‘We need to do this every day!’” Tschihart remembered fondly. “I told them, ‘I don’t know about that, but that would be awesome.’”
Like the children Tschihart worked with, four-year-old attendee Anna Guajardo, who attended St. Peter the Apostle’s VBS in June, affirmed how much she loved Vacation Bible School as she happily recounted her joy with the creative program.
“I really liked learning about and coloring Saint Nicholas,” she said. “I also really liked the candy!”