As summer begins, our church begins to plan and prepare for our Vacation Bible School, which we hold on the last week before school starts. It’s a big undertaking for our little church; 50 children from age 3 to 12 from early morning to suppertime for five days.
The kids who come to our VBS are not all “our” kids; many go to other churches on Sundays, or never go to any church. They are mostly not children of privilege; most of the parents juggle multiple jobs as well as family responsibilities. They come from all racial and ethnic groups, all over our diverse city.
For a week, we do all sorts of “old school” activities; build things out of boxes, sing songs with motions, slurp down watermelon, and write skits, all around some Biblical story theme. But the most important thing we do is live in community for a week, and learn together what that means.
It is challenging to learn to live together. Like humans everywhere, our kids disagree about the right rules for a game, or who got the bigger piece of cake or whose turn was next. As many of them are strangers to one another until they meet at VBS, they have to learn to understand and trust one another.
So we, as the adults, set the tone. From the very beginning, we make a few simple rules really clear: no running indoors (it’s dangerous), pick up your own trash (we need the space), raised hands mean quiet, and treat everyone with kindness. The last, of course, is the hardest to do. Name-calling and yelling and coercion are common in our world. But we don’t do that here. Kids may interrupt their parents endlessly, but at VBS, we have a way to get someone’s attention (finger on wrist) and there is no need to interrupt. We don’t do that here. The biggest kid might always win in the back yard, but at VBS, everyone gets a turn. We are not perfect adult leaders, and they are not perfect kids, but for one week, it seems to work. Some kids need a lot of attention in order to be in this community; others take to it like ducks to water. Some adults find it easy to be with kids this way, others struggle, but for a week, it works. Kindness prevails.
Now imagine what it would be like if we tried these things for just a week in our workplaces, in our living rooms and in our communities. We would have to be willing to take the time to talk, of course. We might want to plan some simple activities to help us learn how to be together. Bubbles usually work. Someone would have to be the adult who says, “We don’t do that here”, when people yell at each other or try to threaten someone or leave a mess. We would have to encourage one another to be kind, to think about others’ needs, to be fair. Just for a week.