Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Virtual Vacation Bible School: Amazing Stories, Unexpected Storytellers

Faith communities have been forced to address numerous challenges over the past few months as we all learn to navigate our lives, worship, formation, and our interactions with others while COVID-19 is in our midst. It has been exciting to see creative thinking and innovation with respect to digital worship and Christian formation opportunities as churches explore how to be the Church in our current reality. 
Faith communities have realized that we are so much more than what happens in our church buildings during Sunday worship. It is safe to say that this summer will be a different kind of summer as we continue social distancing efforts to help keep people safe. The traditional Vacation Bible School (VBS) program design of summers past, presents risks to the volunteers and participants as well as to their families. As a result, VBS is one of those summer formation opportunities that will require some creative thinking and adaptation in order to offer the program during the pandemic. Luckily, there are a number of virtually VBS options for faith communities and parents to explore this summer.
 A group of formation leaders from our diocese's Christian Education Network (CE-Net) developed a free virtual VBS program called Amazing Stories and Unexpected Storytellers that is highly flexible in both context and execution. Amazing Stories and Unexpected Storytellers is designed to adapt to the needs of parishes and congregations as well as individual families. It can be led for groups via Zoom, Facebook Live, or some other virtual meeting platform or simply be led by families at home.
The program design was inspired by the books A Spy on Noah's Ark and The Spy at Jacob's Ladder by Lindsay Hardin Freeman. We are thankful that the publisher, Forward Movement, has given us permission to use video readings of these stories through August 31, 2020. Freeman's books share the Bible stories from the perspective of an unexpected voice rather than the narrators we are used to hearing. If you are interested in learning more about the books visit www.forwardmovement.org. 
 Amazing Stories and Unexpected Storytellers consists of three segments/sessions - each segment features three storytelling videos (view on the Diocese's YouTube channel), crafts, recreational activities, science experiments, and outreach/mission challenges. The three segments include:
  • FAITH - God Calls Us to be Heroes explored through the stories of Miriam, David, and Deborah.
  • HOPE - Jesus with Us explored through the stories of the Woman of the Well, Jesus Calms the Storm, and Jesus Feeds the 5000.
  • LOVE - Lead with Jesus explored through the stories of the Last Supper, Dorcas, and Pentecost.
Whether you are a formation leader leading the program virtually or a parent using the program in your home you can use whatever components best meets your needs.   There is plenty of content included to provide for a more traditional but virtual one-week program, multi-week program, or the stories can be stretched out weekly over the course of the summer or the user can create any variation in between. 
Click here to explore the program. Efforts are underway to provide a Spanish translation of the program which should be available in the coming weeks.
If you would like to explore other virtual VBS alternatives there are a number of options available from various vendors. Many of these programs offer two distinct fee structures for families and church use.  
  • Church Publishing offers the free Summer Activity Pack for Children and Families Vol. 1.  Click here to download the packet.
  • Illustrated Ministry offers a fee-based program called Compassion Camp. Click here to learn more about it. 
  • GenOn Ministries offers suggestions to modify their integrational fee-based VBS -All God's Children: The Church Family Gathers for Summer to virtual space. Click here to learn more about their program.
  • Go Curriculum has an online fee-based program with music, titled Backyard Bolt Towards Faith in Jesus.  Click here to learn more about the program.
  • Group Publishing is offering some guidance to adapt their fee-based packaged VBS programs to neighborhood VBS options. Click here to view their resources.
  • Cokesbury is offering some resources to adapt their fee-based packaged VBS programs to virtual space.  Click here to explore their resources.
If you use Amazing Stories and Unexpected Storytellers this summer the planning team would love to hear how you used it in your setting. If you have questions about the program contact Lynn Farlin, Canon for Formation (lfarlin@diosova.org), or CE-Net Co-Chairs, Vicky Koch (vkoch@stpaulsnorfolk.org) or Gizelle Moran (gizelle@trinity-portsmouth.org).