Church leaders in the Valley turned to creative solutions in order to host vacation Bible schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christ Community United Methodist Church at 3939 Park Road in Monroe Township started its virtual VBS program on Monday. VBS organizers Jamie Waters and Christina McDermott adopted a three-day VBS program from Go! Curriculum, which is custom made for churches and families during the pandemic.

“It’s a great way to get the kids to have a good time and learn about Jesus,” said Waters, who noted CCUMC is still doing virtual church services. “We don’t get to talk or see the children because of the restrictions, so this allowed us a way to keep in touch in a safe way. It lets them know we miss them and want them to keep learning even through a tough situation.”

“Bolt Toward Faith in Jesus” allowed guidance to prepare the three-day VBS. It showed the local church volunteers how to film video clips for games, arts and crafts, Bible study and lessons. Ben Calhoun from the band Citizen Way provided the music clips, they said.

Each participating family has the option to pick up a packet to follow along at home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week. The curriculum is designed for students ages three to sixth grade, but there is no registration or restrictions to who can view it, said McDermott.

The link to the video is located on the church’s Facebook page. It will stay uploaded through the weekend, said McDermott.

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at 400 N. Market St., Selinsgrove, elected to do a virtual VBS in which participants (of all ages) meet at 5 p.m. Wednesdays, starting July 15, via Zoom then access program videos and activities through a private Facebook group. They are free to do these activities (arts and crafts, songs, exercise/yoga, book-read-alongs and Bible studies) at their own pace, according to St. Paul’s youth leader Stacy Heinemann.

Instead of meeting every evening for one week, the VBS program is one night a week for five weeks, she said.

“Our VBS theme this year is ‘Compassion Camp - Be Loved. Be Kind. Be You,’ distributed through Illustrated Ministries,” said Heinemann. “We chose this program because as you look around the world, what becomes clear is our deep need for compassion — more now than ever. St. Paul’s Compassion Camp VBS goal is to cultivate compassion for each other, ourselves, and the world.”

The program has been “quite well received and it’s been an absolute pleasure hosting the Zoom meetings from our “Compassion Camp campsite”. We even have participants from Punxsutawney, Mansfield Ohio and Sparks Nevada,” she said.

This summer, there are 37 total participants: 21 kids/teens and 16 adults. Since they decided on a virtual program, they extended it out to all in our community regardless of age and Heinemann supplemented the program with age-appropriate activities/studies for the additional age groups of teens and adults, she said.

“Our Zoom meetings are recorded and posted on our VBS pages so those who can not attend can access the lessons and group discussions at their convenience,” she said. “Supply kits are delivered to each participant on Tuesdays and the activities are posted on our FB group and website prior to the camper meeting on Wednesdays.”

Sunbury Bible Church at 135 Spruce Hollow Road outside Northumberland is scheduled to have its VBS program from Aug. 9 through Aug. 13 with a combination of in-person and virtual. The registration is limited to 60 students — about a third of what they normally get in previous years — and those students will be sorted by age into four different groups with 25 volunteers, about half of previous volunteers, according to Gary Daddario Jr., director of church and family ministries.

Once the limit is reached, the goal is to have a livestream of the event so parents and children who were unable to register or didn’t feel comfortable doing so could still be a part of the program. Families will be told about craft time in advance so they have time to gather the necessary materials, said Daddario.

“Our kids have not been able to do anything all summer long,” said Daddario. “We want them to have something to do. Kids are getting bored.”

The decision to limit was so the church could fulfill the safety precautions and guidelines of the state. Church leaders conferred with doctors from Geisinger and are modeling their steps after the day care centers at the hospital in Danville, said Daddario.

Every child will be pre-screened when they arrive and parents will be required to discuss how their child has been feeling, whether they’ve been sick and where they’ve been. Each child wil be checked for temperature and each child must wear a mask inside the building, said Daddario.

“We have purchased facemasks to go with the theme of the VBS (Mystery Island),” said Daddario. “Everybody must wear a mask when they can’t socially distance. We’re using our bigger areas, the sanctuary and gym, and we’re trying to do as much outside as possible if the weather cooperates. We are confident knowing we can safely distance them throughout the evening.”

The church’s safety plan is listed on its website, he said.

At Port Ann Wesleyan Church at 2856 Troxelville Road, Middleburg, VBS programs in the past brought in between 40 and 60 children but a one-day in-person VBS program on July 11 only brought in about 10 children, according to PAW Church children’s director Robin Kratzer.

“We were going back and forth on what to do,” said Kratzer. “We haven’t really done anything for the kids throughout all this. The church was hesitant, but we decided to set this up and try to keep them socially distanced. It all worked out. It’s not always about the numbers, it’s also about the ministry and giving the message they need to hear.”

The smaller turnout was “more relaxed” with only one group instead of three age groups, she said.

The church was not sure what to expect. A drive-thru egg hunt in April brought in 220 children, not including adults, where families drove through the church parking lot to pick up pre-filled bags of candy, Easter eggs and meals, she said.

PAW has been back with in-person worship since the first week of June and plan to restart its children’s ministry soon, said Kratzer.

The one-day one-day Vacation Bible School experience at PAW was held on July 11. The theme was “Anchored: Deepening Faith in God.”

Other churches, like Catawissa Avenue United Methodist Church at 319 Catawissa Ave., Sunbury, decided it was too hard to navigate the restrictions from the state and instead canceled VBS programs. CAUMC Organizer Penny Hupp said the masks and social distancing were two main restrictions that she said children would have trouble with.

“We originally were scheduled for June, then postponed until August, then ultimately canceled,” said Hupp. “It was too difficult to organize a program with such uncertainty.”

Hupp, in her first year of organizing the VBS, said she attended the church since she was born and remembers going to VBS as a child and then sending her own sons.

“It’s very important in the life of a child, in that it plants a seed of truth into their heart and mind,” she said.

Hupp said she feels “slightly guilty” about canceling it this year.

“We could have done it, but it would have been touch and go with the ever-changing restrictions,” she said. “I figured that I would just table the work that I had done so far and make next year better than ever.”

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