SALT LAKE CITY — Vacation Bible School is a Christian tradition for many. Thousands of Christian churches throughout the country open their doors every summer to embrace a week for study, celebration and fun.
Children of all ages gathered at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1070 Foothill Drive, with friends and neighbors of other faiths to enjoy daylong camps at Vacation Bible School and Music Camp.
“We are trying to accept everyone and make a place for them,” Vacation Bible School director Susan Swidmicki said. “We feel God has a place for them, every person, no matter where they’re coming from or what they have to offer.”
In one room, 9-year-olds are acting out the story of Daniel, who’s about to be in big trouble, headed to the lion’s den. Hint: it’s much more fun to be ferocious than say, the king’s guards.
Gwen Trapp, 12, said she enjoys the time to learn more about the Bible. “I like learning about it, to learn more about our religion and our culture and see what happened to them, the stories.”
In another room, the focus is on music. “I like learning how to play all these different instruments, like the African drums and the xylophones,” said student Grace Lester. “And we’re getting guitar lessons, that’s the reason I came.”
“The African drumming was really cool,” student Sam Skurnik said. “I liked it a lot, but it got my hands really itchy,” he said while laughing.
Having studied about Moses wandering in the wilderness, the first-graders made Exodus boxes with blue glitter for the Red Sea. They included some unusual creatures.
Tereza Tvrdik explained what was in her box, including a big volcano and mermaids. Another student, Dalton Hood, has zombies.
The Vacation Bible School could not work without a lot of help, Pastor Steve Klemz said
"We have volunteers who are teaching, shepherding, sitting with children during lunchtime and sharing their gifts. That goes from organ demonstration, guitar, drumming, you'll see it all," he said.
And that includes what’s called "the silent opera" — a group of children pretending they are singing with huge expressions but not making a sound. After a day of lively conversations, one teacher commented: "This is a good thing.”
The pastor and their teachers hope the students embrace their faith, learn about the arts and have fun. “This is a place of hospitality, a safe place and place to learn of God’s promise and love for them,” Pastor Klemz said.
The children will bring all of their talents, skills and knowledge to worship service at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church Sunday at 10 a.m. Everyone is welcome.
Vacation Bible School has changed for some churches. Jill Stephenson, the Children’s Ministry director of Wasatch Presbyterian Church, said this year her congregation joined forces with Cottonwood Presbyterian and transformed Vacation Bible School to meet the needs of busy family schedules. Held in early June, this weeklong set of activities took place in the evenings.
“Parents and children gathered for dinner and then we included everyone in our studies and arts. This format allowed us to spend a week talking about the Bible and faith and include the parents in everything we did,” she said.
And for some, Vacation Bible School includes humanitarian projects to benefit both fellow citizens at home and abroad. Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake reports a successful Vacation Bible School on its website. Called “Sky – Everything is Possible with God”, 83 children and 42 volunteers came together late last month and raised $265 for mosquito nets to protect children in Mali from malaria. They also collected 400 pounds of food for Crossroads Food Pantry.
Jan Kotuby, associate rector of St. James Episcopal Church, said her committee looked at changing dates and times, but parents and children preferred mornings, 9 to noon. “A number of children of other faiths participated this year. It worked out great for all of us.”
Vacation Bible School took place this past week, with the children, as always, working in the church’s community garden and donating food. St. James is a distribution center for the Utah Food Bank, open the second and fourth Sundays of every month.
“They really enjoy contributing to those in need.”