Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Vacation Bible School
Jonal entry 1117 | July 2 2010
Early summer always makes me nostalgic for the vacation Bible schools I attended in my childhood and teens. Though I don't remember learning much in most of those one- and two-week academies, just making the effort to be there every day and knowing it was voluntary unlike my public school obligation, made an impression that was both intellectual and spiritual. I think I did learn to list the five "books of Moses"Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomyin one of the schools, but it was probably not until I was in theological seminary that I learned to recite all the rest of the Old Testament books in order, a rote exercise that I have subsequently lost.
But of course VBS is not about learning to list the books of the Bible but to absorb many of the Word's teachings, ranging from the explanation for why the world is in the mess it is in (the "fall") in the opening chapters of Genesis to how the church may hope to fare in the Last Judgment in Revelation. I had so many inputs in those doctrines throughout my childhood that it's hard to say how much of that came through VBS specifically, but certainly most of it was at least reinforced.
I don't know whether the churches in the Valley co-operated in putting on VBS's in the 1950's, to the extent of recommending another church's "school" if they themselves weren't doing one that year, but "Bible school" as we always called it, was very much an ecumenical activity in our family. I think my first was at our own church, the EUB church in Belsano, when I was around six or seven. The second, however, was at the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Twin Rocks, and I'm sure I attended it regularly, though that was the only time in my whole life I remember being in that church, though one of my classmates' wedding, in which I served as "a member of the wedding" may have been there. The third one I remember was at the EUB church in Twin Rocks, which was a "yoked parish" with our Belsano one.
The Bible schools were put on by their sponsoring churches' Sunday schools, with the Sunday school officers and teachers serving as the staff and faculty and though there was never any charge to attend, there were probably daily offerings to offset the cost of curriculum and craft or art materials. Where I live now I seldom see signs of vacation Bible schoolsprobably because so few parents are free to take on the teaching obligations in today's economyand the ones I saw several decades ago were being offered with a tuition price attached. Certainly, when I was a single parent, being able to send the kids to a free or low-cost VBS would have been a boon, so I can understand it becoming fee based, even if I prefer the older approach.
I think, but can't swear, that I attended Bible schools in the Church of God on Cardiff Road in Nanty Glo at least twice and possibly more often throughout those years. A next-door neighbor of ours on Red Mill Road was a member of that congregation, and I suspect that it was for his and his neighbors' kids that that church sent a schoolbus all the way out in the township to round us up. None of the other Nanty Glo churches did that.
The two most memorable Bible schools I recall are one at the Belsano EUB (I don't remember the other church in Belsano ever offering a Bible school) put on when I was in junior high school, and another I will describe below. Our pastor, Herbert Stang, had two daughters, the elder of which was a student then at Geneva College in Beaver Falls (if memory serves). She served as the teacher of the junior highs, and we met in the church parsonage, which helped to make the event memorable. She taught us in a more adult way than we ever had been before, conducting the lessons more like discussion sessions than lectures. And (I believe this is described somewhat in the diaries I ran in this space beginning about a year ago) her mother conducted our "craft" sessions, which consisted of creating a small tablecloth and napkins with artwork we created under her tutelage.
The second was at the Nanty Glo Church of God. I was 14 then and going into high school that fall, and it was the only Bible school I ever attended that met in the evening instead of the morning. That seemed especially suitable to those of us in the high school class, as teenagers seem to become oriented to evening activities around that time in their lives. I remember that evening swims at White Mill were also favored around that time. And the long evenings seemed especially suitable for spiritual renewal. It was also probably the last vacation Bible school I ever attended.
Webmaster Jon Kennedy
July 3 2010
Jon, I decided I'd tell a bit about what the Bible school was like at the Nanty Glo Christian and Missionary Alliance church when I was a kid (a few years ago).
They used Dr. Lathum's Bible course. (Disclaimer: My facts might be a bit off on some things but, in general, they will be right.)
VBS started the week after school ended and went for two weeks. I think the hours were 8-noon then back 1-4. There were no crafts that I remember. Most was memory work. One year (I think I was 12 or 13) I stood the last day and recited more than 400 verses. (Richard Rhoades recited more, darn it.) We memorized by the chapter.
If a person completed all 12 years of Dr. Lathum's course, he would get accepted into Nyack Bible School in either sophomore or junior year, depending on test scores. My Aunt Jean Grazier went as a junior.
The year I went into 9th grade in hi school, someone decided Dr. Lathum's course was "too difficult for children" so they changed and went with a more or less craft-based VBS so I, and most of my buddies quit.
I'll be 70 next month and a lot of what I learned in that Bible school is still with me.
You might want to check out the old Dr. Lathum Bible course.I believe he was a Presbyterian minister somewhere around Lancaster, Pa.
Have a good California day.
July 2 2010
Your vacation Bible school Jonal was very good and it brought back a few memories of attending Bible school at what was then called Pike Brethren Church in Mundys Corner. There was the early morning bus ride to the church and upon arrival, we'd all scurry to our designated classrooms for the day's lessons and activities in what then seemed to be a very cold church basement. I seem to recall a brown bag lunch/snack but I'm not certain if it was provided at home or by the church.
If my memory serves me correctly, the Pike church had a picnic to close out the Bible school session. Behind the church was a grove of shade trees where on picnic day the tables were set up, covered with tablecloths and food. Lots of good food and all of it home-made: salads, cakes, cookies, ham, pickled eggs, ham salad sandwiches, baked beans , melons, and Kool-Aid...ever any soda, just Kool-Aid (at least I don't recall there ever being soda available). We played dodge ball, baseball, tag, three-legged sack race, wheel barrow races...pin the tail on the donkey...the greatest of times!
This year, Nanty Glo's First Baptist Church will hold its Vacation Bible School in August. The sign-up sheets are filling with the names of volunteers ready to lend a hand.
Thanks for a great Jonal and the trip down memory lane.