Adapting Vacation Bible School during a pandemic: parishes get creative


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is not happening in person this summer but some parishes have adapted the popular faith formation program to an online format.

Emily Andes, director of faith formation and religious education for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, and Shannon Duffy, director of religious education for St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, found unique ways to offer VBS. Both programs occurred prior to the reopening of churches for Mass.

Taylor, Rhylee and Brenna display one of the projects they did during an online version of Vacation Bible School at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf.

“We’ve really tried to empower the domestic church during this time when we haven’t been able to gather for worship and formation,” Andes said. “We were disappointed that we were unable to gather for traditional VBS, but saw this as an awesome opportunity to get our whole parish digging into the Gospel story all at the same time and hopefully seeing how great it is to bring prayer, study and faith conversation into their daily lives in new ways.”


Lourdes took an intergenerational approach with a program called VBS @ Home, which provided a mix of activities and daily Facebook videos. “We broke down the Kerygma — the basic proclamation of the Gospel — into five parts and used those parts as our theme for the week,” Andes said. “The VBS @ Home packet contained materials for families to use together as they broke open the day’s theme. Each day featured a Scripture passage and activities, discussion questions, suggested resources, a quote from the catechism and information about a saint whose life connects to the theme.”

Feedback for the registration-free program was positive. “We found that people were really grateful to have the resources to grow as disciples and, maybe even more so, to remain connected to the body of Christ that is our parish family.”

Duffy said the staff at St. Thomas More wanted to offer children and families something to do at home since in-person participation could not happen. “If children can’t come to our VBS, let’s bring our VBS to the children. So many things have been postponed or cancelled so I wanted to give the children and families some sense of normalcy during this pandemic.”

He learned about a virtual (remote) VBS program from Michelle Montgomery, the parish’s youth minister. “I checked out an online sample of the program, and liked it a great deal. It’s simple, self-explanatory and requires few and inexpensive materials, many of which can be found at home,” Duffy said. “I sent out the Backyard BOLT Toward Faith in Jesus VBS link/resources to families the middle of June.”

He said GO! Curriculum specifically developed this virtual VBS because of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. It can be a three-day at-home program which includes a video for each day that walks children and families through the experience using Bible stories, music, crafts and games to communicate what it means to listen to, focus on and follow Jesus.

Duffy said traditional VBS engaged helpers ranging in age from middle school students to adults. The virtual VBS program allows helpers to experience the VBS as an entire family with younger children. “It certainly helps to have an older sibling or parent helping the younger children with the games and crafts.”

Like Lourdes’ program, no registration or fees were required. Instructions were sent to families to use when VBS best fit in their schedules. “The BOLT VBS has been a blessing for us and can be adapted as needed,” Duffy said. “Many things have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19. Even though we’re unable to gather in churches as we normally do, BOLT is an example of experiencing Jesus and living our faith in the world in a fun and family-friendly way. Ideally, it’s a form of evangelization that reaches out to families, the domestic church, to experience Christ and community even when we’re unable or limited in gathering as a parish family.”


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