Many parishes found ways to make Vacation Bible School safe, successful

From left, Lucy Rashid, Taylor Camarena, Brenna Camarena, Rhylee Camarena and Sidney Andes have fun at the Our Lady of Lourdes Vacation Bible School in Bettendorf.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Children throughout the Diocese of Davenport were able to enjoy learning about their faith and have fun as many parishes resumed Vacation Bible School (VBS) this summer.

“Vacation Bible School is a really valuable piece of parish ministry and church life,” said Emily Andes, director of faith formation at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf. “It’s a great opportunity to bring in new people and share the Good News in a ‘crash course.’”

Lourdes held its VBS June 28-July 1 with the theme “FOCUS: Take a Closer Look” that “centered around noticing things about the physical world and what we can see and hear, which can help us to learn things about God.”


Changes this year included a cap on attendance — 78 youths — to ensure an adequate number of volunteers, supplies and spacing, and configuring groups by families rather than specific age groups in case contact tracing became necessary. It did not.

The Year of St. Joseph served as the theme for Cathedral Kids Camp held June 21-24 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Thirty kindergarten through fifth-grade students attended. Typically, attendance is up to 60 youths. “We decided not to include preschool and middle school students to limit our numbers,” said Susan Stanforth, co-director of religious education.

Laurie Bribriesco, who led the camp, said VBS “is an opportunity to go deeper. You have a whole week to focus on one topic through Scripture, arts and crafts, music, games and visitors.” Following the St. Joseph theme, a carpenter/woodworker came to talk about his hobby and the items St. Joseph might have used and made. Each VBS session lasted 90 minutes rather than two hours because of COVID-19 concerns, Stanforth said. Volunteers spread out the youths and offered activities outdoors as much as possible. Craft tables were limited to three to four students rather than eight.

Holy Family Parish, with churches in Riverside, Richmond and Wellman, held its VBS July 6-8 with the theme of “Maker Fun Factory, Created by God, Built for a Purpose,” said RoseMary Fiagle, director of religious education. Angie Goodwin, youth minister, said 32 children attended, about the same number as past years. More volunteers stepped forward this year. “The response was overwhelming. It was fantastic.”

The parish offers VBS to bring the “Holy Spirit to the kids,” Goodwin said. It is amazing to see “the relationship that God starts to build with these kids. Through us the Holy Spirit works. Through our actions, words and talents, God starts to build relationships. We are the works of Christ on earth. We are called to be the church. VBS is an opportunity for us to meet the needs of the kids at their level and foster a relationship between the community and our youth.”

Phyllis Avesing, coordinator of religious education at St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass, said the parish worked with Blue Grass Presbyterian and Community Fellowship Church to offer VBS June 21-25. Numbers were down — 79 youths participated — but a camp was going on nearby. VBS organizers held as many activities as possible outside and in tents. However, it was challenging to decorate the tents and to have to take them down each night. “As long as the children had a good time that is all that matters.”
All volunteers were vaccinated. VBS “allowed for the students to have some fun after a very challenging year,” Avesing said.

St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport capped attendance at 36 preschoolers and 70 elementary students, about one-third of the usual number, said Jen Brooke, director of religious education. “Rocky Mountain Railway — Jesus Pulls us Through” was the theme (of VBS, held June 21-25). “The smaller numbers enabled us to have smaller groups. We had specified handwashing and sanitizing times, crews on the elementary side had an assigned table and chairs for large group time, and snacks and drinks were all prepackaged this year. This is our biggest and most successful evangelization tool for small children and young families. And after having to take a year off, we saw how important it was to be face to face.”

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary teamed up with Union Presbyterian and Bethlehem Lutheran — in Lost Nation. The three congregations take turns hosting VBS. “We had 24 attend, which is up two from two years ago,” said Beverly Brauer. The July 12-14 program was held “so kids of the Lost Nation community can hear God’s word. Church members attend, but we also have many unchurched kids attending each year.”

Holy Family Parish in Davenport held “Rocky Railway: Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through” June 21-25. “It’s a fun way to teach children about their faith. This year they also learned about several saints,” said Diane Lannan, director of religious education.

Return of VBS in 2022

Several parishes chose to hold off Vacation Bible School until next year. Cheryl Schropp, events and scheduling coordinator at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, said the parish decided in April not to hold VBS this year for several reasons, including COVID-19 and parents scheduling summer camps and vacations.

Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, director of religious education at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, said with “religious education being online for a year and initial information from the Diocese of Davenport regarding safety during Vacation Bible School, we decided not to have it this year.” Plans are to host it next year.

St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa did not offer VBS, but held Sunday gatherings for youths to play games, read Old Testament stories and do activities related to the story. “It went very well,” said Thomas Leah, director of faith formation. Next year he plans to offer VBS and continue the Sunday gatherings.

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