When local churches began to close their buildings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading throughout North Alabama, children’s ministry leaders throughout the Conference met together via Zoom and started discussing the potential effects on summer programming. The idea of a virtual Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) began to emerge, but many leaders worried about the additional cost of purchasing the needed technology when their budgets had already been stretched in planning for traditional VBS. So, this determined group of more than 30 children’s leaders and volunteers opted to collaborate and create a virtual VBS with pertinent themes to the emotions and challenges of the pandemic. Their goal was lofty, yet Wesleyan in its emphasis; they sought to be truly connectional and together in spirit in a time when they and their congregations could not be together in person.
In less than two months, the team planned the specifics of how to make the virtual VBS inclusive and accessible by all. The team also worked strategically to ensure that it would not be a burden on adults to acquire supplies for the activities. They aimed for things that were easily found in homes and backyards. This led them to the theme, Little Bugs, Big Impact: Big and Small, God Uses Us All
“It was an intentional push to help children realize that though they are small, they still have an impact on the world, just like the bugs in our ecosystem,” said Rev. Emily Nelms Chastain, Associate Director of Church Resourcing, who served on the team and helped coordinate conference connections. The children’s leaders tapped some of their ministry volunteers and experts in their congregations, including an entomologist who helped guide the writing and a local musician who wrote and performed theme songs for the virtual event.
The North Alabama Conference Virtual VBS was held the week of July 13-17, 2020. Each day, participants received an email of the slated activities with links to videos and instructions. “The activities had a suggested timeframe, but we also hoped that it would be a time for adults and children to just lean into the activities with all the time they needed and just have fun together,” added Rev. Chastain.
Each evening, the team hosted live online worship that also provided children and families the chance to report what they learned and to see photos from the participants all across the world. Rev. Chastain said, “We ended up with an international event by accident. We had participants not only from our conference, but from neighboring conferences, other states like California, Illinois, and West Virginia, and we even had children from Canada and Poland joining in the fun!”
Rev. Chastain estimated that there were approximately 1,600 children reached during the week, based on what was reported and who registered. “It was truly important to these leaders that children had an authentic experience with God, with their families, and with creation during this VBS. They worked so diligently to make sure that these children had a fun and creative VBS opportunity, since many of our local churches were not open to the public during this time,” said Rev. Chastain.
While the synchronous event has passed, the North Alabama Conference offers this experience to anyone who would still like to participate. To find the materials or to learn more about this Virtual VBS Little Bugs, Big Impact,
please visit www.umcna.org/virtualvbs