"Advent is a very busy time for the church family," says Kim Dunker, director of congregational care at Geneva (Neb.) United Methodist Church. "It was evident the kids were so involved with the Christmas program – learning lines, songs, practicing all the time, that they were not hearing the stories. After much prayer and with the blessing of the pastor, we began to think of a way to bring the journey to life."
The solution was to build on a traditional summer favorite and offer a one-day mini Advent-Christmas vacation Bible school for children in kindergarten through fourth grade.
"We advertised the event in the church newsletter, talked it up at all meetings, passed sign-up sheets and sent letters home with the Sunday school kids," Dunker said. "Many volunteers of all ages came and experienced the Christmas journey in a special way with songs, crafts, stories and games."
Twenty-four children from the church attended. Dunker hopes eventually to include other congregations. Already, Geneva United Methodist does a cooperative summer VBS with neighboring Church of Christ, Congregational and Lutheran churches.
For the Advent-Christmas VBS in 2013, leaders of the 528-member congregation used Adam Hamilton's The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem (Abingdon Press), adapting the children's part of the all-church study to fit their venue.
This year, Geneva Church will use Under Wraps: The Gift We Never Expected (Abingdon Press) by Jessica LaGrone, Andy Nixon, Rob Renfroe and Ed Robb.
Dunker described the mini VBS as "a wonderful way to help kids realize the many aspects of Christmas and Advent ... to help them understand all we do during Advent to celebrate Jesus, the gift who keeps on giving.
"Being with the kids always opens my eyes to new ways to experience Christ."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg, associate editor, Interpreter. Originally published November-December 2014.