By Jessie Morgan
This summer, South Carolina United Methodist Churches saw Pandamania in the streets of Hometown Nazareth, and things were totally Inside Out and Upside Down. While some dined at the Shake it Up Café, others had a getaway to the Son Surf Beach Bash.
It was vacation Bible school season again, and churches pulled out all the stops in creating an exciting, uplifting and relational way for people to know Christ.
Many churches in the conference used the theme “Shake It Up Café” for VBS this summer. Elizabeth Cheezum, director of children’s ministry at Clemson UMC, Clemson, said Shake It Up Café teaches children “how to incorporate God’s ‘recipes’ from the Bible into their lives.”
“The children see how often God’s plan and the actions of Jesus can ‘shake up’ and be different than we expect,” Cheezum said. “It’s a challenging but fun curriculum.”
Clemson UMC, which held VBS June 13-17 and had 105 participants and 50 volunteers, also placed an emphasis on giving back to the community this year. The children were challenged to bring in specific items each day for local missions, such as tissues, paper towels, crayons, storybooks and more for Helping Hands and Clemson Child Development Center.
At Memorial UMC, Greer, 72 children participated in Shake It Up Café June 5-9. The children started each night by learning the five “secret ingredients” of the week before going on to do crafts at Tangy and Tart Arts, music at Wok and Roll Hits, games at Spork Sports and snacks at Takeout Treatery. The children also participated in four mission projects during the week, helping Greer Community Ministries, Greer Soup Kitchen, Greer Relief and Rural Mission of Johns Island.
Berea Friendship UMC, Greenville, also used the Shake it Up theme June 13-17, with 23 children in attendance. Each night, the “little chefs” went to various cafés for Bible stories, music, crafts and recreation. Children also collected food to donate to United Ministries.
“The congregation was touched by their eagerness to learn and carry out God’s recipe,” said VBS Director Terri McCloud.
Mark E. Cooper, of Mount Seal UMC, Hemingway, said participants especially appreciated the theme for their Shake It Up Café: “Just as Jesus did when he came, we are reminded that we are to ‘shake up’ our lives sometimes so that we may get better connected to Jesus and stay focused on the prize: eternal life with God,” Cooper said.
Other churches used the theme Pandamania for their VBS. The basis of this theme is Psalm 139, which emphasizes God’s greatness and omniscience.
“Pandamania is about telling the children that God is wild about them and loves them no matter what,” said Vicki Reke, of Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington.
Mount Horeb had more than 1,900 children in attendance.
“It was the most amazing week,” Reke said. “The children were truly believing and understanding Bible stories, and during music they were throwing their hands up and singing. God moved in a powerful ways this week.”
St. John’s UMC, Rock Hill, which had approximately 175 children in attendance, also experienced Pandamania, with a special focus on giving back to the community. During the week, fourth and fifth graders built and painted birdhouses, which were then sold at a family picnic that concluded the week. Proceeds from the sale went to Habitat for Humanity. In addition, children of all ages brought daily donations for area charities.
“What stood out most about the week was the number of youth who volunteered their time and enthusiastically worked with the children,” Treva Hamlin said.
Other churches reached out by embracing the fruits of summer: fun! Grace Community UMC in Fort Mill, a newer church established in 2006, held its first-ever VBS June 20-24. The church was decorated with beach gear for their Son Surf Beach Bash.
“We had 113 kids attending, and it was a big success,” Rev. Randy Madsen said.
Chapin UMC, Chapin, tried a different tack, doing a Hometown Nazareth theme. The church created a town scene in its fellowship hall, setting up tents that served as a bead shop, wool shop and food market. The children worked on crafts at the bead and wool shops, and snacked on raisins, dates, banana chips and homemade breads at the food market. The main story area was Mary’s house, where someone portraying Jesus’ mother talked about his childhood and her own experience discovering she would bear the son of God. The children also heard from Mary’s neighbor, who doubted that Jesus is the son of God.
“It has been a great learning experience,” church member Linda DuRant said. “It has been a grounding in their faith and in learning how to express themselves as young witnesses to what they believe.”
Lyman UMC, Lyman, also created a town scene within the church as part of their theme, Inside Out and Upside Down. Volunteers transformed the sanctuary into Main Street with buildings as high as 15 feet. Pattie Blackwell, director of children’s ministries, said the week was “a great outreach” because 41 of the 86 children involved were visitors.
The Bible memory verse of the week was Psalm 25:4-5, which the children heard each evening during the Sidewalk Celebration, where they also heard music and the “word on the street” for the night. The children then moved through the town, making stops for activities at Parable Productions, Firehouse Fitness, the Fun Factory and Brown Bag Bistro.
“VBS was an extraordinary experience that brought our church and the community closer to God and to each other,” Blackwell said.