When summer arrives at Salem United Methodist Church in Saint Louis, Children’s Ministry Director Patty Peterson is already in the midst of planning for one of her busiest times of year—Vacation Bible School season. Since Patty has began serving Salem in 2008, VBS has become a centerpiece of the Children’s ministry in our community, and, for the past two years, she and her teams have taken this ministry beyond the walls of Salem to our partner ministry, Kingdom House in the City of St. Louis, and to our sister UMC congregation, The Connection in Carondelet, and to the back yard of a neighborhood in nearby Kirkwood.
In the second week of June each year, Salem’s Sanctuary becomes a magical place where children are enchanted by storytellers and character that bring the words and lessons of the Bible to life. The theme this year, “EVEREST— Conquering Challenges with God’s Mighty Power,” used stories from the Bible to teach the children how God’s strength is real and can be a source of comfort and hope for them in their lives.
After the VBS team finishes the work of hosting a week of fun at Salem, the ministry continues as Church members and staff join together for a week of teaching, games, crafts, and music for VBS at Kingdom House.
This summer, Kingdom House VBS took place July 13- 18, and there were 14 volunteers serving in the ministry to our inner-city friends. The weeklong program reached 75 children in the St. Louis City neighborhood that Kingdom House serves. Executive Director of Kingdom House, Scott Walker said, “We are so grateful for the service Salem UMC provides to Kingdom House children each summer.
The first year, we took our kids to Salem to be a part of their program, but we realized that more kids would be reached if Salem could come to us. So, in 2014, Patty and her team came to the Kingdom House facility, and they brought a great learning opportunity and time of fun to the children who participated. After two years, we feel this partnership will provide an ongoing outreach to the families of Kingdom House.”
Finally, the summer VBS ministry of Salem also has partnered with the pastor of The Connection UMC in the Carondelet neighborhood of St. Louis to provide a week of fun and Bible learning in South City. The Connection Vacation Bible School was held July 27-31 in the evenings. The church provided a meal for the participants, and 32 children enjoyed Bible lessons, songs, art projects, recreation, and received the Love of Christ through the work of 16 volunteers from Salem and 12 from the Connection.
In addition to these formal programs, the materials and props of Salem’s VBS program are also used for a backyard Bible club in Kirkwood. This summer, 13 children attended the Kirkwood Club, and five volunteers shared God’s love with them through this extension of Salem’s children’s programs.
Another amazing part of the VBS ministry of Salem is that it is economical and ecumenical. Patty Peterson has joined with a VBS co-op group of eight churches in the St. Louis area that all use the same Group Publisher’s Vacation Bible School curriculum package for their summer children’s ministry. Each spring, this co-op pulls together their resources of money, time, and talents to build a more elaborate VBS set than would normally be possible if they were working solo. The churches plan out the summer calendar so that each church gets to use the set and additional decorations to produce the best VBS experience one week at a time. Salem provides a workspace for the co-op and uses the set and decorations first. Then, at the end of each week, the next church on the schedule comes to pack up the set and move it to the next VBS. This group of Christian churches joining together in this way is a true example of biblical stewardship at work.
Finally, Patty’s experience of planning and executing VBS has also had an international facet. In February, Patty went on Salem’s mission trip to Costa Rica where she and eight other members of the Salem mission team, plus one Costa Rican team member produced a children’s event similar to VBS for 66 children. Nine members of the June Costa Rica team along with three Costa Rican volunteers used materials from Salem’s VBS toolbox to provide a VBS program again in the early summer for 80 children.
When asked about the program, Patty Peterson said, “It is exciting to see God use Salem’s VBS ministry to reach children within our midst and beyond. I am blessed to be able to see the eyes of children light up as they learn about Jesus. This year, our VBS ministry reached a total of 437 children. We have proclaimed the love of Christ to all these kids, and we know He can grow the seeds we planted. It is exciting to watch to see how God will use the children we are teaching and loving to build His kingdom as they grow in faith and maturity.”
Rev. Terri Swan, Senior Pastor of Salem United Methodist Church, is also pleased with the work of Salem’s children’s ministry VBS programs. She said, “At Salem, our vision statement is reaching out in extravagant love to fulfil God’s mission in the world. Our vacation Bible school program and extensions of it through Kingdom House, The Connection UMC, backyard club, and Costa Rica Mission Project is making that vision reality. Through VBS under Patty’s leadership, we are fulfilling God’s mission in the world. Isn’t that what serving Him is all about?”