NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Adult church attendance is dwindling, but you'll find more than 200 children at First United Methodist Church (FUMC), Nacogdoches Vacation Bible School. That's a fraction of the millions attending VBS's across the nation. That's pretty good considering the first VBS was around 1898 in a rented New York City beer hall.
"Here in Nacogdoches, right now, we have about five Vacation Bible Schools going on," said Robin Gandin. "It is not necessarily a competition. It's just us all working together bringing the word to our children."
A whole industry revolves around Vacation Bible School. Fun and educational themes are marketed. This summer, FUMC is Rome. Rome was not built in a day. No, it took at least a week for volunteers to do all the decorating and research began more than a year ago. Gandin, a volunteer and preacher's wife has a knack with decorating and imaginative decorations on a frugal budget.
"Everything we use will be used again at Easter, Christmas, and next year's VBS," said Gandin. "Nothing is wasted."
Gandin, like other adult volunteers, came dressed in a toga, but she carried a cell phone in her cloak in case of last minute emergencies. Stone streets, a preacher dressed in a toga, and a youth leader posing as Brutus set a virtual reality setting for the kids.
"When in Rome, do as the romans do," instructed Brutus.
Everyone got in on the act for the kids.
"This is our secret cave that we worship in," said Rev. Meredith Wende, associate pastor at FUMC. "So, every time the kids come in we tell them to be very quite so the Romans don't hear us and don't come arrest us."
A room with no windows was lit by only lanterns. Fake bones were on the shelves. The children entered, wide eyed and whispered, "Shhh. Brutus is sleeping. "
Children moved from one activity to the next. Each stop reminded them of the central theme.
"We want them to learn that worship is now a freedom and something to be celebrated," smiled Gandin.
"Sometimes parents bring their children just for babysitting, but we don't mind," stated Lynn Howell, the children's ministry director. "We just enjoy their children and love their children and have an opportunity to tell them about Jesus regardless of the motivation for why they're here."
VBS can be found everywhere, but it's strongest in East Texas, a region where residents value their faith and their children. The FUMC VBS continues to the end of the week. Other churches are offering similar programs throughout the summer.