Friday, April 24, 2009

Come to Vacation Bible School!

Every summer, the most exciting thing to happen in the little town of Kimberly, Alabama, was Vacation Bible School. I'm not quite sure who was more excited--the kids or the mamas.

Most years, the Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals would cooperate and spread their VBSes over several weeks--those were the years the mamas were happiest.

On the Saturday before each VBS, all the church folks would gather in the respective church parking lot and decorate their cars and pick-up trucks with balloons, crepe paper streamers and signs made from magic markers and poster board.

Me and my brother were lucky--we had connections at both the Church of God and Kimberly First Baptist, so we got to be in both parades. Most years, our Mimi came out all the way from Birmingham for the Baptist parade. And, our cousin, Donald, always had the coolest vehicle in the parade--some years it was a convertible and other years it was a VW van.

The excitement in those parking lots would build until the Kimberly Volunteer Fire Department's lone firetruck pulled in. (It was typically driven by the pastor of the church hosting the parade, which meant that, for most of my childhood, Brother Thompson was the driver.)

When it pulled in...well....we'd just go crazy. We'd clap and cheer and jump up and down. The boys in their summer buzz-cuts and newly-cut-off jean shorts would start fighting over who was gonna ride on the firetruck. Eventually, they'd sort it out.

Then, with the firetruck leading the way, followed closely by the Kimberly Police Department's cruiser--driven by either Dingler or Bullhead--mamas and daddys would line up their cars with piles of kids packed inside (no seatbelts required).

And...with the sounding of the firetruck siren, that year's Vacation Bible School parade would officially begin.

Because it was an anticipated annual tradition...and because the firetruck and police sirens announced our arrival long before we got there, families would line up all along Stouts Road. They would wave and holler, and we'd holler back, "Come to Vacation Bible School. Come to Vacation Bible School."

We'd parade through Kimberly all the way down Stouts Road...then we'd boldly cross into the town of Morris, shouting our evangelistic VBS message all the way down Cutoff Road, until we'd loop back on Thunder Road and end up at the cemetery. (I always wondered why we kept hollering "Come to Vacation Bible School" even while driving through the cemetery. But...some things you just know you're not supposed to question.)

It was at the cemetery Stop sign that Leah Nail broke her nose. If I remember correctly, she didn't realize the parade had come to a complete stop; she hit the fender of the car in front of her, and her nose couldn't stop before it hit her steering wheel. As far as I can remember, that was the only parade casualty in the entire history of Kimberly VBS parades.

As we made our way back to the church parking lot, the crowds on the sides of Stouts Road would have dwindled, with only a few stragglers returning our waves.

Then...just like that...the parade was over...until the next weekend...when another denomination would take up where we had left off. (Hmmm...maybe, ultimately, that's the purpose for so many denominations.) couldn't stay too sad when you remembered that your upcoming week held the promise of glued-on-macaroni-and-gold-spray-painted-cigar-box crafts, graham-cracker-and-apple-juice snacks, and the hope that you just might get picked to carry the Christian flag up the aisle for pledges, while everyone sang the unofficial VBS anthem: "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before."

One year, one of my teachers--I think it was Sister Bobbie Stone--went to the extra trouble of buying us ceramics to paint. I picked a pair of praying hands. I thought they were beautiful. I always imagined they were Jesus' hands as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. For years, I kept them hanging on a nail in "my half" of the little room I shared with my brother.

When I think about those summer VBS days, I still feel something...warm and wonderful...down inside. If I had to guess, I'd guess that our pastor, Brother Doug, grew up with his own VBS memories. I'll bet that's why he's so determined to give today's children their own--many of them will even have "salvation memories" as a result of Brother Doug's untiring passion for VBS.
If you stumbled into our church during VBS week, you'd swear you'd found some hidden Disney park tucked away in a parking lot in Farragut, TN. At our church, VBS is HUGE, and Brother Doug is the most excited one in the bunch.

This will be the first year my boys won't be able to go--they'll be on a mission trip with their dad in Honduras. Until this year, we had our own VBS tradition, with nephews and our lone niece often traveling from Alabama and South Carolina to "experience" VBS at First Baptist Concord. To tell the truth, it will be a little sad this year. hope is they'll look back one day with their own "warm and wonderful" memories of VBS week--I just wish I could have offered them a full-fledged parade. I tried a version of it one year. On the way to the first morning, I rolled down the window of my non-ballooned, un-crepe-papered minivan and started hollering, "Come to Vacation Bible School! Come to Vacation Bible School!"

Well...let's just say, they were all appalled.

"In the Messiah, in Christ,
God leads us from place to place
in one perpetual victory parade.
Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ.
Everywhere we go,
people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.
Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God,
which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—
an aroma redolent with life."
(2 Corinthians 2:14-15, The Message)
"We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.
We look at this Son
and see God's original purpose in everything created.
For everything, absolutely everything, above and below,
visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—
everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.
He was there before any of it came into existence
and holds it all together right up to this moment.
And when it comes to the church,
he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and
leading the resurrection parade
he is supreme in the end.
From beginning to end he's there,
towering far above everything, everyone.
So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God
finds its proper place in him without crowding.
Not only that,
but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—
people and things, animals and atoms—
get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies,
all because of his death,
his blood that poured down from the cross."
(Colossians 1:15-20, The Message)

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