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Closer to God: VBS sees some changes, but goal is the same

When Clover and Kole Norris came home singing a song they learned their first day of vacation Bible school, Denise Norris knew her kids were getting closer to God.

And that’s exactly why she decided to send Clover, 6, and Kole, 4, to the weeklong program filled with songs, games and crafts at St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Church.

“I was excited to let them grow in their faith,” Denise Norris said. “I know it’s bringing them closer.”

Music has been a mainstay of vacation Bible school programs for decades, but that doesn’t mean kids are doing the same things as kids years ago.

Though some things stay the same, local vacation Bible schools have shifted some aspects of their weeklong programs to meet the goal of bringing kids closer to Jesus.

St. Catherine of Genoa Church’s program this summer follows the theme “Mary Brings Me Closer to Jesus,” which director of religious education and youth ministry Alaisa Emmens said is a little different than previous years.

“I’m trying to take it a little deeper,” Emmens said. “So they don’t just know Jesus as a person 2,000 years ago, but who he is living in their life right now.”

Things have changed at vacation Bible school in the past 10 years, Emmens said. For one, she tries to get more teens involved because they tend to form connections with the younger kids.

Haley Temes, 16, is one of about 20 teen volunteers at St. Catherine’s program. Her favorite part is watching the connections the children make with each other and with Jesus.

“I just love seeing the kids faces when they learn something new,” Temes said. “They’re definitely getting closer to Jesus. You can just tell.”

Clay Sanders, 9, said he most enjoys the musical parts of vacation Bible school, including teen volunteer Katie Sosnowksi’s guitar-playing skills.

Immanuel Lutheran Church in DeKalb is considering offering a middle school-specific program for the first time this year, office manager Darlene Hillman said. The program will run the same time as the church’s “Wilderness Escape” program, July 28 to Aug. 1, but will have activities geared toward sixth- to eighth-grade students.

“We wanted to give them a deeper experience,” Hillman said.

The change also comes as the age demographics in the program shift. Hillman said because the church offers a preschool program, about 50 percent of the roughly 100 participants are age 6 or younger.

Vacation Bible school has shifted from puppets to video in the mind of Pastor Martin Metzger from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. John.

This year, St. John’s will offer “Gangway to Galilee,” a program that will start and end with a video everyday. Puppet shows used to fill the beginning and end slots, he said.

But that doesn’t mean Metzger’s first puppet, Demetrius the Donkey, is any less of a hit with the 120 kids who attend the week-long camp at the end of July. Metzger still gets requests to bring out Demetrius, who speaks in a high-pitched voice and “lives” in a little box shaped like a barn.

“He’s my sidekick in many ways,” Metzger said. “He still connects with the kids. Sometimes the old still works.”

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