Sharing Abundance Through Gifts for Life
At St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Danville, California, this year’s Vacation Bible School (VBS) was a celebration of “Abundant Life for All.” With the help of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Abundant Life Garden Project curriculum and Gifts for Life catalog, congregation members of all ages learned about issues of poverty worldwide, and responded by sharing the blessing of clean water with those in need.
Lori Robinson, St. Timothy’s Associate for Family Ministry, learned about the Abundant Life Garden Project through the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors (NAECED) email list. With 109 VBS campers and 50-plus youth counselors ranging from preschoolers to teens, along with 20 adult volunteers, she was able to modify the program in a way that all could participate and learn.
The VBS at St. Timothy’s has always included a service component, but Lori wanted to make this year’s project more visible and concrete. “We’ve made small donations to Episcopal Relief & Development in the past,” she said, “but I really wanted to raise awareness in the church about the organization’s work.” She decided to set aside $5 of each camper and counselor registration fee in a fund, which they would decide how to invest at the end of their time together.
Each day of VBS, the children studied a different aspect of God’s abundance: water, soil, food, animals, and harvest. Through Godly Play stories, games, Bible lessons and profiles from communities where Episcopal Relief & Development works, campers learned that these resources are essential, but poverty prevents many people around the world from having access to them. The children also discovered ways that they might serve those in need, enabling them to also enjoy God’s blessings.
At the end of VBS week, the campers received a list of three Gifts for Life – seeds, chickens and clean water – and voted for the one they wanted to purchase. “I was sure they’d vote for chickens,” Lori said, and was surprised to find the winner was clean water, “overwhelmingly, by 2 to 1.” On the first day, she recalled, she encouraged the children to imagine life without something as basic as clean water: “I asked how it would feel to walk a long way to get water, and if they ever worried whether the water they drank might make them sick.” Of the three possible gifts, she said, water “may have resounded the most” as an immediate need with the campers (who live in a surburban town).
On VBS Sunday that weekend, Lori preached at all three services and the Gospel passage, appropriately, was Matthew 10. “I don’t like hawking for money,” she told the congregation, “but for today, if anyone else wants to donate to this project …” With the parish’s culture of valuing children and outreach, and the power of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:42 – on giving “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” – her request paid off. Congregation members gave generously, bringing the campers’ investment fund to more than $2,000.
“The VBS turned out to be a wonderful experience for everyone,” Lori said. “It was nice to have the program framework and not have to figure it out on my own, yet also be able to adapt it to our church’s setting.
“The whole congregation had ownership of the program,” she added. “VBS is one of our biggest faith formation moments not only for children, but also for the teens, who got to participate and vote. It helped make adults aware of Episcopal Relief & Development’s work as well. VBS served the purpose of holding up the greater needs that we’re to respond to, and showing us how to translate that into what we do.”
“The Gifts for Life catalog can be a great way for children to learn about issues of poverty and how they can respond, especially together with the Abundant Life Garden Project,” said Judy Sawler, Manager of Direct Marketing at Episcopal Relief & Development. “I’m thrilled to hear how Gifts for Life played a key role in St. Timothy’s VBS program, and grateful to the congregration for enabling people worldwide to enjoy clean water and better health.”
Photos courtesy of Ruth Ann Pearsons and Kirsten Pearsons.
Thanks to Gary Hunt for sharing his blog post on the VBS.