Our church didn’t have any kids represented at vacation bible school besides my two year old daughter. Children did come to vacation bible school; they just don’t worship at Oak Hill United Methodist Church.
We had a few children from each of the small, rural churches, mixed with kids visiting grandparents, and fewer who showed up from cold calls and advertisements. I won’t see most of the kids again, unless we both happen to find ourselves at the singing grounds playing tag and singing cheesy, energizing songs again next year. What’s almost certain is that they won’t waltz through our church doors this Sunday.
It sounds like a bad use of time; there’s no return on the investment. Vacation Bible School is glorified babysitting, making no discernible difference in creating disciples or transforming communities. It's equally frustrating that, in many Bible Schools, a third of the group is bussed in from the local, non-denominational megachurch. The work is enormous and the return—usually slim. There are better contextual and incarnational ways to reach and disciple children, sure. I’ve made that argument before and others will continue to be make it. The logic of Egypt where worth is based on sweat, bricks, and capital is a worldview that’s hard to shake, even after God has broken the chains of domination and utilitarianism.
I'm glad we resisted.
We might have said, “we have no kids” and opted out of the work, but we chose to go and love kids from other churches like an old-timey kind of neighborhood where you're trusted to parent your neighbor's children. If rural United Methodist Churches have a viable future, it will look a lot like co-parenting with nearby United Methodist Churches. Or better yet, there will be marriage and unity between them. And it's faithful, too. God who left the ninety-nine for the one isn’t preoccupied with counting the number who feed in a particular stable, despite our love to compete. God just cares that we are being led to better pastures.
United Methodists call this being connectional, but we better name it as being baptized. We leave our own tributaries and all gather together in the river, which this year was called the rolling river rampage of God’s love. Oak Hill Methodist gave the snacks--like the servants who were called down the alleys and country lanes to invite everyone to the junk-food banquet. And when there is a table in God’s name, there is Holy Eucharist. The goldfish, the bread. The Pina Colada Hawaiian Punch, the wine. We all became children, together, sharing the family meal.
The one church was visible.
This is subversive, make no mistake: all children, whether they’re members in another Methodist Church or emerging from another denomination, are our responsibility. Why? Precisely because no children belong to us. They’re God’s. And we belong to each other only because we belong to God. Persons aren’t valued because they sit in a particular pew on a Sunday or have the potential to become a future tithing-member of a congregation. These are valued because they're created in God’s image—chosen and loved in Jesus Christ. And how do you show the community kids that God loves them? Play. It’s a part of our liturgy that most of us practice one time a year, if we're lucky. Vacation Bible School bestows a particular means of grace that only comes from uncoordinated dancing and tight hamstrings after a night of tagging kids and freezing them in place.
These are the kinds of disciplines that differentiate us from the pattern of this world, and transform us by the renewing of our minds. It’s a disciple that the church would do well to practice. So when children happen show up at our doorstep, say looking for asylum or a better life, we don’t turn them away because they aren’t ours.
We love them because they are God’s.
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