By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
LOST NATION — The bicycles parked alongside Sacred Heart Church the week of July 14 were a welcome sight for religious education director Bev Brauer. While some parishes might take hosting Vacation Bible School for granted, it was something Sacred Heart Parish had not done for many years.
Said Father Bill Kneemiller, the pastor: “It has brought life to our Lost Nation church. This has been a blessing.”
Annually, the churches in Lost Nation come together to offer an ecumenical Vacation Bible School, which is attended by 50 or so children in the community. The location rotates among the rural community’s churches, but due to a low number of young families in Sacred Heart Parish in recent years, Brauer said it didn’t seem possible to host the Vacation Bible School at the church. “We never thought we could pull it off,” she said.
That changed in 2013 after she and others from the parish were asked to volunteer at the city-wide Vacation Bible School, hosted that year by Union Presbyterian Church.
The Catholic volunteers said they were surprised to see how many children attended the annual Vacation Bible School — 58 in 2013 — and wondered how many of those children might have Catholic roots and be interested in participating in active parish life.
With the blessing of Fr. Kneemiller and Mary Wieser, diocesan director of faith formation, Sacred Heart Parish developed a twice-a-month evening program for young Catholics, which includes Mass, dinner and preschool through eighth grade educational groups. The parish’s Altar and Rosary society donated money to the program, and gave each involved family a high-quality Catholic Children’s Bible.
Brauer said she anticipated that eight children would take part in the program, but by May of this year, that number had nearly tripled, with 22 children regularly in attendance.
Out of that group, Fr. Kneemiller said two children were baptized, and one received first Communion. “In a small community, we really need that,” he said, noting that young families are essential to keeping small-town parishes viable.
With the added confidence of having engaged young families, Sacred Heart Parish decided to give hosting the city-wide Vacation Bible School a try this year.
As in the past, Lost Nation’s Vacation Bible School utilized the talents of both Catholic and Protestant volunteers and brought in children from all community churches. Youth volunteer Denise Dexter — a mother of three young children — said the other three Lost Nation churches were very encouraging and helpful in the planning process. “The four churches support one another. We are willing to address our faith needs as a community. We all have the common goal of offering kids a chance to learn about God throughout the summer.”
Union Presbyterian pastor Loren Thomsen said, “No church has all the talents necessary to put on VBS … by working together, we can put together something memorable.”
On the final day of the ecumenical Vacation Bible School, Brauer observed: “We could have never done it without everyone. …It really turned out better than we thought. It’s exceeded our expectations.”