Knoxville parish gives family VBS a try

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Children and parents play a game with pool noodles during Vacation Bible School at St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville last month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

KNOXVILLE — Vacation Bible School isn’t just for kids anymore. At least, not at St. Anthony Parish.

This year, the parish decided to turn VBS into a family program. “Instead of parents dropping off their kids, they came with them to the program and participated in all the activities,” said Laura Hollinrake, the parish’s director of Faith Formation.

The inspiration behind the change was twofold: to increase participation while offering adults an opportunity to grow their faith. “Parents need ongoing formation as well and that’s one way to provide that for them,” Hollinrake said.

To help families avoid burnout, she scheduled the program one evening a week for a month, instead of five consecutive evenings. “We thought this might provide a better opportunity for families to participate in at least some, if not all, of the program days because when it’s all in one week, if a family goes on vacation that week, they miss the whole program,” Hollinrake said.

Each evening began with dinner — prepared by volunteers and older youths — followed by prayer and VBS programming. The parish used traditional VBS materials and parents helped their children work through the VBS stations.

Participants ended their VBS experience by volunteering in a local memory care unit. The children sang songs they learned at VBS, then spent time talking and coloring with the residents.

Hollinrake wondered how the 16 participating families would react to the change. She offered evaluations at the end of the program to gather input and was encouraged by the “overwhelmingly positive” response. “They liked being with their kids and seeing what they learned,” she said. “We also got some feedback on things to fine tune.”

Tracy Russell accompanied her 4-year-old daughter, Vera, to VBS. She’s been an active part of the parish’s VBS program since her older child, Ethan, now 12, was old enough to participate. “As a parent, you don’t always get to see and do what the kids do during something like VBS. I like being able to be a part of the stories and the fun my kids always get to participate in.” She enjoyed the opportunity to see Vera react to the stories and walk through the Red Sea, which volunteers constructed using colored tablecloths. “This was Vera’s first year attending and she loved it.”

Hollinrake noted that the church, as a whole, has been making a push toward more family-centered ministries, supporting the idea that families are the primary faith formers for their children. “I’m glad to see that as a church we’re moving toward that, getting back to being family-centered and recognizing that adults need faith formation as well.”

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