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Carnett: With summer comes vacation Bible school

June 25, 2012

It's that time of year across the Fruited Plain.

Yes, vacation Bible school season!

Though VBS is offered throughout this country — and the world — I've discovered that it's especially popular in the American South, traditionally known as the Bible Belt.

Hedy and I have just returned from a three-week road trip through Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It seems that every little redbrick country church in every backwater hamlet that we visited had a sign on its front lawn announcing: "Catch the Spirit! VBS, June 25-29" — or words to that effect.

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Vacation Bible school is probably a lot older than most people suspect. In 1898, Walker Aylett Hawes rented a New York City beer hall to conduct Bible classes for children to keep them off the Big Apple's teeming streets during the summer months. It was called the Everyday Bible School.

A national Christian publication reports that vacation Bible school is as popular now as ever. In 1998, more than 5 million U.S. children attended VBS programs.

Individual churches today offer Bible school once each summer, and the program generally focuses on a single topic. Kids are involved in games and crafts, and are taught biblical truths. Snacks are also part of the package. Christian kids are encouraged to invite neighborhood friends.

I recall the vacation Bible school of my youth. The year that I remember most vividly was 1955. I attended VBS at my home church, Newport Harbor Lutheran, which was then located on Cliff Drive in Newport Beach. I was 10 years old.

Following close on the heels of World War II and the Korean conflict, the two-week VBS program sported a somewhat martial theme: "Onward Christian Soldiers." A couple hundred kids attended.

We all began day one of the program as lowly privates. The goal was to conclude the two weeks at the highest rank possible. We each received points for attendance, good behavior and memorizing and reciting Scripture. Our points were tabulated daily, and the point totals translated into military ranks.

I invited Karen, a ridiculously smart 12-year-old neighbor girl. My mom taught Bible school that summer and drove us to church every weekday morning.

Karen finished the program as the highest-ranking officer in our VBS. She proudly wore the three stars of a lieutenant general. I studied long and hard, and tried desperately to keep pace with Karen, but could only make it to "bird-colonel."

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