A New Approach to VBS

A New Approach to VBS

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Impact Ministries, an Assemblies of God church in Wheatland, Wyoming, is turning vacation Bible school into living history, transporting families back to 1860 with Old West-style buildings and period actors. The goal is to reinvent VBS for a new generation.

“Bringing living history has changed our outlook on VBS,” says Jeremy M. Haroldson, 33, pastor of the 7-year-old congregation in the town of 3,500, an hour north of Cheyenne.

Last year, Impact, which meets in a renovated shopping mall and targets young adults and families, asked children and leaders to dress up as the New Testament characters they were learning about — the apostle Paul, Philemon, and others.

“We put everyone in a costume playing a part,” Haroldson says. “The guy who played Paul had little kids running up to him five months later to say, ‘Hey, Paul, how are you doing?’”

That led to the idea for Frontier Nights, a living history experience complete with an Old West town, tents, a troupe of re-enactors, and a Friday night hoedown.

“As I was racking my brain and praying over this, I got the idea that we needed something for kids and parents, and something that isn’t going at it from a traditional standpoint,” says children’s minister Charity A. Haroldson, Jeremy’s 19-year-old sister who is planning, scripting, and leading the event.

Frontier Nights will take place in late June on the church’s new 16-acre property. Families will walk through the Old West town station by station and watch scenes of living history, plus participate in games of the era, such as apple bobbing and gunny sack races. There will be horses, goats, and chickens, and the setting will be authentic-looking, down to the canvas tents, costumes, and artificially aged wood and metal props. Friday night will feature live fiddle, mandolin, and banjo music by lantern light and camp fire.

Running through the two-day experience will be storylines that weave historical situations and people, such as trappers, gold prospectors, and pioneers, with their invented spiritual journeys. In one scenario, a non-Christian fur trapper argues with an itinerant preacher. In the end, the trapper comes around to the minister’s message.

“As soon as you provide an event like this — free, safe, and family-oriented — you get people’s attention,” Charity says. “I’m hoping for more participation in our weekly kids’ ministry. We want people to know the heart of our church, what we’re about.”

Frontier Nights will culminate with a Sunday-morning service at the property in the frontier setting — what church would have looked like in the 1860s on the prairie.

“That will be an experience for our entire church,” Jeremy says. “Our goal is to bring families into our fellowship and speak to the parents as well as kids about the love of Jesus.”

Jeremy and Charity grew up in a family of seven children, which frequently performed together as re-enactors in local historical forts, such as Fort Laramie, often playing an immigrant family in the Civil War era. Wheatland is located just 10 miles from the Oregon Trail. Those years of experience will enrich the Frontier Nights experience.

“Living history is always long hours in not-too-great of temperatures, but we love doing it,” says Charity.

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