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Virtual, at-home vacation Bible schools keep young Catholics in touch with faith in Diocese of Wilmington

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A young child is shown using a laptop computer in this undated photo. Vacation Bible Schools at two parishes in the Diocese of Wilmington have gone virtual this summer. (CNS photo/Peter Byrne, Reuters)

One of the staples of the summer, vacation Bible school, is another on the long list of activities affected by COVID-19. But just because parishes aren’t able to gather young people for a week of learning doesn’t mean VBS is taking the year off. At least three parishes have moved their Bible schools for 2020. One is online, two are at home.

For more than 40 years, Resurrection Parish in Pike Creek has teamed up with Ebenezer United Methodist Church to offer a vacation Bible school. Elaine Little, the director of middle and high school Christian formation at Resurrection, said after a few adaptations, the churches were able to design a virtual program for nearly 50 children.

Planning for the VBS begins in January, she said, and by April, the committee knew it wouldn’t be happening in person this year. Too many of the activities involve handling materials and tagging others, for example. So they went to work on an alternative.

The program being used, the BOLT family program, is intended for children over the age of 5, but Resurrection and Ebenezer made some changes for younger campers. Little said packets for preschoolers included extra coloring pages and other activities for their age group. The online component went live on July 20.

“It takes maybe an hour, an hour and a half a day to do. You can do it all in one day, one a week. You could redo it if you like the game,” she said.

At Immaculate Conception Parish in Marydel, Md., and Holy Cross in Dover, COVID-19 forced the usual VBS into an at-home mode. Called “Discovering Our Family Treasures,” it is for children in preschool through fifth grade and begins in early August.

Billed as “Vacation Bible School in a Bag,” parents will pick up bags at the church with guidance for six sessions inside. It also will include some “treasures” for the campers, according to the Immaculate Conception bulletin. Each session includes an opening prayer, a Bible story, enrichment activity, related craft and snack. There will be pages of saints to color, so each bag will include a small box of crayons and a glue stick.

“We’re putting in some extra saint cards for each kid, and we might be putting in a rosary,” said Alicia Poppiti, the director of religious education at Immaculate Conception.

Poppiti said she expects sign-ups to increase as July winds to an end. Normally, the parish has about 60 children attend their normal summer school.

Little said everyone involved with the VBS at Ebenezer is hoping to be back to in-person instruction next summer. But they’re glad to have something for their young charges this summer.

“As Pastor Mary Brown (of Ebenezer) says, ‘We just want to bring Jesus to them in some way.’ We don’t want to not offer something to them,” Little said.