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VBS takes Sermon on the Mount to the garden

Second Presbyterian in Indianapolis uses ‘Bee-attitudes’ to remind children they are ‘blessed to be a blessing’

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

More than 150 children are registered for the first hybrid VBS at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Carol Baker)

LOUISVILLE — Vacation Bible School at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis will “bee” different, in a hybrid way this year, according to organizers. Although “maybe 75” children were expected to take part, more than 150 children — ages 4 through fifth grade — have registered for in-person VBS, and more children will participate online, June 21–25.

Coordinator for Children’s Ministries Kathryn “Kat” Green-Ross, a certified Christian educator, has been waiting for this moment much longer than she’s waited for an end to the pandemic, maybe five years. She’s ordered a bumblebee transformer outfit and written a separate VBS curriculum for the garden. These lessons begin and end with Matthew 25, and dig deep into Jesus’ teachings on the beatitudes in Matthew 5.

Educators wrote a new song on the beatitudes, set to the tune of the Old 100th Doxology. It’s about being a “blessing cup that God fills up” until it overflows with love to share, “so spread God’s love everywhere.”

The Rev. Brian Shivers, senior associate pastor for formation, will be dressed as a bumblebee, the mascot of this year’s VBS.

Kathryn “Kat” Green-Ross gives children a tour of the garden, where much of VBS will take place next week. (Photo by Carol Baker)

“Let’s see if we can find a story where we see Jesus ‘bee’ meek, or we can see Jesus ‘bee’ kind or ‘bee’ merciful,” said Green-Ross. “All that then points back to how Jesus wants us to live our lives — that’s the Matthew 25 part.”

Second Presbyterian is a Matthew 25 congregation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), located in the Whitewater Valley Presbytery. The well-established community garden on the church grounds supplies vegetables for its food pantry ministry. VBS children will add a pollinator garden as a way of understanding productivity, and a native plant garden as a lesson in being inclusive of everyone.

“I really think that doing justice work with adults is ‘catch up,’ which everybody likes ‘ketchup,’ that’s OK; but I really — pun intended — ‘relish’ doing justice work with children because it’s up front, you know, we get to raise them that way as opposed to playing catch up,” Green-Ross said.

The VBS curriculum begins with “Pantry, Popsicles and Playground,” where families bring food for the food pantry and kids get to enjoy popsicles and play on the playground. For many children, this will be their first time on the church grounds in a year and a half, so Green-Ross said the educators and 70 or so volunteers are taking a trauma-informed approach: If a child is having trouble being inside for some of the activities, they can always choose to stay in the garden, as there will be plenty to do there.

The Rev. Brian Shivers, senior associate pastor for formation, shows children a peace pole for the garden. (Photo by Kat Barden)

Ann VanMeter, interim facilitator of Children and Family Ministries and staff resource to the VBS Leadership Team at Second Presbyterian, and Jeff Reese, head gardener, have been integral to the planning of this first hybrid VBS from seed to harvest. Pantry, Popsicles and Playground reflects VanMeter’s integration of VBS within the fellowship of the community of Christ. “Her shepherding and organizational gift with the full VBS makes our garden spot possible,” Green-Ross said.

The children will be able to take a sensory walk and make beatitude flags and prayer bells for the garden so they can hear the wind blowing and remember the Spirit moving. At the end of the week, each class will dedicate one of 13 peace poles they have helped to create for the garden. They will pray for the garden and the blessing the ministry is for people who are hungry.

VBS will remind children that they are “blessed to be a blessing.” (Kat Barden)

VBS at Second Presbyterian includes everyone, Green-Ross said. “The whole church sort of turns and laser-focuses on this event. It has always been that way. We’re very, very grateful for that.” The volunteers for the week will include students in junior and senior high who have identified VBS and VBS assistance as one of their mission weeks, since youth trips can’t happen this year due to the pandemic.

“You get this really amazing pastoral theology of leadership. People who keep the nursery all the way up to people who see you through confirmation are here doing VBS,” Green-Ross said. “People ask me, ‘What does formation look like?’ I think that’s what it looks like: the whole family of God being together. It’s just amazing.”

In May, Second Presbyterian offered a program called “Families in the Garden,” with “family” being single people, families with children or retirees. Everyone was encouraged to go to the garden for a devotion or to help with chores such as watering the plants, weeding, planting tomatoes or filling the birdbath. Two Boy Scouts created some raised beds as their Eagle Scout project.

“The garden is very central to the way we understand ourselves as a Matthew 25 church — a church that cares for others as an expression of God’s care for us,” Green-Ross said. She shared the words of Dr. John Franke, theologian in residence at Second Presbyterian and adjunct professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who describes the coming of God’s kingdom as “a place where everyone has enough and no one has to be afraid.”

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