Practice what they preach
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd hosted an all-green Bible school
Vacation Bible school at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd started out predictably enough. About 40 kids and group leaders stood and did goofy hand movements to go along with morning songs—“I’ve got peace like a river in my soul …” But then, giving a strong hint at what this particular Bible school was all about, the lyrics changed: “… It used to be clear, now it’s full of stuff. No more garbage or plastic cups. Enough is enough!” Traditional gospel, expanded upon to reflect an environmental message.
This Bible school held last week used ReNew: The Green VBS, a curriculum created by the Minneapolis-based group Sparkhouse. The entire thing is green. Even the program binder and activity plans are printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks. Activities explore topics from stormwater runoff to turning trash into art.
Each day in the “community room” someone involved in the local green community was invited to speak. That person was me on this day. Following my talk, Jennie Tibben, a group leader, taught the children about compost, and then they made mini compost bins together out of gallon pots.
“It’s a really different tactic than what we’ve done before,” said Tibben. “We’ve taken that one parable—The Parable of the Sower—and expanded it.”
The parable from Mark 4:1-20 tells of a sower, some of whose seeds fall on thorny, scorched ground and can’t take root so they wither away, and other seeds fall on good ground and flourish.
“At most Bible schools today, it’s a hodgepodge of random Bible stories,” said Shaun O’Reilly, who helped bring the ReNew curriculum to Good Shepherd. “Day one might be Love; day two might be Peace. It’s fun for the kids, but what did they learn? With this, they’re telling one story all week long. It’d be hard for a kid to come all week and on Friday not know what we’ve done.”
Combining a green message with a good book isn’t entirely unfamiliar to O’Reilly, who is in the Literature and Environment program at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“We had a Green Team at this church,” said O’Reilly. “I knew it would fly. This idea for some congregations could be hard. There still seems to be this weird divide of embracing something like this for kids.”
The children did a lot of planting at this five-day Bible school. They took home seed packets each day to start pizza gardens at home. And each day had a theme that was incorporated even into snack time. No generic sandwich cookies with Kool-Aid for these Bible schoolers. For day one’s Seed theme, they ate trail mix at snack time; jicama and ginger made an appearance on “Roots” day, and day three’s “Grow” had the kids eating a salad representing the parts of a plant—greens, sunflower seeds, ginger, edible flowers—washed down with ranch dressing. And yes, for the most part, they ate it. They also learned about recycling, reusing, and generally caring for themselves, each other and the planet.
“We think it’s easy to look at Jesus and say, ‘Jesus said, Love your neighbor as yourself,”’ said O’Reilly. “But who is your neighbor? It’s everything around us—the trees, the animals, Earth. The Earth is something also to love and care for.”