One of the big disadvantages of growing old is to be faced with the death of friends that played an important role in your life. Unlike some folks as they get older, I do not read the obituaries in the newspaper. I much prefer good news and I am convinced that I will never read about any good news in the obituaries.
Yet, this morning as I read through the local newspaper (online of course) I was confronted with the news of the death of a longtime friend. We first became friends when I was very young, in fact, we probably met at a time that predates by memory – I was most likely a baby. This friend was not a relative, in fact, we only spent time together in the summer, for most of my childhood it was two weeks each summer and then as I got older it was reduced to one week.
In spite of the annual encounters, this friend taught me many valuable things that have stayed with me all of my life and contributed greatly to my spiritual growth. This friend taught me the books of the Bible. I can still recite the entire list, from Genesis to Revelation, rattling off the Minor Prophets and racing through the Pauline Epistles, and it was this old friend who drilled them into my memory as an eight or nine-year-old. This friend also taught me memory verses that have stayed with me all of my life, as well as breathed new life into the ancient stories of the Bible.
Every summer of my childhood, within a week or two of school letting out for the summer, this friend showed up and we would spend the entire morning together for two weeks. Those times changed my life. But it was not just me. There were hundreds of other kids who would gather with us. Even my friends were leaning the Bible and the great spiritual lessons of life. Some of these old friends are still a part of my life.
The newspaper headline that delivered the bad news read like this – “Area churches employ new methods for vacation Bible school.” The reporter explained how the idea of Vacation Bible School is no longer the Bible School of my childhood and youth. The report describes a church near my neighborhood that hosted more than six thousand children for a “Summer Spectacular” featuring a petting zoo and a Broadway style musical.
My old friend, Vacation Bible School, has died!
I remember two “Summer Spectaculars” during childhood. One occurred when we drove from Denver to Arlington in order to visit Six Flags and the other occurred when we made a similar road trip to California to go to Disneyland. A somewhat less summer spectacular evening occurred when my father would break out the ice cream freezer and crank out a quart of vanilla. The idea of going to church in order to see a spectacular never would have occurred to me. Church was where we went to worship, sing, pray, read the Bible, and learn spiritual stuff along with our friends.
Unless you count a lazy basset hound that walked to the church with one of the kids, we never had a petting zoo at VBS. The closest thing to a musical spectacular was when worked all week long to sing “the B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me…” for the parents who showed up on Friday night to discover all that we had learned and help us tote the handmade crafts to the house.
I am well aware that it would probably be impossible to get six thousands kids to show up for anything at the church unless it was truly some kind of spectacle. It might even be difficult to find six hundred who would be willing to give a few hours of summer vacation to memorizing the books of the Bible or a few significant verses of scripture. But, there might be sixty. There might be a few parents who would bring their children to hear a few well-told Bible stories, even if there was not a petting zoo or flashing floodlights.
But it will probably not happen again since my old friend has died. What really saddens me is that the summers I spent that changed my life forever will not be available to our kids any longer. How long will they remember getting to pet a goat or hold a duck? Every survey taken on the subject reveals how ignorant church goers are when it comes to basic Christian knowledge. It seems that the church’s response to these disturbing numbers is to find bigger and better ways to entertain the children. I am not sure which spiritual goal we are trying to accomplish by providing flashy entertainment for our kids.
I have known for some time that my old friend was ill, but it was still quite a shock to read about the complete demise on the front page of the Star Telegram. All good things come to end and I hope that we can quickly find a way to help the next generation of children discover the things of God.