By Clay Wilson
With thousands of Clayton and Henry County students out for the summer and seeking something to do, area churches are looking to fill that void with Vacation Bible School.
"I think it gives us a really good chance to open our doors for the community," said Mary Liz Ingram, children's minister at McDonough Presbyterian Church.
From June 14-18, McDonough Presbyterian will hold a joint vacation Bible school with St. Joseph's Episcopal Church of McDonough. Ingram, who has been McDonough Presbyterian's children's minister for a year, said the two churches have cooperated on VBS for several years.
"Our church always tries to work with other churches and be more ecumenical. We like to get different perspectives," she said.
Father John Bancroft of St. Joseph's said the partnership with McDonough Presbyterian is mutually beneficial. The program will be held at McDonough Presbyterian this year, but last year it was held at St. Joseph's while the Presbyterian church was undergoing construction.
"It's good for the kids," Bancroft said, noting that about 20 children from St. Joseph's will be attending. "There's no way we would be able to have as effective a Vacation Bible School" without the partnership, he said.
The theme of the two churches' Bible school is "God Calls Us Around the World in Five Days." Each morning students will "fly" to one of five different countries in a cardboard box plane.
Ingram, who is in seminary at Mercer's McAfee Theological School, said the week will give local children a good opportunity to learn about both missions and other cultures.
"A lot of them wouldn't ever hear about these things if they didn't come here," she said. "I didn't even know where (Malawi, one of the countries on the "tour"), was until this, she added."
While many of the area's vacation Bible schools (including the McDonough Presbyterian/St. Joseph's Episcopal one) are for elementary school-aged children, Harvest Baptist Church in Jonesboro is including a program for sixth through eighth graders.
"We strongly feel that teenagers need to be reached out to," said Harvest Baptist secretary Emily Spiker, wife of youth pastor Eric Spiker. "They're also sitting at home bored and are looking for a place to go and have a good time, but also dig into God's word."
While the church's program for 3-year-olds through fifth graders will include kids' games and crafts, Spiker said, "The teenagers do something totally different, because they don't want to do crafts."
Besides Bible studies and small-group activities, the teen program at Harvest Baptist will include a greased pig, "Water Wars" and a "Slime Night" with a "slimy slip and slide."
Since the theme is "The Far-Out Far East Rickshaw Rally: Race to the Son," the church will be decorated in Oriental style.
"We really focus on having children learn about missions across the world," said Spiker. Currently, the teens are engaged in building rickshaws out of old bicycles. "They're having a good time trying to feel manly building them," she said.
Spiker agreed that VBS programs for teens are not very common.
"It is a rarity in this area, but that's all the more reason we need it," she said.