Visitors to Knox Presbyterian Church this week are greeted by an unusual sight.
A menagerie of stuffed tigers, unicorns and giraffes has gathered in preparation for A Zoo Cruise, this year’s theme for vacation Bible school, which the church is presenting in partnership with Peace Lutheran Church.
“The idea came from a lunch I had with Pastor Rick Schulz at Peace and we were discussing how we both have great congregations but they were getting older, so how do we get children involved,” said Rev. Dr. Teresa Charlton, pastor at Knox. “And we felt that by working together we could pool our resources, our time, our energy.
“We are throwing our denominational stuff out the window and saying this is all about the kids.”
A Zoo Cruise runs this week at Peace Lutheran Church, Monday to Friday, from 9 am. to noon; and Aug. 5 to 9 at Knox from 9 a.m. to noon.
“I used to write VBS curriculum and there is lots out there, but a lot of it started to look the same,” said Charlton. “My mother was a primary school teacher, and I started thinking about going back to basics with cutting and glueing, almost retro. I have written an outline of a program but we will take it in our own direction.”
The theme, said Charlton, is the Love Boat meets Noah’s Ark, with Schulz playing the role of Capt. Stubing. The program is open to all school-aged children in the community, not just those who are members of the congregation.
Kids will have the opportunity to hear the story of Noah’s Ark and then make props for a performance to wrap up the week.
“Parents and grandparents are invited to come to the performance to see what the kids have been up to,” said Charlton.
And, while her congregation tends towards an older demographic, Charlton said a VBS is a great opportunity for everyone to get involved.
“There is pastoral care that happens as well, because we have some of our seniors who are happy to just hang out and watch the proceedings, and that can be very nurturing.”
Charlton said with any VBS, part of the goal is outreach, the other is education.
“And we’re also getting people in the door and so if they end up joining us, great. Meanwhile, there is a lot going on here and it’s a great opportunity for the congregation to get involved.”
The first day of VBS is also the one-year anniversary of Charlton’s first day in the pulpit at Knox, a post she took up after arriving with her husband and three children last year from Richmond, Ont.
Since her arrival, she said she has been overwhelmed by the support and generosity of her congregation’s members.
“When I asked for people to bring in stuffed animals and anything else they had that would go with our theme, they were so generous and so enthusiastic. I think the congregation is enjoying the silliness.”
While organizing a VBS requires a lot of time and energy — at the same time that both pastors are going about their regular duties of writing sermons and making hospital visits — Charlton said it’s all worth it.
She recalls a five-year-old girl who once arrived at VBS, having never been to church.
“As soon as she walked into the sanctuary, she said ‘It’s a God place.’ If you want a motivation as to why we put ourselves through all of this — the spilled glue, the tempers flaring in the kitchen — that little girl expressed it beautifully. There’s no way to measure this, but that’s what has inspired me.”
A Zoo Cruise will include drama, games, songs and crafts, as well as snacks and the biggest ice cream sundaes in town. As well, every participant will receive a DVD of photos taken throughout the week, including one of each child being greeted by the “captain” at the start of the “cruise.”
Cost to attend is $10 per child or $20 per family. If cost prevents a child from attending, subsidies are available. To register for July’s camp at Peace Lutheran, call 250-545-5787. To register for the August camp at Knox Presbyterian, call 250-542-8613.