VBS, Russell Memorial CME-style
The first night of Vacation Bible School at Russell Memorial CME Church this week was more than just Vacation Bible School. It was a night of passing the baton from one longtime church layperson to another. It was a night of youth showing how they read the Bible today – on a smartphone. It was a night of multiple generations spending the evening talking about encouragement. It was a night of people going from quiet introductions to hearty laughter and joy. It was a night of a new pastor sharing his enthusiasm for spreading the Word. It was also record-breaking VBS attendance for the church. While VBS is a summer staple of many churches, this one belonged to Russell Memorial CME.
Monday evening, adults and children entered through the steps in back of the brick building on South Alston Avenue. They registered and made their way to the sanctuary, where they sat divided by age group.
Rev. Wayne A. Williams, senior pastor of the church, was full of energy as the pews filled, saying he was “grateful to serve such wonderful people.” In just under a year since he arrived at Russell Memorial, 150 new members have joined, he said. It’s truly been a blessing, he said. Williams talked about plans for a church community garden as well as established ministries like feeding the hungry. His first VBS at Russell, Williams said he hopes souls will be saved.
The theme is “Jesus Family Reunion: The Remix!” and the Scripture, Joshua 24:15, “…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Teachers were commissioned, a song was sung and VBS took off.
Then it was on to class. Just off the sanctuary, the 9- and 10-year-olds sat quietly and expectantly around a table as their teachers, JoAnne Bullock and Pam Banks, introduced themselves and started an icebreaker.
Taylor likes TV. Mason likes macaroni. Mia likes macaroni, too. Torrian likes trophies. They took turns repeating the names of their new classmates and what they liked. What does Mrs. Banks like?
“Bread?” a student suggested. “Burritos?” said another.
Berries, she likes berries. And so the circle continued. By now, giggles were rippling through the group that had begun to relax with each other.
Each classroom was learning the same lesson, but appropriate for their age, said Kitty Graham, co-director of VBS for the past 20 years at Russell Memorial. This is her last VBS as she passes the role on to her granddaughter, Mykia Richards, who served as co-director this year. The grandmother complimented her granddaughter’s good job.
“I just enjoy putting the program together, just bringing the community together,” said Graham, who was checking on each classroom and passing around the roll. “Tonight is the largest group we’ve ever had on the first night. It’s really exciting.”
The final count was 132 students. Last year started off with half as many.
In the young adult classroom, the Rev. Tiggs Washington talked about the story of Moses taking advice from his father-in-law to stop trying to do everything himself.
“Imagine Moses taking the advice,” Washington said. “He could have said, ‘I got this.’ But he humbled himself, and that was important.”
At the other end of the hall, kindergarteners were putting on listening ears and raising hands to ask questions. They discussed sharing and learned a big new word: Encourage. They also worked on their team name: Pirates Family. “Arr, matey!” the little ones said together.
In another room, of 11- and 12-year-olds, students quietly read that night’s worksheet about encouragement. Earlier, they took out their phones to mention VBS on social media.
The adults met in the sanctuary, where the topic was also about trying to do too much, and the importance of training other people “because the story keeps going. Amen?” said the Rev. John Cradle Sr., associate pastor at Russell Memorial.
Now an hour into class time, back with the 9- and 10-year-olds, ice had broken and melted away. The children crowded around the table, enthusiastically debating their team name. Genesis! Believers in Jesus! Believers in Genesis? No. Genesis Believers? Yes.
They needed to include the VBS Scripture verse, Joshua 24:15. Banks turned to the Bible in book form. A student took out her smartphone and said she had the Bible verse, too.
Miniya Jones, 9, (Miniya likes M&Ms) goes to church at Full Gospel Deliverance Center, but came to VBS with best friend her entire life, Jordyn Stevenson (Jordyn likes juice). VBS isn’t boring, Miniya said.
“I like it already. Most things that have to do with Jesus Christ and all, there’s no actual fun, fun in it. This is actual fun,” she said.
Torrian Arrington, 10, (Torrian likes trophies) said his parents met at Russell Memorial. The family hadn’t been to church in a while, he said, and his parents gave them the choice of two churches. They chose Russell Memorial. His brother Tyler Arrington, 9, (Tyler likes technology) came to VBS, too, along with their parents.
“I think it’s a nice church, kind of better than other church I’ve been to,” Torrian said. “Vacation Bible School is good. I like it a lot.” he said.
The mood in the sanctuary at the end of VBS Monday night was spirited. Elaine Harris has been going to Russell Memorial CME all her 53 years, and remembers her mom bringing her to VBS as a little girl. She has never missed a year since, and is now bringing her grandchildren.
“I love it,” Harris said.
VBS at Russell Memorial CME continues nightly through Friday. Registration begins at 6 p.m. For information, visit www.russellmemorial.com or call the church office at 919-682-2523.