Come to Bible School, come to Bible school, every evening of the week, come to Bible school . . . Always be on time, always be on time . . .
Watermelon, Hires homemade root beer floats, and swimming in a farm pond with mud on the bottom, squishy between our toes – form sweet summer memories in my Lancaster County childhood of the 1950s. And along with all that, Bible School at Bossler Mennonite Church.
For two weeks every summer, joyful voices sang lustily as children proceeded up the center aisle of Bossler Mennonite Church, anticipating an evening at summer Bible School.
What Happened There
Bible stories were the centerpiece, and we learned them by seeing, hearing, and doing.
Flannelgraph pieces, with the story of the good shepherd (for example, The Ninety and Nine) magically adhered to a flannelbackground. Anna Longenecker, My dad’s first cousin, knew how to create suspense in her storytelling.
I remember pasting images of Jacob’s Ladder and the Angels, Samson and Delilah, and the Samaritan Woman at the Well into my lesson book, matching the picture’s straight edge with the black rectangular line on the page. One year John Kraybill, our deacon, was my teacher.
As we learned, plain square-paned windows in the church, open to admit a sweet breeze, sometimes picked up a trace of tractor sound in the distance.
We Memorized Scripture
We learned to recite (in order) the books of the Bible in both testamants, the New Testament, easier to memorize.
Several of the New Testament books had two or three parts: Corinthians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Peter and John. We learned a song about the names of the New Testament in order set to a musical tune.
But the minor prophets of the Old Testamant were tricky. No one had invented a song about these tongue twisters: Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. No books in this line up either began with vowels to form an acrostic or create a tune..
Some were Champions
Cousin Reba Longenecker (Crill) has told me she worked all day long in a Bible memorization contest, memorizing a total of 300-400 verses. Arlene Garber (Kliewer) often won prizes. Joyce Garber (Schultz) and my sister Jan Longenecker (Caverly) were champions too.
A Bible sword drill was a competition designed to see who could be the first to find the exact Bible passage the leader called out. Viewing the Bible as the Christian’s defense against evil, contestants vied to locate the chapter and verse the leader called out. The thing I remember most about sword drills in Bible school is nimble fingers scrambling to find the passage and complete silence except for the frantic flipping of pages.
Bible School as Ceremony
Bible school had all the features of a ceremony: a processional, a presentation, art exercise, and eventually a recessional back down the aisle.
When Bible school ended, we sang, “Our Bible School is over and we are going home, goodbye, goodbye, be always kind and true, goodbye, goodbye, . . . .
Bible School in the City . . . a Country Sunday School
My Sunday school class enjoying mellow, fall weather at Bossler Mennonite Church
If such an experience is new to you, what stands out as your read this?
Why do you think the Bible School at Bossler Mennonite was held in the evening, and not during the day?
If you participated in Bible School, share your memories. Please add your name to the list of Bossler people who remember VBS.
Good morning, Marian! What you describe here is totally alien to me. 🙂
I assume you went at night because there were farm chores and harvesting to be done during the day?
Bingo on evening Bible school time, Merril. Teachers and students were out working in gardens and fields during the day. I find it remarkable now that the man who served as superintendent for years and years had a big dairy farm. Such devotion! I hope he had help, especially in the evening, with the milking chore.
It was never referred to as “vacation” Bible School, as it often appears on church signs these days. 🙂
I had forgotten those invitational songs … “Come to …” only we sang “every week day morning” because when I went, it was mornings for two weeks. Can’t imagine being able to get teachers for morning Bible school in this day. And the Goodbye song … Is the picture at Steelton one where you taught? Early on, we were recruited to help teach at Bible schools in Chicago, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Kentucky and southern Indiana where we had “Little Brother” mission stations as they were called. Wow. I think I was only about 15 when I made the transition from Bible school student to teacher. Also taught in South Texas one year–all of these were morning Bible schools. Enough nostalgia. Do you remember if you used Herald Press Bible school curricula?
Thank you for recounting your Bible School history far and wide, Melodie. Yes, the mission was Steelton Mennonite. I was a young teacher too, appearing in the upper right under the sign.
I know our Sunday School materials came from Herald Press, and I’m pretty sure those from Bible school did as well. I wondered where Scottdale (PA) was – ha!
The bottle of glue was a flashback to the past! I remember those glue jars so clearly I can almost smell it. I was raised in and am still a member of the United Church of Canada, so a different kind of church experience, but aspects of your story resonate with the way I learned the stories as a child. We approach things quite differently now!
I’m guessing you glued Bible story photos in lesson books as well. As you know, I welcome diversity here and appreciate your referring to a different kind of experience. I’m glad the glue jar evoked a pleasant experience. The goo that came out reminded me of a mixture of honey or molasses. Thanks, Arlene!
This post brought back so many memories from my childhood, Marian. Each summer, I’d attend Vacation Bible School at our church. I have vivid memories of singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and being able to drink Shasta Grape Soda with my lunch…something my mother typically didn’t allow.
It strikes me that your mother may have rewarded you with soda because she wanted to reinforce the teachings you learned at Bible School. Maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s a possibility. Also, summers are hot, and she may have thought the grape soda would cool you down. Thanks, Jill!
Oh, this is a walk down memory lane for me. I went to Bible School every summer, too. We memorized a few Bible verses, colored and glued things together, then we had fruit punch and chocolate chip cookies as a snack. How Jesus fit into all of this I’m not sure, but I loved spending summer mornings in our church basement being all holy and such!
Several have mentioned refreshments, but I don’t remember snacks at Bible School though one time (maybe on the last day?) I think we had watermelon outside.
Thanks for adding your church basement musings, Ally!
I had a similar experience, Marian, a a kid in Chicago. And I remember using mucilage to make stained glass windows for a project! We had Bible sword drills, memorized Bible verses, and made projects.
My VBS was held from 9:30 to 11:30. I assumed your Bible school was held at night because people needed to work (as is the case with my church today).
You’re right about the reason for the evening time slot for Bible school classes. I love stained glass. Alas, our church which you can see pictured in the autumn photo had none. Your comment reminds me now of George Herbert’s poem about such church windows: https://www.ccel.org/h/herbert/temple/Windows.html
Thanks so much for sharing your VBS experiences, Marie!
I remember Baptist Bible School and later United Church Bible School very well. They were the highlight of our summers on the farm. We attended during the day though. I loved it so much I would go the the Bible School in our small town and then stayed in the city with Gramma to attend the one at her church with my aunt. I will never forget the Flannel Boards. What a great way to teach a story. I eventually made my own. As I got older I then taught Bible School. One of my students became the father of a Canadian rock star. Thanks for bringing back these wonderful memories. Love the pictures!!
Your Bible School history is fascinating, Darlene, especially the part about one of your students becoming the father of a Canadian rock star. You just never know – ha!
I remember we had a processional song also….”Come to Bible School, come to Bible School, we will come rejoicing come to Bible School.” I taught bible school at Steelton one year and Brother Baer insisted I come up front and lead singing. I made a point later to learn the rudiments of song leading. However, Brother Baer did compliment me at the end of the week and said I was a wonderful teacher. Almost made up for my song leading debacle.
I wonder if the processional song changed in five years at Bossler’s because I remember “we will come rejoicing” attached to a song about bringing in the sheaves.
See, Brother Baer’s encouragement did help, Jean. Soon you will be singing in the choir of an English cathedral very soon, no song leading skills required ~ ha!
Think that was the 2nd verse. Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.
My experience was much like yours, although altered a little bit because we were a “town church” and not a “country church.”
I loved going to Bible School. I remember that the tiger lilies were in bloom and the fireflies profuse. Cookies and Kool Aid after we sang ourselves out the door. Such an innocent way to be enfolded in community.
You discussed sword drill competitions in your memoir, as I recall, and I believe you enjoyed winning, Shirley!
I wonder whether you had Bible school during the day, not in the evening, since your were a town church.
We met in the evenings also. But I think it was only for one week. I might be wrong. 🙂
I remember when Billy Collins was our national poet laureate. When I forget other things, Google comes in handy. Thanks for the poem. I can relate! 🙂
Marian, you and your commenting friends are bringing back the smells and sounds of my Bible school days, mostly at a Brethren In Christ church in my country neighborhood, which included intense competitions between boys and girls to see who gave the most money to whatever project we supported.
The flannelgraph approach, for me (and many others) has become Godly Play, and I am so happy to be paid by a church (Montclair Presbyterian) to lead Godly Play each Sunday.
We don’t depend on memorizing or competing with others to make it exciting. Influenced by Montessori, our rooms are designed to be child-friendly with a focal shelf where the Holy Family lives, surrounded by shelves of baskets full of props to tell Bible stories as well as shelves with glue and colored paper and modeling materials, and we do a lot of wondering about the stories, responding to the stories and ending with a feast of cracker and water. The intention and design are worship-full.
And, I am glad to remember my foundations for loving to tell Bible stories include Bible school, even though I am happy to be leading differently.
Thank you for describing your worship-full teaching experience at Montclair Presbyterian. The feast of crackers and water sounds almost like a type of communion. Actually, that’s what we serve to two-year-olds in Sunday School each week. (Sometimes a worker slides in a few cheerios!)
Thanks you for chiming in today, Dolores.
Marian — VBS at night is totally foreign to me, but I read in the comments above the reason.
The songs I remember include: “Do Your Ears Hang Low” (with lots of hand motions), “Deep and Wide” (with lots of hand motions), “One Door and Only One, and Yet the Sides are Two (with lots of hand motions), and my all-time favorite, “Magdalena Catalina Lookashina Walladina Hokapokaloca was her Name” — that one always cracked me up!
Not surprisingly, you remember songs with hand motions and action, so characteristic of you then and now. I had never heard of your all-time favorite and looked it, so others can enjoy the hilarity too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBpzRLTUYxM
We might have sung such songs at camp, but not at Bible school. Thank you for filling in the gaps of my education, Laurie!
I came to vacation Bible School (we called it DVBS) later in my childhood (age 10) when we emigrated to Canada. I thought it was wonderful. We had people from a Bible School in another town come to teach us, and I adored my teachers. Your post brought back a lot of memories, thank you.
I wonder whether your Bible School teachers ignited your interest in teaching (and learning). It’s possible, I suppose, since you say you adored your teachers. I’m glad this post flooded your mind with happy memories, Elfrieda. Thank you!
Jean Fairfield, Thank you for this memory of my father! Driving over West Side, my father would sing that song from our car with big “trumpets” on the roof. I got to operate the sound system. Marian, I appreciate the Steelton Photo. I don’t remember seeing one from this angle. I was also in this photo and I recognized you.
Your father was a diligent, faithful messenger. He brought students and teachers from far and wide. Thanks for your comment here. I’ll look for your face in the crowd now that I know who to look for, Conrad!
Thanks for your memories of Bible school at Bosslers. I do remember memorizing verses. I think many children from Bosslers had Anna Longenecker for a teacher. She was a faithful servant, as well as Maribel Kraybill. As I got older I lead some singing and when I compare some of those songs to what are being taught and sung in VBS today, I am excited that the songs today have a lot more meaning and depth of scripture in them. It makes the stories a lot easier for the children to remember. Today there seems to be a lot more work put into preparation of decorations and involvement of many ages in the church. No wonder Bible school is just one week instead of two weeks.
Hi, Arlene. Thanks for mentioning Maribel Kraybill. Yes, I too remember her devotion to teaching.
Our church is hosting Bible school this week, and the halls are decorated with creation moments – plants and animals galore. “Deep and Wide” is one example of a song without much depth. I still don’t know exactly what it means, but if it refers to God’s love, teachers would have to explain first, don’t you think?
It’s good to hear from you again. Thank you!
Our Bible School was for 2 weeks and from 9AM to 12 noon (M-F). We had assembly in the beginning and at the end, and recess half way in between. At the ending assembly, the Superintendent always asked what we had learned and hands went up everywhere with children wanting to tell about their class. Our church’s Bible school schedule was set around the time that Fresh Air children from NYC were in local homes.
In addition to all the kids from church, we also had our Fresh Air children in our classes. It was the best part of summer. The smell of that glue and being allowed (finally!) to put my own glue on the back of my picture to put in my book each day are two special memories. We sang “every weekday morning . . .” and “Our Bible school is over” every day as well. My mother was a widow and we always hosted 4 and sometimes 6 Fresh Air children, many of us the same ages as we were. When we got home after Bible school, Mama always had a wonderful lunch waiting. Later I became a teacher and had as much fun teaching as I did being a student (I think). It make me sad to see how much is lost and how little is taught in some Bible schools today.
Welcome, Gertrude! Thank you for your perspective on Bible School, then and now. The Superintendent was very wise to ask children what they had learned at the end of the session It’s a good review + children are alerted to the fact they need to remember next time they’re asked.
My parents had Fresh Air children in our home to provide “fresh air” for city children and (I imagine) also to teach us to appreciate those different from us. I wrote about two special children, Roxann and Chino is this blog post: https://marianbeaman.com/2015/07/08/2-tales-from-roxann-and-cheeno-our-fresh-air-children/
Your mother was a strong and wise woman too for taking on 4 – 6 more children during a busy summer. She must have thought of it as a ministry. Thanks for your comments.
This is all completely new to me , however I can’t tell how interesting it is . Almost like landing on another planet and being taught a new language . Shall I tell you what I think this way of life brings to you ? Happiness , a sense of community, a social life , friends for life and people around you you can trust . What’s not to like .
I adored assembly at school I used to sing heartily loved it .
I’m glad you enjoyed the “other planet” you landed on, even if it felt odd and unfamiliar. You are invited here, welcomed into the sense of community you feel, even vicariously.
Although the stories we learned were familiar to me, our gathering together made them more special. Thank you for recognizing that, Cherry. So good to see you here, my dear! xox
Hi Marian! This is the third time I’ve tried to comment…not sure if they’re going into your spam. This post brought back so many memories of my childhood and time spent at VBS. I remember singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and being allowed to drink Shasta Grape Soda with my lunch. xo
Jill, that’s exactly what happened. I’ll apologize on behalf of WPress. Sometimes this happens on my Comcast email account, but I wasn’t aware of its happening here on my blog. This will teach me to check this folder more often.
Thanks so much for your comment about Bible school which I replied to above when you first posted it at 6:43 yesterday morning. And thanks heaps for trying three (3!) times to post. I’m honored by your perseverance but hope your comments are never marked as spam again. By the way, I deleted the second attempt because it was much like the others.
I pre-ordered your new book, and imagine it will arrive any day now in my mailbox. It will be a great read when we go on vacation soon. 🙂
No worries, Marian. Periodically, I’ll have some regular commenters go into spam. I appreciate you ordering my book. I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful vacation!
What you and your other followers talk about here is alien to me, which surprises me since I loved going to church every Sunday-Episcopal – and I loved being part of the church choir. But I guess we did not have Bible school in the summer.
I have strong memories of attending a friend’s Sunday church “Bible” school and being frightened by it. The teacher played an old black-and-white movie about Jesus and the crucifix- very gory and I came home and cried for a week. This experience was totally different from what you express in learning beautiful Bible stories. I don’t quite see the necessity for the memorization though. xo
Thanks for weighing in here, Pam. And I’m sorry you had a scary experience at your friend’s church. Apparently, the teachers didn’t gauge well what is age-appropriate.
I loved the Bible stories, which never seemed frightful. Memorization was both a mental and spiritual exercise, which I think the leaders thought would give us a good moral foundation in later life. Maybe they overdid it (making it into a contest) although the “game” made Bible School exciting even for the ones with less nimble fingers. 🙂
Nice piece of nostalgia Marian. And, lol, that glue bottle brought back memories! 🙂
Thank you so much, Debby! 🙂
(By the way, the grubby gremlins put you in the spam folder ~ how rude!)
Lol, I’m back in the garbage again? Thanks for digging me out. 🙂
A pretty woman like you should never be tossed in the trash. How does WP decide not discern that you are a steady reader, faithful friend? GRRRrrr!
LOl, you are too funny. I’ll blame it on the planets and retrogrades. 🙂
I can remember going to Neighbourhood Bible Clubs in the Summer. As a teen, I worked in the church camps (loved being a puppeteer). These last few years, I have helped with our own church’s camp – I’ve been the snack lady, the craft lady, and in the last few years, one of the actors for the opening skits. Last year I was Ima Victor – an incompetent nerdy clutz – and I loved it. Tomorrow is our final day – I’m a British archaeologist named Pansy Pepperpot. Loving how the kids respond & thankful for how much they are learning. The formats change, but the truth is eternal! 🙂
I love all of this, especially Ima Victor. Actually, I knew an “Ima” once and she was not incompetent or klutzy!
Thanks for adding your brand of spice to this post, Jenn.
Ah yes, Marian. You bring me back in time once again. Daily Vacation Bible School was ours. During the day — I was a city girl; never heard of DVBS held at night! Feltboards, songs, and that painting of Jesus “knocking on the door to our heart” high on the wall. I knew what Jesús looked like, I believed back then; my church had the official painting.
I know you are familiar with Bible stories from childhood. I cringe sometimes when I see a fair-skinned Jesus, knowing his mother was Middle Eastern and no doubt with very “tan” coloring. I’ve noticed though that nationalities around the world adapt the appearance of their own Holy Family to that of the predominant complexion. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
This is an experience I never had Marian! What stands out for me is the fun you all clearly had! I can see the value in learning scripture off by heart as a child and then much later as an adult reflecting on them to gain greater insight. Have a lovely weekend!
Thank you, Susan. Scripture verses were imprinted in our impressionable minds. And it’s true, those positive words can help us reflect in our adult lives. Yes, we had fun . . . and we were with friends too, an added bonus! 🙂
What memories! (I never went to Bible school.)
Thanks for responding here. Now you have a taste of what some of us experienced years ago, Fiona! 🙂
Hi. We did not have Bible school with its great stories. We instead had to memorize the boring catechism.
Mary Sue, I have been thinking about you lately, and now you appear. I think the catechism was boring because it was repetitious. Yes?
Now in the final edits of my manuscript, I hear your voice (contrary to some others) “Trust the reader.” 🙂
I have no experience with Bible school. What stands out to me is that you and the other children at these school sessions seemed to not care about being there, and even be happy to be present, instead of doing something else. I assume the school sessions happened at night to allow the children (and teachers) to enjoy their summer days outside.
We looked forward to it for several reasons, one being with the friends we usually saw only on Sundays. Actually, the choice of evening sessions allowed farm families to attend. They were busy taking care of their crops in the month of July. Even the superintendent was a farmer, probably warming a tractor seat during the day before he took charge of Bible School at night.
Forgot to ask: do you mention the summer Bible school in your memoir as well? I assume so. 🙂
This is the church I attended all through high school. Bossler Mennonite figures mightily in my memoir, but I don’t mention Bible School specifically in the manuscript so far.
Thanks for asking, Liesbet.
I imagine they met in the evening because the kids helped on the farm or in the kitchen during the day. Lots of structure, and I wondered right away if any of the kids got restless and caused trouble. I went to Presbyterian summer camp for a week or so each summer when I was a young teen. We broke lots of rules and got away with it as far as I remember. My most sacred memory of that time is an evening prayer gathering for sunset. All the voices singing under a pink streaked luminous sky.
I don’t recall any shenanigans. These kids were brought up under strict rules from a young age. Of course, it’s possible I was blind to bad behavior. It doesn’t surprise me that you remember the pink streaked luminous sky, nature love that you are, Elaine!
You remind me of another event at church: folding chairs, wooden, were brought out into a meadow beside the church for a hymn sing. We sang until the sun set, orangey red, into the horizon on the hill. Holy moments!
Oh, yes, I remember VBS as a child, as a young adult, as a middle aged, and now as a senior person! I’ve always been involved in VBS. As a child and even as a young adult it was two weeks of flannel graph Bible stories, like you wrote about. We played games and had refreshments, and memorized Bible verses. As young parents we took our children and stayed as workers. As years went by the length was cut down to one week. Flannel graphs were out and high energy stories and lessons are in. This year it was cut down to four days! Four days of very high energy stories, lessons, games, and refreshments. Supper is even prepared for workers so they don’t have to go home from work, fix supper, eat, and get to VBS on time! Yes, VBS has changed but the message of God’s love is loud and clear.
Thanks for revisiting this one. You are so right, the message of God’s love hasn’t changed one bit, thank God. However, I guess busy schedules and the speed of life has compressed the two weeks into one and then just four days. I guess we have to remember than most women stayed at home without the pressure to work in the “good old days.” Now it seems it takes two breakwinners to make ends meet, and life is less leisurely.
How wonderful that supper is prepared for the workers at your church, which no doubt keeps them signing up from year to year. May the very high energy stories, lessons, games, and refreshments continue! Thanks for writing all this, Anita! 🙂