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Originality and flexibility are hallmarks of successful VBS at St. Mary


Monica Fletes reads to seven- and eight-year-old children from Acts 2:1-13 during the last day of the annual vacation Bible school at St. Mary, Crown Point, on June 21. More than 100 youth participated in this year's sessions, which were themed "Camping with Jesus." (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



Northwest Indiana Catholic


“God began a good work in you. And I am sure that he will carry it on until it is completed. That will be on the day Christ Jesus returns.”

-       Phil. 1:6 (and memory verse for Camping with Jesus VBS)


      CROWN POINT – If you’re ever in caught in a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster, Marian Weeks is the person you want with you.

      She is indefatigable, unflappable and unbreakable – just the kind of person you need in a crisis, especially if it involves a rainy day during vacation bible school, a CD player that won’t play or a missing recipe for birdseed. Just ask Weeks, and she’ll have the answer, just like she has for more than 35 years as faith formation coordinator and VBS director at St. Mary.

      Every year, working with her daughter, Laura Underwood, the VBS music ministry director, Weeks has developed her own theme, music, decorations and activities for the weeklong summer session that draws more than 100 children each and every year. “We’ll start planning for next year right after this year’s camp ends, putting together ideas and Bible verses, and something will just click,” Weeks said. “This year we wrote stories about the disciples fishing with Jesus and Jesus going into the desert with his apostles or alone – all based on Scripture.”

      This year’s theme for the June 17-21 sessions, topped off with a musical performance for families and a picnic, was “Camping with Jesus,” celebrating the great outdoors.

      The only problem was that it rained almost every day, with temperatures hovering in the 60s. “You have to adapt and be flexible,” Weeks said calmly as 17 adult and 40 teen volunteers led campers 4-12 to classrooms for music, craft, gym, video and storytelling activities.

      “Sometimes when you go camping, it’s not the way you want it to be, I tell the kids,” explained Weeks. “You don’t get everything you want – a warm bed, TV, video games, etc.

      “When we follow Jesus, too, things aren’t always easy,” Weeks added. “We have to meet our guide, who is Jesus. Then we need to get to know our guide, who gave us rules and laws. Then you need to stay on track – both here and when you leave.”

      Weeks attributes the success of St. Mary’s VBS to the unique programming and word-of-mouth testimonials. “Most parishes buy a themed program, but Marian writes her own program, picks the theme and selects the crafts and activities,” said parishioner Diane Stratton, who began volunteering when her daughter, now 23, was a camper. “I come back every year to help with crafts. We plan each day, supplementing activities from ideas in books and the internet.”

      The five age levels share projects, which included a bird feeder, sun catcher and a Happy Camper fashioned from a spoon. “We even have back-up crafts for the older kids, who may finish quicker,” added Stratton, who most enjoys “seeing the joy that the kids get from learning about Jesus and getting closer to each other.”

      Teen volunteer Danny Crnokrak, 14, offered to set up a campsite in the school, using skills he learned with Boy Scout Troop 45 in Crown Point. “I was very excited to help out – we have a small, pop-up tent, a fire pit (outdoors), camp chairs and a cooker,” he said.

      St. Mary parishioners and Taft Middle School seventh-graders Abby Taylor, Sophia Valdez and McKenna Smiser spent the week supervising six-year-old campers.

      “Our group loves music,” said Smiser. “The instructor teaches them songs and movements every day.” The songs teach about Jesus’ life, added Taylor, who identified favorites as “Witness” and “Eight Days a Week.”

      Valdez enjoyed watching the campers “making a lot of new friends” during outdoor games like dodgeball and ‘red light, green light’, while Smiser said storytelling time and ‘Snack and Story Video’ sessions offered lessons about ‘camping’ with Jesus. “They learned how the can be their best selves and that God is always showing them the way,” she said.

      “I like dodgeball, and the songs,” said St. John camper Henry Stressl, 10, a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School and St. Mary parishioner who admits to being “not bad” at dancing. 

      Weeks began the week with 121 campers, but expected a few additions. “Kids come up to me and say ‘I didn’t know it was this much fun. Can I bring my friend (or my sister) tomorrow?’” Weeks says yes, of course.

      “It’s not just learning about God, but doing it in a fun way,” summed up Ava Strayer, 10, a St. Mary fifth-grader.



St. Mary director of religious education Marian Weeks, who has coordinated the church's vacation Bible school for 35 years, speaks to campers on last day of the annual scripture study and day camp at the Crown Point parish on June 21. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)



Children who are part of the St. Mary vacation Bible school perform a song for parents and guests during the last day of the annual scripture study and day camp at the Crown Point parish on June 21. More than 100 youth participated in the annual sessions. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

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