The Coronavirus has altered nearly every part of our daily lives, including how congregations gather for worship. At Zionsville UMC, the impact of COVID-19 had bred new, innovative opportunities for the church to reach its flock and forge new relationships throughout the community. When the church learned that COVID-19 could potentially hinder their plans for Vacation Bible School they decided to, rather than cancelling or postponing the date, host a virtual VBS instead.
“Once we realized that COVID-19 was going to keep us from having over 600 children on our church campus, we knew we had to come up with a Plan B,” said Tracy Vermillion, Director of Children’s Ministry at ZUMC. “Cancelling was not an option for us. Our community loves VBS.”
Senior Pastor Dave Williamson said the idea sparked from the impressive feedback families shared about being able to worship together during their Coronavirus-prompted digital services. Pre-COVID-19, the worship service and Sunday school classes were hosted simultaneously with parents in the sanctuary and children in the Sunday school wing of the church. “But because families were watching church together at home, many parents were saying how meaningful that experience was,” said Dave.
Zionsville’s steering committee began planning for this summer’s Vacation Bible School in Fall 2019. “We already had our VBS theme picked out and plans in action by the time the Coronavirus first began to hit the United States. At first we thought we might just need to make adjustments to our traditional plans,” said Mary Hilton, VBS Music Leader.
As COVID-19 cases spiked in the following weeks, it became clear to the committee that the best option was to record videos of their VBS and make them available to families in need of healthy, spiritual activities for their kids. Mary added, “The Worship Team upped the idea by suggesting we pre-record segments as if they were speaking from a news desk, ‘tossing the mic’ to various reporters.”
But the church’s outreach expanded far beyond the surrounding communities. Gayle Kryger, a member of Virgil UMC in Cortland, New York, was having trouble coming up with ideas on how to host VBS this summer amid the pandemic. She began seeking out ideas about ways to host VBS virtually and came across Zionsville’s VBS webpage.
After connecting with Tracy and Zionsville’s worship team, Gayle was invited to help discern how their partnership could help other communities in need of a VBS experience.
“Gayle thought outside the box and made an invitation to other churches in the surrounding areas in New York,” Tracy said. “Along with Virgil United Methodist Church, Mexico New York UMC, the Church of Christ a Presbyterian/ UMC in Richfield Springs, New York, and Immanuel Baptist Church of Cortland, New York, all participated.”
Because the videos were pre-recorded, they were able suit the needs of the other local churches with VBS experiences scheduled later in the summer.
Tracy added, “We started hearing from grandparents and aunts and uncles from different states like Oklahoma, Illinois, North Carolina, and Tennessee who wanted their kids to participate in our virtual VBS. We were so excited about how many families we were going to reach.”
The feedback from families that participated in Zionsville’s VBS has been tremendous. One family wrote to Tracy stating, “I can’t tell you what an encouragement VBS has been to my kids and our family. I want to thank you. ZUMC is not our church home, but we have been blessed to participate in VBS.”
Another wrote, “Many thanks again for all the time and efforts to create this virtual VBS during this time. We participated this morning, but after dinner our whole family was rocking it out with your VBS music.“
Some who watched the virtual experience we even moved to make donations. “My crew was inspired to load up our band today and make a donation of clothes and HomeGoods to the caring center. Thank you for pointing us to Jesus in His powerful, awesome ways.”
Dave shared that Zionsville may host a virtual VBS again in the future due to the impressive response. “This is something we hope to continue. Using the internet has expanded our reach. There were people and families that followed our VBS program that otherwise (due to distance) could never have done it.”
“We heard from many families that our VBS was the light they needed to begin their summer,” added Mary. “There has been much negativity in the news lately. But our VBS focused (literally, in one of our segments, and figuratively through the whole theme) in bringing Good News to any family who logged in.”