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Williams column: Vacation Bible School

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Vacation Bible School season has quickly come, and in some cases gone again. Both public and private schools are possessed of a calendar which spans a great portion of the year, but the important dates of Bible School can be pretty much summed-up in one week or less. Of some of the Bible Schools which I have seen advertised locally, the daily length equals two hours, and is conducted at a time unheard of when I was in Bible School: 6-8 p.m. When I was growing up at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, Bible School was held in the morning, and I seem to want to remember it lasting for more than just two hours.
For awhile now, I’ve noticed some churches advertising their Bible Schools with “glitzy,” professionally-printed signs including elaborate scenes and having the look of mass production. I have seen some homemade signs, appearing to consist of magic-marker inscribed sheets, bringing to mind that distinctive writing of the hastily-assembled yard sale advertisement. Some of the more flexible, printed plastic signs have been unrolled and rerolled to the extent that wrinkles have seemingly morphed into letters and now confuse the message. Offhand, I don’t remember seeing any outdoor advertisement for Bible School at St. Paul’s in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I do remember the printed mention of it in the church bulletin or an announcement from the pulpit I’m not saying that there wasn’t such a sign staked out on the church’s lawn; perhaps I just don’t remember seeing it, and besides, having been raised Lutheran, I know that we are sometimes more inclined to tack notices to doors.
Bible School at Saint Paul’s had some similarity to regular school since it consisted of teachers and students (not trying to stir up anything, but just by way of description, only one of these two sorts of schools still has prayer). One cool thing about Bible School was that I don’t remember any tests being given. Some of it resembled history class, in that we were taught about the people and happenings of long ago. Both public school history class and Bible School taught us that those things which happened in the past did not stay in the past, but are still living in and around us today.
Bible School had another aspect which it shared with regular school: recess. When the time came for recess, we exited through a back door of St. Paul’s and ascended a few iron-railed steps to ground level. We would be given a choice of a bottled soft drink, and a graham cracker “to go.” I remember the cracker as quite tasty, not the “stick-in-the-throat” variety referred to by Bill Cosby. When offered the choice between an Orange Crush and a Nehi Grape Soda, I always chose the Nehi Grape. Since those days, I have consumed graham crackers and grape sodas on occasion, but not concurrently. In the event that both graham and grape are on some future day mixed again in my mouth, when the taste of that chemical reaction hits my brain my mind may be sent back to those times when I was exiting Saint Paul’s rear door, cracker and soda in hand, questing play.
Our play area was out back of the church. The cemetery was off to one side, but we didn’t play there. We could be heard calling out each others’ names, but those whose names were written on the granite stones just over a gentle rise had lost all ability to call out to one another, their names only knowable by their visitors’ silent reading to themselves. The place in which we played consisted of children, motion and noise; but not far away, there were only stones, inertia and silence.
Crafts were often made in Bible School to take home. Many such items would have Biblical themes and be constructed out of paper, but I remember making something one time which wasn’t fashioned out of paper, and seemed to be more related to something found in the science book.
This “project” consisted of a piece of coal in a jar that was filled with a liquid solution, but as to the nature of that solution, I can’t recall now. The solution’s reaction with the coal caused different color (red, green, blue), thin, coral-like spires to grow from that carbonized lump. I think that those spindly growths might have even been referred to as “coal coral.” This non-marine “coral” lasted in the jar for some time after Bible School had run its mini-seasonal course.
I mentioned before that I didn’t see any connection between that piece of coal in some sort of solution and anything regarding church, but in re-thinking, maybe a theme of faith was present in those thin spires, (buttressed below by that from which they grew), soaring upward toward the top of the solution-filled glass jar. Perhaps, more in keeping with that faith-themed vacation week, instead of being called coal coral, what we made should have been referred to as “coal cathedral.”

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