ANDERSON, Ind. — After you crossed the drawbridge, and went over the moat and underneath the crenelated towers, you found yourself in the midst of a medieval castle.
Colorful pennants hung along gray stone passageways. There were horses in their stalls, and knights in armor.
There was also a huge crowd of happy kids, decked out in purple T-shirts. They were all there for South Meridian Church of God’s Vacation Bible School last week.
The church went all out to transform their entire building into a castle. Valerie Petry, director of Children’s Ministries and Outreach, said the church received donations of decorations from seven other churches to create the extravagant scene.
The program, “Kingdom Rock,” focused on standing strong in God’s love.
“We want to lavish God’s love on them,” said Petry of the elaborate decorating. “When the kids come, we want them to go wow.”
The VBS drew about 200 kids from age 5 through the fifth grade this year. While some of them already attend South Meridian, most of the crowd came from the surrounding neighborhood.
“We’ve been committed to making our VBS an outreach mission,” said Petry.
The church goes out of its way with a novel approach to generate interest in the neighborhood. In one outreach, the congregation donates 12-packs of Coke. The cans are then labeled with the VBS invitation. Finally, church members get together in small groups to deliver the cans to the doorsteps of the houses in the area.
“It’s really a neat way to let the neighborhood know, ‘Hey, we’re here for you,’” said Petry.
Not only did South Meridian transport the children to another world with their medieval-themed VBS, they fed them, too. The church served dinner each night before the start of the VBS. The children, their families and the volunteers all sat down under tents outside the church to fill their tummies up. Petry said the practice began about five years ago after a somber observation.
“Many of the kids that were coming were hungry,” said Petry.
It’s a big operation. To handle all the work and logistics, Petry relied on a crew of about 130 volunteers. They cooked, served and managed all the activities.
“When we do VBS or something for the community, everybody of all ages pitches in. It’s really a multi-generational commitment,” said Petry.
After eating dinner each night, the kids assembled in the sanctuary for a high-energy opening filled with music that got everyone pumped up.
“There’s just nothing better than having 200 kids in the sanctuary, singing and dancing,” said Petry. Then, the kids were off to hear stories, do crafts, play games and more.
The week wrapped up with a big celebration when all the kids got up on stage, with their families in the audience. “That’s a huge highlight of the week,” said Petry.
“It’s an intense week of a really fun place,” said Petry. She said that amidst all the fun, the message was still delivered, “God, and how much he loves them.”
The VBS is not South Meridian’s only project with kids at heart. Even during the VBS, volunteers got together at the church to stuff backpacks that were donated. They’ll be giving more than 100 backpacks to kids in need.
It won’t be long before the Open Door tutoring program begins at the church as well. That’s a Wednesday night program, where kids get food, fun, and an hour of tutoring.
“We feel like we have a unique calling and a unique opportunity to really help kids,” said Petry. “We want to make a difference when we can.”
South Meridian Church of God is located at 2402 S. Meridian St. in Anderson. For more info, check out www.southmeridian.org or call 643-6695.
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