Vacation Bible School

Alabama Living Magazine

Vacation Bible School ain’t what it used to be

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson

VBS SS145387276Summer is slipping away fast, and by the time you read this, one of summer’s great institutions will be on its way out for another year.

Vacation Bible School.

As a kid, I never cared much for Vacation Bible School. As far as I was concerned it was just a midsummer reminder of what regular school was like and why we did not want to go back in the fall.

Our mothers sent us, as much to get us out of the house as to expose us to religion. And for a week my friends and I were tutored by elderly church ladies, determined to cram as much “Bible” into us as they could in the time the Lord had given them.

Two memories stand out.

The first was when our teacher told the class that the next day there would be a prize for whoever learned “Luke, 12th Chapter, 22nd through the 30th verse,”

Which I dutifully did.

And the next day, when she asked who learned it, I raised my hand.

“Proceed,” she said.

“Luke, 12th Chapter, 22nd through the 30th verse,” I said.

And sat down.

“Well?” She said.

“Well what?” I said.

And as Billy (who would one day be a preacher) rose and began to recite about considering the lilies of the field I realized that she wanted us to learn what was in it, not where it was.

How was I to know?

Another time another Billy (the one who didn’t become a preacher) was asked his favorite Bible verse and that Billy (whose idea of a good time was looking up dirty words in the dictionary) came back with “Behold, thou art fair, my love” from the Song of Solomon.

That was as far as he got. I didn’t know an old woman could move so fast and snatch so hard.

Consequently, about all Vacation Bible School taught me was that, if not carefully controlled, children and Bible study can be a volatile combination.

Despite this inherent danger, VBS continues and today it is a well-organized mix of religion, fun, food, and free-form frolicking.

One year for VBS my church recreated an ancient Jewish market place, complete with craftsmen, a synagogue, a storyteller, a top-of-the-line spice shop, a jeweler, a beggar, and of course, a tax collector.

Adults played all these parts. The children played the townsfolk.

My wife volunteered me to play the tax collector, so I went about levying taxes on all sorts of things. A tribal tax – you’re in a tribe, you pay a tax. A synagogue tax – you attend, you pay. A begging tax – the beggar was doing pretty well so I took my cut.

The kids responded pretty much like adults respond to the IRS today.

Some contributed out of a sense of duty or obligation.

Some contributed because they were afraid what might happen if they didn’t.

And like grownups, none were particularly happy doing it.

So they came with their little purses full of shekels – painted stones.

And as they crowded around me, holding out their money in their grubby little fists, one among them wedged through the crowd, got within striking distance, and kicked me.

Kicked the tax collector.

Just like grownups would like to do.

JACKSON, HARVEYHarvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at


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