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Antiochian and Greek Houston Parishes Co-Host Dynamic VBS

Susie Sobchak, St. George Orthodox Church Church School Director in Houston, Texas, reports on their successful VBS program:

Fr. Joseph Huneycutt as Joseph the Patriarch, with Alvaro Palencia & Bob MaceyFr. Joseph Huneycutt as Joseph the Patriarch, with Alvaro Palencia & Bob Macey

St. George Orthodox Church in Houston, has been working with Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral to plan Vacation Bible School for the last ten years at least and possibly even longer than that. My first year helping out was when my daughters were four years old and they're fourteen now. Irene Cassis, their religious education director had worked with Gigi Baba, our then youth director (now Kh. Gigi Shadid) in the earlier years. I helped with the preschool grades early on.

About seven years ago, Irene and I started working together as co-directors. It has become a tradition between our two churches. This is a collaborative effort each summer. We take turns hosting between the churches. One year Annunciation picks up all the costs and hosts the program at their facility and the next year St. George hosts it at our church and pays for all the expenses. We pool our volunteers and invite all the Orthodox churches in our greater Houston area to assist and to participate. We even have our children invite their non-Orthodox friends to join us for the week and I'm happy to say we have some 'neighborhood' non-Orthodox that return each summer to attend and even move into leadership roles.

Our VBS has grown through the years and we average about 120-150 children, ages three to twelve. It is a one week program for three hours each day. Teens age thirteen and up are recruited to work as 'assistants' or 'leaders'. They have an opportunity for some leadership development as well as having fun. Our 2010 VBS had a total of 169 participants (122 children & 47 teens). Our volunteer work force was 76 strong with 29 adults running different areas of the program. The 47 teens were from St. George & from Annunciation and about five were friends of our own teens.

We start initial work on VBS usually in February. We take a Protestant VBS package put out by Group Ministry and we tweak it to make it more Orthodox and give it more substance. Their program is very fun and fast moving. It comes with music, arts and crafts, games, a dramatic play component (this summer the play visited Joseph as he went from prison to palace), and a community service aspect. Sometimes we've sent things to Africa or collected money for IOCC. One year we made baby packages and blankets as part of VBS and sent them off to IOCC.

Depending on the theme each year, we add and delete components as we feel appropriate. There is generally a thread of different Bible points or lessons for each day that ties into each activity area. For example, this year we had: God gives us special talents (Joseph's talent to interpret dreams, what are our talents?). God gives us forgiveness (Joseph forgives his brothers, God forgives us our sins). God gives us family, and so on.

It is a wonderful program! The children have a great time, as does the staff! One of my favorite aspect is the cross jurisdiction factor. It is a huge project, requiring alot of manpower for everything to flow and we really need each other to make it work. Perhaps the lesson of the Greeks working with the Antiochians who have a Chinese Church School Director married to a Ukrainian sends a pretty good message as well. We are all one in Christ!