Every summer for the past four decades, children have gathered at the small, quaint church on a hill to celebrate faith, fun and friendship for one week in July. Neptune Township’s Hamilton UMC has welcomed generations of families including children and grandchildren to participate in its annual Vacation Bible School (VBS) program in what has now become an important summer tradition for many in the community.
Church members pride themselves on many of their long-standing youth programs but perhaps one of the most -seasoned and well-received is the VBS program. It is one of the Monmouth County area’s oldest summer faith-based programs for children and local families can’t seem to imagine a summer without it.
“We see so many regulars each year and many of our regulars turn into families who attend church every Sunday,” said Nicole Barron, VBS Director. “I was introduced to the church through the very VBS program that I am now the director of! Talk about full circle. I am directing along with my best friend Renee Rochelle who has been a member for more than ten years as well and has been attending the church since she was young.”
The VBS program is geared to those at preschool age up to those entering fifth grade. In years past, the church’s VBS program had approximately 200 children participating, and the enthusiasm continues to remain strong among church and community members.
Hamilton UMC Pastor, Rev. Jessica Campbell believes that the success has been sustainable throughout the decades at Hamilton UMC due to the mission component.
“I think collecting supplies or food items from the kids helps them remember what is at the heart of Wesleyan theology – we need to develop personal holiness, but we also need to develop our social holiness.”
Campbell believes the key to a truly successful VBS program is those who contribute to its every aspect although she said: “every church is in a different context so every congregation needs to do VBS in a way that works for their setting.”
“Because the leaders really make or break the program, if you don’t have the ‘right’ people then find them. Are there Boy or Girl Scouts or area teachers that people know can help? People really want their kids to have good, positive experiences and people who love kids will step up to change lives for the better,” she said.