When Kelly Chatman, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis was asked if he had any ideas for a partnership between his congregation and the ELCA college, St. Olaf, in nearby Northfield, Minn., he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Redeemer, a renewing congregation of the ELCA, has many young members who come from backgrounds where a college education is not emphasized. A number of the students have never even seen a college campus.
So Kelly proposed a vacation Bible school program for urban congregations where for four days students could visit the campus and get a small taste of what college life is like. Thanks to this program, which is made possible by gifts to ELCA churchwide ministries through both congregations and synods, students in four Minneapolis ELCA congregations, Redeemer Lutheran, River of Life Lutheran Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, and Salem Lutheran Church, get to be a part of an experience that may not otherwise have been available in their communities.
“There are so many things that our students in the middle class take for granted that for these children just have never been a reality,” Kelly says.
The vacation Bible school program is great, Kelly says, but what’s more is “offering it on a college campus where most of the children might be the first generation who go to college or whose parents have never been on a college campus.”
“We offer a wonderful program,” he continues, “and then the children are sleeping on the campus and eating in the dining hall.”
Students get to stay in the dormitories and take part in workshops and classes in actual college classrooms and labs.
In addition, the curriculum has been tailored to help students “take ownership” of what they’re learning. For example, for this year’s theme, Kingdom Building, students can take drumming lessons, take part in a choir, and perform in skits where they translate Bible passages into hip-hop.
This unique curriculum is important, Kelly says, because it allows students to see that the messages in the Bible are for all people from all backgrounds.
While the program is tailored to students in fourth grade through middle school, the long-term success has allowed high school students who attended when they were younger to return as junior counselors.
And in recent years parents have begun volunteering as teaching assistants and staff.
According to Kelly, “The parents have such an appreciation for the experience, as well.” And how do students feel about their vacation Bible school experience? “They love it,” Kelly says.