Baptism Service Plus Vacant Storefront Equals VBS Program

Post a Comment » Written on August 24th, 2009     
Filed under: News
SEATTLE, WA (August 24, 2009) – First Covenant Church’s senior pastor, Mark Nilson, had no idea that giving worshipers an opportunity to renew their baptism would lead to a new ministry at a transition shelter and the church’s first vacation Bible school (VBS) in years, which also happened to be held in a former motorcycle store.

Following a sermon on a Sunday morning earlier this year, Nilson invited attendees to renew their baptism by coming forward and dipping their hands into a basin of water. He recalls that a Sudanese woman he had not seen before came forward, spoke out loud in her own language and then returned to her seat.

The church began to develop a relationship with the woman, who lives with four of her five children at the YWCA transitional shelter for homeless families, and soon members were taking turns driving the kids to the congregation’s Wednesday night programs.

One evening, Nilson and new Associate Pastor Carolyn Potorek were met by more than just the four children. “All of a sudden, we were surrounded by these kids saying, ‘I want to go! I want to go!’ ” Nilson says.

“We left there saying we have to do a vacation Bible school,” Nilson says. “If we had eight months to talk about doing a VBS, we probably would have talked ourselves out of it. But because we only had two months to prepare, we said let’s go for it.”

The church had not held a VBS for at least eight years because the congregation had few families with children, Nilson says. Fifty children – most of whom did not attend the church – participated in the VBS earlier this month.

“Most of these kids had no idea who Moses was,” Nilson says.

Nilson notes that the VBS was very urban with its multiethnic mix of participants and the lack of an outside area that many suburban churches have to set up games and other activities. Again, an unexpected event at the beginning of the year made the summer VBS possible.

First Covenant owns a parking garage next door that includes 12,000 square feet of storefront space that had been rented by a motorcycle dealership. The space, which had been leased to the company for 15 years, became available unexpectedly at the beginning of 2009, when the business suddenly closed.

“It was like the rapture happened,” Nilson says. “Paperwork was on peoples’ desks, computers were on, files were open.”

The next day the motorcycle company picked up their merchandise, and the capital company that owned the other assets auctioned them.

“They left it just a wreck, though,” Nilson adds. The congregation had spent a lot of time cleaning and remodeling the space. “It was just kind of a blank canvas, and we’ve been praying about what we should do with it,” Nilson says.

The space proved to be perfect for the VBS. As a result, the kids were able to play just about any game that would have been possible outside, Nilson says. “It was an incredible thing to send our kids over there so that the kids could play kickball.”

The VBS also gave the church greater visibility to the community. Because the storefront has large windows, people walking along the busy Pike Street, where the church is located, saw the activities and stopped to ask what was happening.

What had been the repair shop area for the motorcycle store was transformed into an ideal space for arts and crafts, Nilson adds.

Nilson doesn’t think the church would talk itself out of doing another VBS. “It was chaotic, and crazy and out of control, but absolutely wonderful.”

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