Name That Tune

It’s early on a weekday morning and here I am working away with a pitch pipe in one hand and a hymnal in another. My desk is littered with music—hymnals and other songbooks (going back to the 1970s Sing and Rejoice), children’s albums, and even a few CDs.

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It’s time once again to choose Vacation Bible School music at MennoMedia.

Have I mentioned before that I love my job? Yep, this is one of the seriously fun parts of it.

Before I know it, it’s time to log into a Skype call and talk about the possibilities.

We have a new marketing team member and when he learns that we’re going to actually sing in this call, he seems a bit concerned. Really?!

I admit that I was initially a bit skeptical as well. While I love music, I do not consider myself to be a gifted musician or a singer. Yes, I took piano lessons as a child. The lessons taught me how to read music, but that was eons ago and I do not own a piano now. (The pitch pipe has to suffice.) Yes, I sang in my high school choir (shout out to Iowa Mennonite School) but it was a small school and lots of us did (read: were strongly encouraged by our parents to do so). And yes, I enjoy singing in church, but I don’t consider myself to be one to handily find the harmony and join right in. I prefer to stand near a strong alto and follow along.

And yet, for these last nine years, I have had the privilege of helping choose music for our children’s Sunday school or Vacation Bible School curricula.

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Here’s the recipe that we at MennoMedia use to choose music for our children’s curricula:

  1. Assemble a team of writers. Our children’s materials are written by contract writers from across Canada and the U.S. Right now we are working on music for 2015 VBS materials. (2014 materials are available for sale here.) Managing Editor Mary Ann Weber ably coordinates our VBS materials and assembles the writing teams. The 2015 team hails from Ohio Mennonite Conference, and they met together over a weekend in November to outline the sessions. They discussed how to tell the stories, what crafts and games might be included, and gave suggestions for music to go along with the theme.
  2. Review the first round of suggestions: Mary Ann culls together music suggestions from the writers, adds some more of her own, and invites a small team from within MennoMedia to review the music. This is when staff shut the door or find a quiet spot and sing or hum songs to themselves in order to learn them. Does a song work for kids? Is it “sing-a-long-able”? Does it work theologically with the VBS theme? In the phone meetings we often hear things like, “I don’t think this song is right, but it reminds me of another song that goes like this …” And then the person talking shares a song on the phone. (We use the phone or Skype because our staff is dispersed. For this morning’s VBS meeting we were participating in Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio.) “Oh yes, I’ve heard that one before” is often said by another person, who then joins in the song.
  3. Think about balance: It’s always important to think about balance in assembling a CD of songs. With VBS materials, congregations expect peppy songs. But it’s also good to have a song in a minor key or a slower song to provide some relief. It’s good to have songs that will appeal to the youngest children as well as the oldest. It’s good to have songs in languages other than English. It’s good to have songs that describe God in a variety of ways. It’s good to have old favorites and brand new songs as well. It’s good to make sure you don’t have the same song two years in a row. Trust me, it takes time to try and get the right balance.
  4. Hire a CD coordinator: We at MennoMedia determine the music, then we hire someone to produce the CD for us. Typically this is someone from one of our churches. We listen to rough cuts and give feedback or request changes. We might make suggestions for certain instruments or to have children sing a certain song, but mostly we allow the musicians to do their work—knowing we’ve done ours in singing to each other on the phone.

What’s your ideal VBS song? What songs can you remember from VBS or Sunday school as a child?

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Amy Gingerich, editorial director

P.S. Click here for samples from our 2014 VBS CD. Plus, we’re having a VBS sale right now on Welcome! Give and Receive God’s Great Love, our 2014 VBS materials. Order now for 10% off the retail price!

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How can children learn about hospitality?

AugSeptOct2013 205How does an Anabaptist publisher like MennoMedia go about offering the best in faith formation to children at the earliest ages?

It begins with focusing on an idea like Christian hospitality. How do we convey that concept to young children?

I learned a lot about hospitality the day I met Tina. Tina lived in a squatter community along the beach in the Philippines. My friend Mary took me to Tina’s house, which was a piece of blue tarp stretched between two small wooden houses. Underneath the tarp, Tina had created her home. A wooden bench served as both her table and seating area, and when a mat was rolled on top of it the bench became a bed. Continue reading

Breathe in Bible School

What do you do with energetic, eager children over the summer? What will keep them busy and encourage faith development all at the same time? Vacation Bible school is something most children love: fun activities, stories, snacks, friends. What’s not to love?

Bible schools began around the turn of the last century when several denominations created summer programs that included worship, Bible stories, crafts, cooking, games, and other activities. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), Mennonite Bible schools cropped up the 1920s in Wakarusa, Ind.; Hesston, Kan.; Elkhart, Ind.; Portland, Ore.; and Scottdale, Pa. Interest increased and there were 150 Mennonite summer Bible schools in 1938. By 1963 there were 835 Mennonite Bible schools attended by 100,786 children and taught by 11,033 teachers.

GAMEO notes that as Mennonite Bible schools increased, curriculum was developed by the Mennonite Publishing House (forerunner to MennoMedia). Writers, artists, and editors were hired to create experience-related materials that were centered on the Bible. This VBS curriculum was used not only in Mennonite programs, but more than two-thirds was sold to other denominations. It was translated into German and French for Bible schools in Europe, and into Spanish for Bible schools in Puerto Rico and Latin America.

Though numbers have declined and are no longer near the amounts cited for 1963, there are thriving VBS programs concerned with children’s spirituality and faith formation. MennoMedia continues to develop quality VBS materials that focus on the Bible and children’s experiences. Written from an Anabaptist Mennonite perspective, materials are appreciated by many. Approximately one-third of the purchases are by churches of other denominations.

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MennoMedia’s VBS 2013 materials focus on an essential aspect of life—breathing. Take a moment right now and focus on your own breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Next time you breathe in, say silently: “Let everything that breathes” and when you exhale, say: “praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). You have just said a breath prayer that children who participate in VBS will pray.

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Breathe It In: God Gives Life focuses on Bible stories of breath, air, and life. At the beginning of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth. God takes dust, breathes the breath of life into it, and a person is created! And in Acts, God breathes life into a young church. These are just two of the stories covered in the materials, each one acknowledging God as the source and giver of life.

Veva Mumaw at Olive Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., appreciates the MennoMedia materials. She said, “This VBS curriculum contains Anabaptist theology and fits our view of instilling faith in our children. It is exciting and offers creative and flexible activities.”  You can see learn more and see Bible memory videos at www.mennomedia.org/vbs.

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We’re already hard at work on VBS 2014 materials, Welcome! Give and Receive God’s Great Love, which features stories of hospitality. It will be available in October so be sure to look for it for NEXT summer.

Get your church and community involved in Bible school and join the tradition of spreading God’s love during the summer months. And we’d love to hear stories/see photos from your church’s VBS program.

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Mary Ann Weber
Managing Curriculum Editor