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Churches join together for Vacation Bible School

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MASSENA - SonRise National Park opened for business Monday in Massena.

SonRise National Park is the theme for this year’s Massena Ecumenical Vacation Bible School, which kicked off at Emmanuel Congregational United Church of Christ and includes participants from Sacred Heart, Emmanuel Congregational, First United Methodist, Bethel Assemblies of God, St. Mary’s and Grace United Methodist churches.

The week-long event offers children an opportunity to explore the wilderness without stepping foot out of Massena. Volunteers prepared for the Vacation Bible School by creating wilderness backdrops , animals and even kayaks which were placed around the church to add to the scenic effect.

Activities such as songs, skits, crafts and games are also designed to make the participants feel like they’re out in the wilderness while reinforcing the theme that Jesus provides what they need in every challenge of life.

“Welcome to SonRise National Park,” the Rev. Judith A. Van Kennan, pastor of Emmanuel Congregational United Church of Christ, said as the group gathered in the church sanctuary for the first time on Monday.

She invited them to clasp their hands over their head to denote the rising of the sun, and sway left and right to represent east and west, as they participated in their first song of the VBS, called “Cool Cool Summer.”

Each day would also begin with a competition, she said.

Monday’s competition was called “Nature Challenge,” with host Sarah Smiles (portrayed by Jane DuBray) and competitors Jill, Blaze and Kyle.

Ms. DuBray said the contestants thought they were on a show, but that wasn’t really the case.

“The competition is really about their true nature,” she said, and whether they stayed calm or freaked out, were honest or cheated, and showed love or selfishness in the heat of the competition, which was won by Jill.

“You, the audience, will help decide who the winner is,” Ms. DuBray said.

For Monday’s competition, each contestant received a kayak paddle with a “pretend eagle egg” - actually, a balloon - on the end. Their goal was to reach the finish line with the egg still on the end of their paddle.

“Jill said she won because Jesus promised to be with her and help her in any situation,” the Rev. Van Kennen said.

Following the opening assembly, participants were broken down by grade levels and dispersed to various areas of the church to begin their morning of activities. They were led by approximately 30 teens who had volunteered to be leaders for the week.

“We try to let the teens have ownership. They had it organized. We just had to help them know where they were they going,” Ann Borsellino, a long-time organizer of the Vacation Bible School, said.

Megan Mayette was one of the volunteers, leading students for the sixth year. She is reading Bible stories to them this year.

“I started my senior year of high school. I’ve just volunteered every since then. It’s more rewarding than anything to see the kids,” she said.

“I teach them Bible stories. I created a boat, and they’re going to be on a boat. We pretty much try to act it out and try to keep them involved,” Ms. Mayette said.

Since she started, some of those students have grown up and are now teen helpers with the Vacation Bible School, she said.

Ms. Mayette, who is involved with the children’s ministry at First United Methodist Church, said it takes some preparation before even starting the week-long Vacation Bible School.

“We’ve been here two weeks pretty much decorating and painting,” she said.

As the week goes on, others participants are invited to join in the fun. Each day begins with the opening assembly at 9 a.m. and ends with a closing assembly at 11:30 a.m.

Special visitors this week will include trail guides from the Friends of the Nature Center and Sonny Bear.

In addition, Ms. Borsellino said, they’ll be decorating bags for Massena Meals on Wheels on Friday, and they have a “gentle competition between kids” to see who can bring in the most canned foods to help replenish the shelves of the local food pantries.

“The pantries are not well stocked,” she said.

For more information, call 769-8523.

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