by Deanna Lawson
The Forge for Families is a community partner in Houston's Third Ward that provides platforms to build relationships, inspire, teach, encourage, empower and grow with the families they serve. St. John the Divine's relationship with The Forge for Families started in the summer of 2014. Deanna Lawson, director of children's ministry at SJD, shared how our relationship with The Forge has grown over the years through their participation in Vacation Bible School.
I went to meet The Forge for Families in the summer of 2014 to talk with them about how we could best partner with them and their kids. Because it was summer, we started by inviting a number of kids to VBS. We quickly realized we needed their leaders, too!
They brought a phenomenal group of college students and young adult leaders to partner with our leaders. Because all of the kids had leaders working with them that they knew, we were able to grow the program, bring more kids, do better work, and build friendships with both the leaders and the kids.
What has developed is an exchange of ideas and learning. Over the years, it's really turned into a friendship and partnership where we've realized we're all trying to do the exact same thing! It's been exciting to partner with people who are excited about the next generation, about coming up with solutions that only these kids can fix for us. We're doing it from the mindset that if we all love Jesus, there's a lot we can do together.
When the kids saw the leaders becoming friends, they became friends. Our leaders have become great friends with some of the kids from the Forge summer camp programs and our kids have bonded with some of their leaders. The kids have continued their friendships on social media as they age out of the programs and become young adults and leaders themselves.
The Forge has a leadership program, and they bring student leaders over that participate as VBS small group leaders, just like our students who've grown up in our leadership program. We have worship leaders at VBS from SJD's student ministry and from The Forge, because after eight years, their kids have grown up in the program and transitioned naturally into leadership the same as our kids have.
We've become so invested in our partnership that we can't imagine doing VBS without The Forge. We continued to partner with them during COVID-19, when we had to have a virtual, online-only VBS – VBS For All. It was the success of our partnership with the Forge that inspired me to reach out to Christ Church Cathedral and St. Martin's in 2020 to join us in creating VBS For All, which we offered by live stream and on-demand. We dropped off all the necessary supplies and posters at The Forge so they could decorate and do VBS with us. Leaders from The Forge came to SJD and taught from our VBS stage, and the live stream went back into the homes of our students and to The Forge, as well as other churches all over the state and beyond.
We are so happy to be back together in person this year for VBS! This year we will be charging a nominal fee of $25 per child to cover some of the expenses of VBS, including t-shirts, supplies, and transportation from The Forge. We are excited to offer parishioners the opportunity to fund scholarships for kids from The Forge and SJD who need financial assistance.
As always, we look forward to welcoming every kid to the best week of their summer, which is really the heart of VBS at St. John the Divine!