Bible school exemplifies Council of Churches'

Courtney Pomero
The Gazette

(8/5) Instead of focusing on a particular denomination's teachings, the Emmitsburg Council of Churches' vacation Bible school, held through Friday at the Elias Lutheran Church, has five pillars this year: trust, love, care, share and follow.

One reason the school is held at Elias Lutheran is the building's air conditioning, but the front doors were wide open on a breezy night earlier this week. Chatter, giggling and singing wafted through the halls, originating from rooms where children participated in crafts, bible study and music lessons.

According to director Renata Schmersal, choosing a curriculum that will suit students from all sects usually "presents a challenge."

But the point of the council of churches is that it "brings together people from varied backgrounds to serve a greater population," said Renata's older sister and co-director, Johanna Schmersal.

Made up of seven area churches, the council applies the same concept to all its efforts, since the faiths represented range from Catholic to Methodist to Presbyterian.

It's about "working together to improve the community," Johanna said. Locally and abroad, the council has proven its ability to do just that since its creation in 1966.

For example, the bible school is currently encouraging its students to donate supplies for a school in Kenya, where members of the council went on a mission trip last summer, Johanna said. Children will also write letters to the children at the Kenyan school at some point during the week, according to Jon Greenstone, pastor of the Elias Lutheran Church. Council members plan to visit Kenya again next summer.

Efforts closer to home have recently included raising more than $30,000 for the victims of the Easter weekend hotel fire in Emmitsburg. The council was able to contact about 15 of the displaced families and offer them the first month's rent and the security deposit for temporary housing.

The disaster was "a big rallying point, the council really came up for that," Renata said.

The council raises money for the food bank and The Religious Coalition, as well as other international projects.

According to Johanna, 29, the bible school has been in existence since before she began attending at the age of 6.

"When they looked at the number of kids who attend each Sunday school, no church really had enough kids to do a bible school," she said on the council's decision to adopt it as a group effort. "It has to do with the fact that Emmitsburg is a fairly small town with a relatively large number of churches," she added. The decision also made fiscal sense.

"Bible school is not a cheap thing to put on," she said. The council spends a minimum of $500 every year on materials.

But "we love being able to offer it to a variety of children ... of all faiths," Renata added. She also attended the bible school as a child.

This year, kindergarten and first-grade students make up the youngest group, second- and third-grade students were placed together and fourth- through sixth graders represent the oldest students. They participate in music, craft and class time. Different churches sponsor each snack night for the Sunday through Friday program. Pastors from churches within the council will also come and lead an opening prayer, Renata said.

As far as the cooperation of the churches for the bible school and other local efforts, "I think that's what it's all about," said Lynn Fraley, a teacher at the bible school. "I feel good about it," she added.

"[The council] does a lot for our community," said Angie Forrest of Sabillasville. Forrest is the parent of a child in this year's program and she attended bible school when she was growing up in Emmitsburg, too.

"I want to instill the same values in them," she said.

But "this is just one small piece of the bigger picture ... I appreciate everything that [the council does] for our community."

According to Susan Allen, a bible school teacher and secretary of the council, the summer program is important because it helps children get back into school mode and allows them to engage in religious activity with their peers.

And the multi-denominational council hosting the school allows "children know that they're welcome in any of the churches," she said.