2020 VBS Packages, Reviewed: Rocky Railway

So, a little background: I am way more religious than most people usually would guess, but also in a very particular way where I think a lot about theology and am very picky about the presentation of liturgy. I hung out with a lot of religion majors my first couple years of college and now I can’t turn it off.

“Vacation Bible School” as I remember it was adding church to the rotation of places that your parents could put you for a week during the summer so that you could have fun and they didn’t have to hire a babysitter, but now it’s this terrifying heavily-marketed industry with mascot characters and set dressing and theme songs. Of course, for churches that don’t have a full-time education director and musician, it’s a lot easier to buy the volunteer leader a package and let them sort it out, but I find a lot of them, er. Questionable, both from a “would kids actually enjoy this” perspective and also from a theological one.

Anyway so the 2020 VBS packages are starting to come out and obviously a great way for me to pass the time is to rate them all. So, without further ado:

Rocky Railway VBS: “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through”
Publisher: Group VBS

For most of these songs, especially if you want kids to learn them, the tempo is too ambitious and they need to be slowed down. The most successful of the lot are the spiritual adaptations(“This Train is Bound for Glory” and “The Old Rugged Cross”) along with “Lions”; “Power Shuffle” is actually a jam and seems to be the Electric Slide but Christian-branded.

The rest are trying to be Cool Pop Songs. Degen and I don’t like the vague platitudes of “We Can Trust Him” and feel like the emphasis that a lot of VBS literature/music in general puts on vaguely trusting in God to keep His promises is misguided.

Suggestion: lean more heavily on the folk/spiritual angle, since it goes with the train stuff.

Overall Rating: 4/10

Managed to get in a station for doing science and experiments under the guise of teaching lessons about Jesus. I’m about it. I think the bible point-themed snacks are a bit much—like, it’s okay to just have them be train themed? We do not actually need to relate literally everything to Jesus?

KidVid Cinema is a genuinely stupid idea and I hate relating every single challenge of everyday life to Jesus and “Jesus’ Power.” I think if it was presented just a smidge differently it could be good—like, talking about the solace of a loving God when you’ve failed, or appreciating the determination and perseverance you’ve been given—but it ends up coming off as “if you got something you wanted, it was because God wanted you to achieve it” which I think is an actively detrimental lesson.

Overall Rating: 4/10 mediocre and with one station I hate.

My personal interpretations of some of their bible verses of the day are a bit different, and I’m not sure I really like theirs. “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless” I feel like should emphasize that God lifts up the least of these, which “Jesus’ power helps us be bold” doesn’t really hit.

Also, “The spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you” being interpreted as “Jesus’ power lets us live forever” is, uh. Weird message for kids! Although my wife points out that the salmon being the mascot for that day is either ironic or a really galaxy brain take with the endless cycle of the river representing eternity.

Overall Rating: 2/10

Graphic Design:
My wife and I got into an argument about which of the mascot animals were the most horrifying. I found the trout to be haunting, but she was able to point out that it’s a very good rendering of a trout, and that the cartoon eyes look way more uncomfortable on the other animals.

Although, now that I’m looking at the animals again, the trout is the only one that’s not just… brown. There’s so much brown. I’m just not inspired by this one, fam.

Overall Rating: 2/10

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    also I literally did not realize until now that those uncanny valley mascots were all for the same VBS. how many mascots do you need. let the trout carry you on this one.

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