Summer is here. It's the time of year when people flock to beaches and cookouts, take extended trips and down tall glasses of iced tea.
But there's another summer tradition taking place at county churches: vacation Bible schools.
Signs for the summer classes are posted throughout the county to attract children, teen-agers and adults. There's one on the corner of Route 144 and Hopkins Alley for Liberty Baptist Church in Lisbon, and one outside the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center on Twin Rivers Road in Columbia.
The morning and evening Bible classes serve as safe, unofficial child-care sites. Most programs begin in late June and end in August. Activities include Bible study, games and arts and crafts.
"It's a way of sharing the Gospel during vacation time," said Cheryl Caze, director of children's ministry for Bethany Lane Baptist Church in Ellicott City. Her church's weeklong vacation Bible school for youngsters ended last week.
But Ms. Caze said parents were cautioned. "We say right up front that we're not a baby-sitting facility," she said.
It's unclear when such programs began. The Rev. Ed Simpson, pastor for Harvester Baptist Church, said vacation Bible schools date back to the turn of the century; Ms. Caze said they probably started in the 1950s.
Both, however, agree the summer school is valuable.
"I think it can be a real extended hand from the church to the community," Mr. Simpson said.
During the second night of vacation Bible school at Liberty Baptist this week, the Rev. Keith Corrick told the 48 students, mostly youngsters, gathered in the church sanctuary to relax and learn.
"Let's have a good time tonight," he said. "Let's have fun and let's learn new things about God."
He continued: "Jesus loves you. Say that, 'Jesus loves you.' "
"Jesus loves me," the students repeated.
After they sang gospel songs, the students went to the basement for Bible classes, ranging from nursery school to adult level.
"They have class time, music time and crafts," said Peggy Merson, the vacation Bible school director at Liberty Baptist. The program ends tonight.
Ms. Merson said this was the first year that the 300-plus-member church had held an evening vacation Bible school program and opened classes to people other than children.
More than 100 people enrolled, including 23 adults -- up from the average 50 to 75 students, she said.
In the crafts room, children made sheep figures using cotton balls, clothespins, glue and cardboard toilet paper tubes.
CEn route to the restroom to wash the sticky cotton off his fingers, 8-year-old Jason McClair acknowledged that he had had fun. "I just like art and stuff," he said.
"I think the most important thing [for the students] is to know that Jesus died for them and God loves them and that they can be forgiven for anything," said instructor Brett Hammond before his first Bible class began.
Nearby, Kevin Rees quizzed junior high schoolers on the imprisonment of apostles Peter and John. Across the hall, Joyce Stewart told small children that God created Earth, man and animals.
"Where is Adam?" Ms. Stewart asked, holding a biblical poster. The children pointed to Cain and Abel. "No, this is Adam. He's like their daddy," she said.
Laura Kinsey, who assisted Ms. Stewart, said she enrolled her daughter and son in vacation Bible school to help them learn values early.
"At this age, I think it's time they start learning what's important in life," she said.