AMORY – A 20-year goal for Amory Church of Christ Minister Phillip Hathcock to develop artistic learning centers for Bible lessons came to fruition this spring, and children and adults alike can’t say enough good things about it.
Through Sunday school and Wednesday evening sessions, children take a walk through The Way – a painted hallway leading to six learning centers to teach Bible knowledge.
“The children come in and see this and really enjoy it, and it excites them. That lends it to learning. If they see things that excite them, it gets their little brains going. When you go to these elementary schools and see the walls, there’s just stuff everywhere. The child will look around and read the things on the wall and learn. I read years ago a child’s brain is like a sponge and I believe that.
“We want the whole Bible, Genesis through Revelation, taught,” Phillip said.
His wife, Cindy, said the lessons are on three-year rotations.
“We take a theme and study the different lessons within that theme for three weeks. The children get to repeat each lesson. They go to the six different rooms and in two of the rooms, they have the same lessons,” she said. “We give them an overall theme – an objective we want the teachers to be able to convey to the children. As far as Bible knowledge, we give them memory work they can learn. With all that, we rotate the movie room, the museum, the game room, the puppet room, the eating room and the craft room all around those themes. Everything the children do relates to the Bible lesson.”
The learning centers are for age groups from the 0-kindergarten age to upper elementary ages. There are also adult-centered classrooms mixed in with the children’s learning centers.
“Hopefully the children will learn and really want to come. Things have changed, and children have to have some many more things that get their attention like computers, phones and TVs,” Phillip said. “Now they have so many things to stimulate their minds and when children are used to that, they’re not just going to sit there. It’s hard for them to sit and listen but if you have something to show them, that works a lot better.”
After the Hathcocks came to the church in 1988, an average of 80 children attended Vacation Bible School through the early ‘90s. As learning centers were introduced with different themes in the years to come, attendance increased to as many as 470 children. He anticipates the completion of The Way to increase VBS attendance even more.
Making it their own
Amory Church of Christ members took ideas from similar church learning centers in Florence, Decatur and Winfield, Alabama in deciding how The Way would look.
“We heard of other congregations doing this so we went to Florence Boulevard in Florence, Alabama and saw something similar to this, although theirs was more of a street scene with a movie theater, a museum and a candy shop. We wanted to do the Bible times theme,” Cindy said.
Church member Lisa Verrell gave local artist Patti Swan the idea, and she put her artistic touch on it. Church members did sponge painting for walls and painted doors to match historic looks from centuries ago, and Swan painted scenes such as the Sea of Tiberias and Jesus Christ throughout hallways.
“It’s an ongoing process to add things to help the children realize what it may have been like in Bible times,” Cindy said.
Painting for the project began in January 2019 with the goal of starting classes in May of that year. COVID-19 restrictions posed issues which pushed out use of the learning centers to this April.
The Way includes the Garden Café for food mimicked those from biblical times, His Masterpiece for crafts projects, Acting Faith for puppet shows of Bible stories, the Noah’s Arkade game room, the Areopagus for movies and Solomon’s Vault, which includes artifacts depicting the biblical era.
Items in Solomon’s Vault include a crown of thorns, pottery, baskets, replica armor worn by Roman soldiers and small animals carved from stone.
“Mr. [Bob] Stancell [of the Bible Lands Museum] who was with us said every time they dig in Iran or Iraq, they always find these things – and here’s the great thing – they always find them in pairs,” Phillip said of the carved out animals. “That is great evidence of the flood because they don’t have giraffes in Iraq or Iran. There are a lot of animals you don’t find.”
There’s also a rewards room.
“When they’re learning things, they receive a denarii and as they collect those things, there’s a room they can go in one time a week and exchange their denarii for this bracelet,” Phillip said. “God’s business is all about reward. Heaven is the great reward. It’s fine for us to give rewards for them learning something, but they have to earn the denarii.”