Daily Reporter staff writer

HANCOCK COUNTY — The small group Bible study might be on hiatus. The Sunday School might be closed. There might be a few more empty seats in a service while someone’s away on vacation.

It sounds like a recipe for spiritual regression, but a number of Hancock County clergy members say their churches embrace the unique opportunities that summer presents along with the different schedule that often accompanies it.

“It’s just a different rhythm,” said Rob Rigsbee, lead pastor at Fortville Christian Church. “It’s not that it’s any less spiritual; it’s just different.”

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Rigsbee said churches’ programming often tends to follow the academic calendar of schools in their communities. Small group Bible studies and the spring sermon series tend to wind down around the same time as the close of the second semester.

And yet, he said, it’s also common to have a fresh sermon series for summer. It’s also common for small groups that are taking a break between their spring and fall Bible studies to have more fellowship events, such as gathering informally for a cookout.

Summer is “naturally a more relational time,” Rigsbee said.

Paul Galbraith, Brandywine’s pastor of missions and student ministries, said the move not only gives children’s ministry volunteers a break; it also helps children build relationships with various ages of fellow worshipers, which helps them feel more comfortable in the congregation after they’ve grown older.

“A key foundational block in a child’s faith development is knowing God’s desire for families to worship, grow and serve together,” Galbraith wrote in an email. “When children and families know and practice this, it opens up communication on spiritual life between children and parents, which needs to carry through adolescence and into adulthood. At BCC, our goal for family worship during the summer is for parents/guardians to be intentional with this value, worshiping together, discussing Biblical teachings together and serving together.”

Mark Havel, pastor of Cross of Grace Lutheran Church in New Palestine, said at his church, a summer break from Sunday School allows for a more streamlined Sunday morning schedule. The second service starts earlier, worshipers socialize over refreshments, and there’s more opportunity to linger in a conversation and connect.

Havel said Cross of Grace tries to “pay attention to the Sabbath nature” of summer. The summer schedule there will include some prayer and meditation workshops and some “how-to” on using the church’s outdoor labyrinth for that.

Vacation Bible School is an important part of summer there, but Havel said even it is scheduled in a way that allows volunteers time for more restful pursuits and prevents them from spending all summer planning it.

“We always try to do that close to the beginning of the summer,” he said.

Havel likes the word “rhythm” when discussing the summer schedule. Like Rigsbee, he talks about how it’s a different but also meaningful rhythm.

Bethel Baptist Church in Greenfield is trying to keep the rhythm of relationships going over the summer with Summer Slam at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. Elementary-age children will gather for games and devotions. Associate Pastor Tommy Hensley said the church has begun offering this summer activity for the same age group that attends its AWANA program during the school year months to help retain the children’s interest and habit in coming each week.

The church is also planning a Vacation Bible School from June 29 to July 2 that will include having the children make their own bows and arrows. Teams will earn points in various ways, and the winning team will receive medallions.

“(They’ll) have a great time and learn some important things that will matter for life,” Hensley said.

Similarly, Rigsbee said Fortville Christian’s Kids Camp, youth events and summer mission trip to the Dominican Republic are the types of events that “can be a major voltage to your spiritual life.” He points to the bonding that can occur on a youth trip, for example, that’s more rapid than the friendship formation that occurs over a series of Sundays.

“Without summers, we wouldn’t have the opportunities to do those things,” he said. “It’s definitely not a break from spiritual things. It’s more relationship- and event-oriented.”

Stoking the fire

Tips from local clergy for spiritual nourishment over the summer:

-Away from home? Find somewhere to worship, even if it’s of a different faith tradition. “I like to visit a church that’s completely different from my own,” said Pastor Larry Gember.

-Do what’s spiritually helpful during the other three seasons of the year. Pastor Rob Rigsbee said he would always advise reading the Bible and praying. “You need Jesus every day,” he said.

-Stay connected with other worshipers, even (or perhaps especially) if it’s in a more informal setting.