“Hero Hotline: Called Together to Serve God” by Cokesbury did not rank among Building Faith’s top picks for new Vacation Bible School and summer camp curricula this year. This VBS curriculum about being part of a team of heroes in a life of faith struggles to weave together superhero elements, scripture, and faith in theologically fruitful ways.
- Theme: “Work[ing] together to bring peace, build each other up, and share the great story of God’s love for us” like teams of heroes
- Website: https://www.cokesburyvbs.com/theme/hero-hotline
- Publisher: Cokesbury (Feb 2023)
- Church affiliation: United Methodist Church (UMC)
- Intended ages/grades: preschool – grade 6; options for youth and intergenerational groups as well as for a toddler program
- Format: onsite at church
- Number of sessions: 5
- Types of activities: music, drama, games and recreation, arts and crafts, science, service project
- Starter kit cost: $249.99 (currently discounted to $224.99); $199.99 (currently discounted to $179.99) for digital access kit (starter kit contents listed at this link)
Scope and Sequence
- Day 1: Heroes Are Called to Follow Jesus | John 1:35 – 51, Jesus Builds the Team
- Day 2: Heroes Are Called to Help Others | Exodus 1:8 — 2:10, Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam: God’s Wonder Women
- Day 3: Heroes Are Called to Work Together | Exodus 18, Jethro Mentors Moses
- Day 4: Heroes Are Called to Listen to God | Matthew 2:1 – 12, The Magnificent Magi
- Day 5: Heroes Are Called to Show Grace | Acts 9:1 – 25, Unexpected Heroes Give Paul a Basket Ride
Where It Shines
A fun superhero theme
This curriculum’s theme can be appealing to participants who are into superhero characters and stories.
A theologically constructive focus on teamwork
Instead of lifting up solitary heroes, this curriculum promotes team-building and heroic actions of communities, which can help participants understand the importance of a faith community.
Options for participants of a wide range of ages
Because this curriculum includes guides for toddler programs as well as for youth and adult programs, it is one of the most age-inclusive new VBS offerings.
Numerous resources for directors and leaders
The curriculum and publisher provide a bunch of additional resources that can help communities plan and implement their program, including choreography tutorials, snack and supply calculators, publicity materials, and a personalized website creation tool for online promotion and registration.
What We Miss
A more theologically substantive and coherent design
The curriculum’s focus on being “called together to serve God” does not mesh well theologically with its superhero theme. Applying heroism to Christian faith and life can convey the problematic message that being finite human beings without superpowers or being part of a finite church community is not enough for God. The design of the curriculum also exhibits some incoherence between the daily lessons and scripture stories. The lessons on helping others and listening to God, for example, do not reflect adequate critical engagement with their scripture stories (Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam in Exodus 1 – 2 and the Magi in Matthew 2:1 – 12, respectively). Many of the activities to accompany the lessons gravitate toward object lessons that lack meaningful connections to the intended theological takeaways.
More critical reflection on bringing a superhero theme to scripture
Although scriptures’ characters can be and become larger-than-life, the curriculum’s superhero lens for engaging scripture can obfuscate the humanity of scriptures’ characters as well as God’s loving presence with these characters in all their humanity.
More sensitivity toward diversity, inclusivity, and underrepresented groups with respect to race, gender, and disabilities
The lessons on helping others and working together use “helping” to encapsulate the stories of Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam in Exodus 1 – 2 and “working” to describe the story of Jethro with Moses in Exodus 18. These characterizations can implicitly reinforce inequitable gender stereotypes. The stage directions in one of the skit scripts refers to VBS participants as “boys and girls,” which implicitly reinforces a gender binary. One of the preschool illustrations depicts Jesus with a peach skin tone, which can implicitly represent Jesus as a white person of European descent rather than reflecting his identity as a first-century Palestinian Jewish person. The curriculum also uses “special needs” to refer to people with disabilities, which can stigmatize people with impairments and disabilities.