Program gives kids taste of Bible lessons - VeggieTown plants seeds during vacation Bible school sessions A child runs across the ``town square'' in ``VeggieTown,'' a growing Christian education phenomenon teaching values with vegetable characters. This set was created at Evangel United Methodist Church in Rochester. CUTLINE: ``VeggieTown'' Mayor, Jim Klepper, Evangel's Christian education director. CUTLINE: Lizi Shea, left, and Mercy Gbenjo warm up with songs before Vacation Bible School. CUTLINE: Michael Luck is on the tomato team. CUTLINE: Peppers make neat designs at Vacation Bible School. religionp George Bush might have liked his broccoli better if he had met some of the characters from VeggieTown. There's almost more produce in churches than the supermarket these days as the colorful costumes, books, videos, T-shirts and playthings march from bookstores and toy shops into vacation Bible schools.

And because these are VeggieTown Values, kids are digesting some lessons along with a new appreciation for beta carotene.

Evangel United Methodist Church was among the latest to build a VeggieTown for its kids. Under cotton clouds, it featured the shops and services we would see in any city square.

Nearby classrooms became a general store and a schoolroom. The gym was transformed into a ``construction site'' complete with hardhats and tools. There, kids helped build a church.

Each morning Evangel's Christian education director Jim Klepper played mayor as children gathered in the town square. Bob Tomato and Larry Cucumber sent their greetings via television.

Prompted by Helen Duff and VeggieTown videos, the children sang ``Jesus is the rock and he rolls my blues away, bob-shoo-bop.'' Inclusiveness was taught with a song about veggies of all sizes and shapes and the assurance that ``I can be your friend.''

Teams spotted each other by the vegetables on bright-billed caps: not only corn and celery but turnips and leeks, gourds and eggplant. When it was time for class, the kids headed off to individual shops and school for more lessons couched in ``nutritious'' language.

Visitors ogled the ambitious props that were suggested in a design kit but constructed by members of Evangel Church. The ambitious ``sets'' took a lot of volunteer time.

VeggieTown Values also came up at an education workshop in last year's area assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

``We've seen them since around 1994,'' said Kelvin Mulholland of Christian Book &; Gift. Shelves in that store had VeggieTown people in books, games, balls, craft kits, costumes and T-shirts, pencils and erasers. Little ones could get their first ``taste'' of vegetables in bright veggie toys.

``While some methods are pretty hard-hitting, these make Bible lessons fun,'' Mulholland said.@et

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