Virginia Church’s Harry Potter Vacation Bible School a Wow!

I spoke at the Church of the Holy Comforter (EC-USA) in Vienna, Virginia, last year where I met Leslie Barnhart, with whom I had been corresponding since she read How Harry Cast His Spell. Her big idea was a Vacation Bible School that turned on the Christian Content of the Hogwarts Saga. I knew that the Rev. Debbie Hough at Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania, had tried to do much the same thing (with great success) but Mrs. Barnhart was talking about an entirely different scale and length of program. She let me see the curriculum for this five day event with 155 campers (!) when we met again at Leaky Con last month and I was astonished at the breadth and depth of what she had planned.

And it worked.

Please read below (after the jump) both her short overview and her detailed account of a VBS program I suspect parishes around the country will be running for years to come. Congratulations, Leslie, on a super job, conception to execution!

The Short Overview: Leslie Barnhart

The Church of the Holy Comforter, inspired by the Christian themes found in the Harry Potter series, created an original curriculum for a Summer Camp based on the series.  157 students, 25 prefects, and 10 staff professors were part of this huge event, where the excitement never died down from their first day riding in on the train to the quidditch match that ended the week.  Each day, the students arrived a different way – train, boat, Knight’s Bus, floo powder, then Carriages, and experienced a variety of classes steeped in Christian history and tradition.

Defense Against the Dark Arts included practical lessons on how to bless others, how to baptize others, how to pray for others, how to lay hands on others to bestow God’s blessings, and how to handle one’s Bible (each student received a new Bible dressed in a Book of Monster book cover).  The History of Magic classes spoke to the critical concepts of each day, focusing on the basics of Christian alchemy, symbolism, being a disciple like the Order of the Phoenix, the differences between Horcruxes and Hallows, and how we can use Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s examples to see how to pursue Christ through our mind, heart, and body.

Classes such as Potions taught the students how to make the Oil of Chrism and Incense for Holy Days, and of course each day the students were able to play either Quidditch or a Care of Magical Creatures game – a game of Capture the Stag including symbolic animals to either help or hinder one’s course.  From the beginning, parents cried out for another year of the Harry Potter Summer Camp, and many staff and parents have come forward asking to learn more about the Christian information within the program and anxious to come back to the church.  (40% of the students at Hogwarts were not members of our church).  In the two weeks following, students were returning to church with their Bibles in hand, and parents reported that they found their children reading their Bibles at home without request!

We look forward to creating a new set of classes for next year, as we try to determine how we will sort out who goes to which classes with an expected attendance of 350-400 students next summer.  God is truly at work here, warming hearts, and transforming minds through Harry Potter!

The Detail Letter of Day to Day Activities:

This past week, our church ran the Summer Camp at Hogwarts for 155 students, with 10 dedicated adult members (not all attended all days, though) and 18 youth acting as prefects.  Our director pulled out all the stops, working tirelessly for the weeks ahead of time to paint grey paper into “walls”, painting shoeboxes into “trunks”, creating emblems for each of the houses, and collecting donations of pewter dinnerware and other medieval objects to use around the church.  We definitely took over the church space, using four rooms as common rooms, the fellowship hall became the Great Hall, and three other classrooms became Potions, History of Magic, and Ollivander’s Wand Shoppe.

The chapel was converted to our Defense against the Dark Arts classroom, and we used the space outside in back for Herbology, and the space out front for Quidditch/ Care of Magical Creatures.  About every inch below 8 feet was decorated to look like an old castle, and with Harry Potter sound tracks playing in the background, the students arrived for their first day via trackless train into the sorting hall (The main sanctuary).  Despite the thunderstorms that moved quidditch inside to the entrance hall and herbology to the patio behind the church, the kids were enthralled and attentive for every class, and smiled all day.  At the end of the first day, the kids were sad to leave, but happy knowing there would be more days to come this week.

Day two was focusing on Christian Symbolism (mostly beastiality and baptism).  The students arrived via boat (a converted truck flatbed), and the one student who had to leave five minutes early cried because he didn’t want to leave.  All of the students grinned from ear to ear throughout the day, as they received their face painted lightning scars to represent their being marked “as God’s own forever”, and although Snape’s potions class demanded everyone’s fuill attention, more smiles came as they tasted pumkpin juice for the first time (with no pumpkin in it, though…).  Parents were already talking about a need to have the same summer camp next year, and the news started to spread.

Day three the students arrived via Knight’s Bus, complete with shrunken head and movie music (a blue minivan with all the back seats taken out), ground frankincense into powder for the incense, learned about discipleship, prayer, and the significance of the number 12.  They tasted butterbeer for the first time, and were told they had finally learned enough to earn their wands the next day.  More talk from the parents about a need to have this again next year so that their younger children can participate.

Day four… floo powder arrivals, Luna Lovegood read the story of the three brothers, Ollivander came to talk about the power of the wand, and Professors Lupin, McGonagall, and Dumbledore laid their hands on each student in their Defense against the Dark Arts class to bestow the elements of the trinity on each student.  Again, the students were very attentive to everything, moved by the experience, and were a little sad leaving, since they knew there was only one more day…

Day five – excitement about what would happen today as they arrived via carriage (the open flatbed truck and the mini van dressed as a carriage), and received their “Book Of Monsters” – A Bible with a monster book cover, taught by Hagrid and Professor Lupin – Hagrid helped them learn how to tame the book, and Lupin helped them learn about how to use their Bibles.  (Build a Bear has a blank sound disc that you can record whatever growling noise you’d like on it), and we discussed how to act as the mind, body, and heart of Christ, using examples from the books for our everyday lives.  The parents all came by to watch the prefects play a final Quidditch tournament with the students cheering them on, and there were many tears because the week was over.  Every parent I saw told me about at least 20 others who wanted to ensure we would do this same “camp” next year – their kids couldn’t stop talking about everything they’d learned at camp.

Many of the other parishioners who walked through on a tour with us and heard what we would be learning also wanted to come to the camp, and most of the prefects (aged 12-17) said they learned a lot this week about the Christian links that they had never made before.  Seeing their enthusiasm really helped make the camp fun, since the younger students really look up to the teenagers.  The prefects even came up with their own raps and lyrics about events at Hogwarts that they enjoyed performing during the opening feasts each day.  Other songs such as “The Mysterious Ticking Noise” and the Hogwarts song were very popular as well.

If you get a chance to run this camp or send a child to the camp, it would be a life changing experience for them.  Even our Dumbledore said that she was now seeing things in a different way, and wants to talk more about Christianity this next week!

I wish you all a super summer, and continued success with your Harry Potter endeavors!


Leslie Barnhart
Curriculum Writer
Church of the Holy Comforter
Vienna, VA


  1. Paula Reynolds says

    I run a VBS in Ontario. Is there any way to contact Leslie regarding her fabulous VBS?
    Paula Reynolds
    VBS Director

  2. If any one is interested in running this as a VBS, please contact me at so we can work out what you might need. I look forward to working with you!

  3. Leslie Barnhart says

    We have decided on a date for the retreat: January 13th-14th! Included in the price of $120 is: all meals (Hogwarts style!), curriculum, samples of all favors given during VBS, hands-on demos of decorating tips and food recipes, and informal discussions of how the theology ties Hogwarts to the Christianity. We will also send your congregational leader a short explanation of the theology of Hogwarts so that they feel more comfortable with presenting the Harry Potter theme in your communities. Registration coming soon at Questions can be directed to me or Lisa at See you soon!

  4. I am looking to possibly do this with our church this summer and I would like to know the cost of the curriculum?

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