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Blessing of the Backpacks

Amelia, age 4, after her first day of preschool in 2018

I have always loved back to school season. As a child I looked forward to picking out my new folder and composition book, eagerly watching as my mother painstakingly wrote our names on every item that would accompany us on our first day of school. When I finally graduated for the last time, I would find myself in the back-to-school section of Target, looking wistfully at the bins of 24 count crayons and Bic highlighters. Sometimes I grabbed a box or two—$0.25 is a great price for crayons, after all.

This year is different, though. This year I have two excited five-year-olds who don’t quite understand the concept of a supply list. They want new lunch boxes even though their preschool ones are fine; they want the folders with kittens and unicorns instead of the plain red and yellow requested by the teacher. They want the MEGA pack of crayons. In another week or so I will sit on my bed with their supplies scattered around, just as my mother did, and carefully write their names on everything, including each pencil.

In a few weeks I will send my little ones on the bus for the very first time, and my heart will do little flips. Now more than ever I need a blessing on these children and the grownups I am entrusting with their care.

A Blessing of the Backpacks is a wonderful way to begin the school year, surrounding the students, teachers, and educational support staff of your congregation with prayer and blessings. I’ve developed the following liturgy over the last few years, and usually use it during the children’s sermon. It could easily be adapted into a litany so that many voices are represented and heard. The school supplies are in bold as a visual cue to hold up the item and let the children call out its name if you wish:

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Backpack Blessings

This will be the third year we do a backpack prayer at our church.  We announce for several weeks before that all children are invited to bring their backpacks with them to church on the Sunday before school starts (here that is usually the last Sunday in July!!).  During the time for children, we invite them all to come forward, and we talk a little bit about going back to school, and what is exciting, and what is scary, and what is fun. Then each child gets a postcard sized card with a clip-art of a backpack on it for them to color and a prayer.  The back is left blank for them to write their own prayer when they get home.  The card can then be tucked into the child’s backpack as a reminder all year that they are prayed for while they are at school.   We have a large number of teachers in our congregation, so this year, we will be making a card for them as well, with a different prayer.

The prayer for the children that is printed on the card is:

Loving God, be with me today when I go to school.  Sometimes it is scary, and sometimes it is hard.  Sometimes it is exciting, and sometimes it is fun.  I know that no matter what happens today, you are with me.  Help me to learn from my teachers every day.  You gave us the gift of learning.  Help me to remember to show my thanks to you by doing my best everyday.  Amen.

For Teachers:  

Oh God, you have called me to teach your children in this community.  Be with me today when I go to school.  Help me do my best to be patient and kind, no matter what this day brings.  Give me courage and strength when they are needed, and a spirit of fun and energy.  May the minutia of administration and paperwork not be draining.  Help me use the gifts you have given me to nurture and shape the children in my care.  Amen.

 

Julie Jensen is the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care and Mission at First Presbyterian Church in Cartersville, GA.  When she is not trying to stay out of the heat, you will find her knitting, cooking, and trying to make something grow in her garden.

Photo Credit: by o5comm, http://www.flickr.com/photos/o5com/5302863243/ Used by permission of Creative Common License 2.0.

The Light of Christ

OK, so it was a cheesy children’s sermon anyway. Though most children’s sermons—or at least the ones I give—come that way, this was particularly so. But it was Easter—my first ordained Easter!—so amidst all the preparations for Holy Week services, and especially my much-anticipated Easter sermon, I grabbed the first half-decent object lesson I found. At least the adults would like it.

For $2.99 I bought a foam brick at a craft store and stuck candles in.There were regular candles on the left and right, and a trick candle smack dab in the middle. When it came time in the service I marched to the front of the chancel and confidently called, “I would like to invite all the children to join me for the children’s sermon.”

“The Bible says that Jesus is the light of the world,” I told the children, pulling out my brick. “The light shining in the darkness.” I took out a match and lit the middle candle. “But do you know what happened to Jesus on the cross?” The tiny hands of our three budding theologians shot into the air.

“Jesus died on the cross!” shouts Susie smiling. Read more