Do you remember the feeling of the first day of school? A notebook full of fresh pages. A sharpened pencil. A backpack without crumbs or crumpled flyers. Nothing forgotten or undone. Not a single mistake yet!
Last Sunday I preached at a church on the cusp of a new school year. The congregation had collected school supplies and backpacks. They were blessing the items before donating them to two local elementary schools. The children also brought their backpacks to church that Sunday. At the blessing time, more than a dozen children and youth came forward, each with a backpack. The chancel area was full of color and texture. Three lay leaders offered eloquent and heartfelt prayers: for children and teachers, for safety and wellbeing, for the process of teaching and learning.
When it was over, a long-time member of the church stood up to continue the service. Unscripted, she spoke with emotion: “I remember when there wasn’t a single child in this church.” She was an older white woman, wearing a beautiful dress that a Nigerian friend had made for her. To me, she symbolized welcome, and there was no mistaking the blessings that had returned to her because of her welcoming spirit. Her feelings of joy spilled out in tears in a moment of grace.
I have been intimately involved in education my whole life, but had never before seen backpacks blessed. I was surprised how moving the experience was. My husband teaches 8th grade Science, and my parents were both educators. Teaching and learning are perhaps the two controlling verbs of my life. How refreshing to bring them into the sanctuary overtly.
Most pastors bring immense energy and love into their job, pouring themselves into their congregations. Most elders are highly invested in the health of their church, and serve with creativity and care. What a blessing to see a congregation reap such tangible fruits — the nylon bags and colorful notebooks simply representing so much that goes on below the surface.
May the blessings flow as a new school year begins!