More Backpack Blessings in Coronatide

No one ever expected that we would be in another pandemic year trying to figure out how to safely offer backpack blessings to kids. Last year, I shared a round up of resources and ideas that I wanted to update because things are different this year. There are a ton of ideas for ways to bless children and teachers as the school year begins here and here.

I got a note in my inbox last week asking for permission to use one of those prayers and so I also want to offer the reminder that I haven’t emphasized so much — but it is lovely and wonderful if you give me credit but my goal here is really to help you worship plan, dear pastors. You are doing so much. I am here to cheer you on and offer some ideas that you are too tired to find right now.

You are tired and you are not the only ones. Parents are tired. Teachers and tired. We are all worried sick about what will happen to our children with the delta variant raging while countless communities make the decision not to enforce a mask mandate for young children. Then, there is this new bit of news that there is a dramatic increase in homeschooling in the wake of the pandemic. Is this true in your community? What are the blessings needed to support those parents who are stepping out in faith to teach their children for the first time this year?

Blessings for Homeschool Families

When I think about this long experiment in trying to do all that is best for our children, I keep coming back to that number 2 pencil that was a staple in every school supply list I ever had in my years of schooling and the erasers that were always needed because that pink one at the tip of those pencils was never sufficient. I would get so frustrated when that pink smudge would stain the paper after I had tried to correct my mistake.

There was a joy in that sharpened tip as it etched at the paper. There was a gentle scratching noise that could have irritated if it didn’t soothe. It seems to me that parents have been sharpening their pencils over and over again. They’ve been full of expectation only to find a new home for those golden rods among all of the other things on their kitchen counters.

There have been mistakes and failed attempts. We may never have found the perfect eraser if such a thing is even possible in a pandemic. And now, some of those parents are choosing to home school to keep their children safe after an incredibly hard year of trying to find balance in work and family.

To these parents and to every other parent, I would give a fresh new package of number 2 pencils and I’d give them a prayer card to go along with it. This seems to be my one idea this year with a lot of variations. I’ll offer a card for each but these for the parents are the biggest ones so that they don’t get lost in everything else these blessed souls are doing. It is formatted as a bookmark so that it can be tucked into the many lesson planning materials or hung on the fridge. You can download it here.

Maybe those parents even need their “teacher bag” blessed on this Sunday when all of the other backpacks are blessed. Or you might even consider a blessing of the devices like this one.

Tangible Blessings

I think we need something to touch especially now. After such a long season of social distancing and lockdown, we need something to hold in our hands. We need something real and a sticker or button is a great way to offer something that has weight. I offered a bunch of ideas last year and want to add to those gifts and wonders these joy + peace backpack blessings from Vibrant Church Communications. I really like how the digital assets package includes coloring pages and bookmarks. I also think that the postcards could be a great thing to send halfway into the semester to offer encouragement because we really have no idea what this year will hold.

I also want there to be something else because this is still an incredibly stressful time. It hasn’t gotten easier. Not for everyone and especially not for kids and those that patiently await the release of that vaccine for those under 12 years old. I want there to be more than something to pin or stick or hang. I want there to be something to hold like worry stones.

I would, of course, give these to each child, teacher and parent in a small bag with a blessing card included. You could purchase cards like these, make your own or use this download I’ve created for you. It should print as business cards though I’ve designed it with the assumption you would prefer a paper cutter. I might even bless them in worship along with the backpacks.

Blessings of Face Masks

Especially because there is so much tension especially in the United States about whether or not masks should be required for unvaccinated children, I would seek to bless some face masks in worship. I haven’t seen any of the talented people I know who make such wonderful tangible blessings for back to school offer face masks. Wouldn’t this be so great on a face mask? Or this?

It is not advised to use these images without proper permission — but please do link below if you know of someone who has made such wonderful child-size masks! Instead, you might opt for your own text on these personalized 10 pack of face masks. I’m sure there is another possibility where you could order masks with a theme for the church year or the even the church logo printed upon it rather inexpensively at Vistaprint or a similar outlet.

Or maybe that’s not at all the route you want to go but you do want to give something that is a tangible blessing to hold that sweet child and encourage mask safety, then maybe these personalized lanyards might be an option. These would add up in cost unless you have a small program where you know each and every child by name. Or you could personalize it with You Are Loved in the beadwork. There are so many options!

Way back when in May of last year, I wrote this blessing of face masks that I’ve adapted below.

Blessing of Face Masks

O God, bless these face masks
and each of us. May the strings 
not pinch our ears so that we can 
learn more about your world 
and ourselves. 

Make us brave, O God, 
so that we might cover 
both our nose and mouth
and may we kindness
fill each breath.

O God, bless these masks
as surely as bless
all the little children. Amen.

I also went ahead and designed downloadable small cards for this prayer that you could print on the reverse side of the worry stone card above. You can download that here.

That’s all I’ve got for this return of the school year. I hope it’s a blessing for you.

Please know, dear pastor, as you try to care for all things that I’m praying for you and all of the ways that you are doing a brave new thing for the whole people of God.

10 Observations for Right Now

It seems to me that there are so many great teachers out there. It’s why TED is so popular. There are just so many people that are pulsing with wisdom and creativity. It isn’t a select few that have these great ideas but something that is shared across disciplines among all different kinds of people.

For years, I’ve been safely tucking ideas from great teachers into my files on Evernote. I save them for some future date when I might be able to use them in my ministry. Maybe they’ll become a sermon illustration or maybe they’ll work their way into some of my consulting work or maybe I’ll use them for some small group resource I’m writing. Among those things saved in my files on Evernote are actual assignments that teachers assign their students that have caught my interest including Paul Thek’s “Teaching Notes.”

On my walk today, with Krista Tippett in my ears, I heard from another wise teacher and while I’m tempted to file the idea away on Evernote, it grabs my attention enough to know that it’s something that I should probably attempt to practice right now. In OnBeing’s “The Power of Words to Save Us,” the poet Maria Howe offers this assignment that I’m feeling nudged to practice. She explains:

I ask my students every week to write 10 observations of the actual world. It’s very hard for them… They really find it hard…

Just tell me what you saw this morning like in two lines. I saw a water glass on a brown tablecloth, and the light came through it in three places. No metaphor. And to resist metaphor is very difficult because you have to actually endure the thing itself, which hurts us for some reason…

We want to say, “It was like this; it was like that.” We want to look away. And to be with a glass of water or to be with anything — and then they say, “Well, there’s nothing important enough.” And that’s whole thing. It’s the point… And then they say, “Oh, I saw a lot of people who really want” — and, “No, no, no. No abstractions, no interpretations.” But then this amazing thing happens, Krista. The fourth week or so, they come in and clinkety, clank, clank, clank, onto the table pours all this stuff. And it so thrilling. I mean, it is thrilling. Everybody can feel it. Everyone is just like, “Wow.” The slice of apple, and then that gleam of the knife, and the sound of the trashcan closing, and the maple tree outside, and the blue jay. I mean, it almost comes clanking into the room. And it’s just amazing.

There’s an added dimension to this assignment. Not only are these students called to pay attention to the thing in front of them or even the world around them, they are not supposed to use any metaphors.

Jesus loves a good metaphor. He invites people past and present to imagine the kingdom of God in all of these fantastic illustrations. It’s like treasure hidden in a field. It’s like a merchant in search of beautiful pearls. It’s like a king who wants to settle all of his accounts or perhaps like landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire laborers to tend to his vineyard.

This great teacher, Maria Howe, advises against it. No matter how much Jesus might love a metaphor, Howe says to avoid it. Don’t compare the thing. Don’t illustrate it. Don’t try to connect it to anything else. Just describe the glass of water as it is.

Right now, it feels like there is so much happening in the world and even in my own life. It feels like are moving fast and slightly out of control and perhaps what I need most is just to slow down and pay attention and notice what’s in front of me. Every day, just write 10 observations of the actual world.

It feels like enough for such a time as this.

Blessing of Teachers

Many churches had their kick off celebrations this past Sunday. Some are waiting until this coming Sunday to mark the big day when everything goes back to normal. All of the programming starts up again for the kids and adults. Anything that took a break over the summer months in our congregational life is ready to get going again. Some call it Rally Day. For others it is Homecoming Sunday or even Kick Off Sunday.

It is a big day that involves a lot of work. Much of that work goes into recruiting the right people to offer the love and support to make all of these programs work. It is recruiting that involves a lot of phone calls and cups of coffee to figure out if this particular act of love is the one that is calling right now. Teaching, especially in Sunday School, is always an act of love. It is a huge commitment not just to prepare lesson plans and show up every Sunday you’re on the schedule, but a commitment to journey into your own faith, to grow and be changed as you learn together.

It is why I do not miss the chance to bless our teachers when all of that programming begins. I do not limit the invitation. I invite everyone that has chosen to answer the call to discipleship. I ask the youth leaders and the bible study leaders. I invite the people on the committee and those stocking the supply closet and providing snacks to come forward not only to be blessed but to remember that they are not alone in this work. It takes a village which is why this blessing begins with talk of covenants.

Blessing of Teachers

One: A covenant is a promise we make together to before God.  Covenants remind us to love and support each another.  When we start new things, like another year in Sunday School, we make promises to grow and learn together as disciples of Jesus.

Every one – parents, children, teachers, and people too old for Sunday School – has a part in making these promises to blessing and encourage each other.  Together, we make promises to God so that we can all grow together in faith and love.  First, we ask the children to make their promises.  Please echo my words:

Thank you God, for our Sunday School.

Thank you for the gift of Jesus,

Who teaches us so many things.

We are excited about Sunday School

And hope to learn more about You

From our teachers, our substitutes, and our whole church family

Each and every day.

Parents and Congregation: We love our children.  We will encourage them to live in the way of Christ.  We will join with them in studying God’s Word.  We will try our best to grow with them in faith.  And we will support the work of our Church School with our time, our talent, our treasure and our prayers.

Teachers: We will walk with God and with the children and youth of our congregation.  We will work together and with God’s help, we will do our best to learn, to live, and to teach the way of Christ.

One: We do not only make promises together today. We share in blessings. The laying on of hands is the symbolic act where the church recognizes God’s call to ministry in the lives of faithful people and asks the Holy Spirit to give them the courage they need.  The Holy Spirit gave the ministry of teaching to the church in its earliest days.  It has always been one of the most important ministries of believers.  And so, we lay hands upon you, our teachers, and bless you to do the work that God has called you to.

Ask everyone to touch the shoulder of the person in front of and/or near them, people in front pews and children in chancel and ministers lay hands on teachers, so everyone’s connected to someone else. Once everyone is connected, pray these words aloud.

One: Eternal God, you have called these faithful people to serve you as teachers. Send your Holy Spirit upon them so that they can do this work in the fullness of your love. May all that we learn goethe in this year teach us more and more about your grace and hope. We pray in Jesus’ name,  Amen.

Allow this moment of blessing to lead right into the Passing of the Peace so that hugs and handshakes might extend the blessing of this moment. You’ll notice, of course, that this particular liturgy refers to teachers and only teachers. I adapt this to include all of the appropriate titles (even if there is no appropriate title.)

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

I would be particularly interested to hear from those that attend churches that have ditched Sunday School and embraced other faith formation models. How do you bless the leaders that do this good work in your church? Would this liturgy even work or does it assume an old model? I would love to hear from you!