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.

Recipe for the Worrying Church

Sometimes it is the Lectionary that sparks an idea or sometimes it is a story that you have held close over these many years. This recipe is a little bit of both.

On Sunday, we will hear the story of Martha who is very worried and distracted. She’s rushing about and keeping busy. She’s doing all of the things and not getting an ounce of help. Understandably, she complains. To this, Jesus chides her. Or it seems he chides her for not choosing the better part like her sister Mary.

But, telling someone not to worry is just stupid and rather pointless. They will then begin to worry about the fact that they are worrying. That is, if they are really worry warts, that is what they will do. Best not to tell them their worrying is pointless but instead redirect their worry and distraction in some other more helpful way.

This brings me to the story that will begin my sermon on Sunday. It is the story of Jerry and Brian from my days of serving in Maine. In my sermon, I tell their story like this:

Brian and Jerry are bridge partners. I knew this because Jerry, who came to Bible Study every week after his wife fell ill, talked about his bridge partner all of the time. I knew Brian, of course. He also came to worship every Sunday but Brian was far more quiet than Jerry. Jerry talked a lot.

He talked about everything loudly and enthusiastically. He spoke like a teenager that was so excited that he just couldn’t get the words out fast enough. So the words all clumped together. Sometimes I had to ask him to repeat himself. Because I didn’t want to miss out on his joy. But, Jerry was getting more and more confused. He fumbled his words and thoughts jumbled too.

And do Brian, his bridge partner, gave him a worry stone, a worry stone that Jerry carried around in his pocket all of the time. He would show it to me when he couldn’t remember what he wanted to say. And then, he’s explain how Brian encourages him. Whenever Jerry starts to wander, Brian asks if he has his stone. This worked until one day when Brian asked about the stone, and Jerry said he lost it.

Jerry, like Martha, did not need a reminder that he should just stop worrying. What he needed was another worry stone. Likewise, we should not busy ourselves as leaders in the church telling those in the pews not to worry. They are already really worried. They are worried about violence and hate spurned by racism, maybe even their own racism. They are worried about the election, what that election might mean for their advocacy or even their church’s programs. Never mind the needs of their families.

I so appreciate Elisabeth Johnson’s wisdom on Working Preacher in her reminder that “we cannot seem to quell our anxious thoughts and frantic activity. It is true that much of our busyness and distraction stems from the noblest of intentions. We want to provide for our families, we want to give our children every opportunity to enrich their lives, we want to serve our neighbors, and yes, we want to serve the Lord.” There is good reason to worry about the future including the future of our churches. It comes from the noblest of intentions. We want to serve the Lord but this is so overwhelming that we can’t help but get a little lost like Jerry.

Here is the recipe.

RECIPE FOR MINISTRY-2

With every good recipe, there are a few more hints. There are notes that you make as you make it your own which you’ll surely add to this card, but here are a few I’d add to my own recipe:

  • Rocks can not only be collected but also be ordered rocks like these at Oriental Trading.
  • Add a bit about worry stones to your sermon. This is optional, of course, but it may increase the connection. Be creative. Go where God invites.
  • And, as it helps, here are some words for Invitation to the Offering:

Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Jesus asks us before inviting us to consider the lilies. Like Martha, we are too worried and distracted to understand these words. Still, we give our gifts. We offer our praise even when our worries outweigh our hope. And so today, give as you receive. Take a worry stone from the plate as you give your offering. Hold onto this stone whenever you might worry and always remember to listen. 

Please share pictures of your worry stones or share with us how you are adapting this recipe for your ministry in the comments below.