Over the next two months, students and teachers across the United States will be returning to the classroom. As preparations for the back-to-school procession begin, United Methodist congregations will be blessing backpacks, collecting and distributing school supplies, hosting seasonal events, offering support for teachers and other staff and beginning or continuing partnerships with schools.
Here’s a quick look at what some congregations are planning – and a list of some of the resources United Methodist general agencies and others are providing to support your ministry.
Many congregations will offer prayers for students, teachers and staff, but Ridgecrest United Methodist Church in California and Rainbow UMC in Snow Hill, North Carolina, offer a different twist.
Rainbow Church is going to “take the names of every teacher and support staff and have a member of our church (commit to) pray for the person daily,” says the Rev. Patrick Keely, pastor. Rainbow is also “going to invite the entire staff of the school to our church so we can lay hands on them and also have a covered dish luncheon in their honor.”
Congregants from Ridgecrest will continue their “school blessings prayer tour, where we go onto school campuses before school begins, and together pray for the students, teachers and staff and site for a safe and prosperous new year,” says Amy Ochoa, director of youth ministries. “During Kids Church, we write down goals for the new school year, make gifts to give our new teachers and make prayer bracelets to wear on the first day,” says Ochoa.
Reaching out to its community, Ford's Chapel UMC in Harvest, Alabama, will do “an afternoon event where we're giving out backpacks and supplies, having a small health fair – bloodmobile, pharmacist with immunizations, lots of information and ways to engage with issues like bullying and depression – and will pray over those items. Any excess items will be given to one of the local schools,” says the Rev. Amanda Connett Rochelle, youth minister.
While the practice differs from church to church, blessings of backpacks and briefcases are frequent – and meaningful.
Langhorne UMC in Pennsylvania extends “that to blessing all those who have anything to do with school/education from student to sexton to principal to professor to campus security to...,” says the Rev. Laurie J. Pfahler, pastor. “We also bless the bags/brief cases of those adults involved, and invite others to bring a piece of their equipment as well (spoon, mop/broom, etc.). We have found this was more popular than we realized!”
Matthew’s Memorial UMC in Madison, Tennessee, blesses the backpacks of children involved in its after school program and this year will give each a children’s Bible. “We also bless each student as a beloved child of God,” says the Rev. Rita Hays, associate pastor. “We assure them that even though God does not fit in their backpacks, God goes with them to school.
RESOURCES TO SUPPORT YOUR BACK-TO-SCHOOL MINISTRY
United Methodist Back-to-School Blessing, video and text
“God of All Learning,” a hymn for a “Blessing of the Backpacks” service. The first two verses can be used alone as a shorter hymn-prayer; the final two are for children, all who work for children’s well-being and for teachers and those who work in schools.
“Back-to-School Blessing,” 21st-century Africana liturgy
Backpack Initiative (Video) – CrossRoad Church UMC, Jacksonville, Florida
Back-To-School Clothing Drive and Supplies (Video) – Clever United Methodist Church, Springfield, Missouri
The Rev. Kathy Noble is editorial manager for leader communications – including The Source and ResourceUMC.org – at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.