Backpack Blessings

August 26, 2013
Lifelong Formation

Today’s guest blogger is Wendy Claire Barrie. She is the Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministries at St. Bart’s in New York City. Before school starts on Sept. 9, she’s going to be chaplain for a week of choir camp in Connecticut, take a group of children and youth on a guided tour of the United Nations, and host a pool party in the church basement.


Back to School: Rituals of prayer and blessing during this season of transition

backpack blesingRight now so many of us are caught up in a flurry of activity:

  • Preparing classrooms.
  • Preparing lessons.
  • Recruiting teachers and volunteers.

Our students are similarly busy:

  • Shopping for school clothes and supplies.
  • Finishing up summer camp.
  • Catching up on all of the last minute summer activities like the state fair or camping.

The end of summer is both a blessing and a curse. We are welcoming a new year of learning and bidding goodbye to the laid-back nature of summer.

Some of us look forward to the return to school. We welcome the structure, the challenge of classes, and the opportunity see friends. For others going back to school can be a time of anxiety, especially for anyone going to a new school or making the transition between elementary and middle school, or from middle school to high school.

As liturgical communities, it is important to mark this time of year with a ritual of prayer and blessing.

David Henson recently authored a blog post on Patheos, A Back-to-School Liturgy That’s Not a Blessing of the Backpacks. In it, you will find a Service for a New School Year that would be great for youth groups.

I can also recommend to you the Blessing of the Backpacks, which I wrote two years ago for the launch of Church Publishing’s Skiturgies and is now used in parishes across the country:

God of Wisdom, we give you thanks for schools and classrooms and for the teachers and students who fill them each day. We thank you for this new beginning, for new books and new ideas. We thank you for sharpened pencils, pointy crayons, and crisp blank pages waiting to be filled. We thank you for the gift of making mistakes and trying again. Help us to remember that asking the right questions is often as important as giving the right answers. Today we give you thanks for these your children, and we ask you to bless them with curiosity, understanding and respect. May their backpacks be a sign to them that they have everything they need to learn and grow this year in school and in Sunday School. May they be guided by your love. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, who as a child in the temple showed his longing to learn about you, and as an adult taught by story and example your great love for us. Amen.

Here at St. Bart’s, this prayer is read just before the final blessing at the two principal services on the Sunday following the opening of public schools. Children with backpacks (and adults with briefcases!) are invited to join the rector and me in the chancel, and we give each person a small olive wood cross to tuck into their backpacks.

Another resource: d365 is offering daily Back2School reflections to help prepare students for the upcoming season of learning.

Finally, read the recent article, Blessing backpacks, blessing lives, on Episcopal News Service, which describes the ways some faith communities have expanded their Back to School activities to include community partnerships and outreach.

Does your faith community already have a back to school liturgy or prayer? Share it here or on the Facebook page.