Inspired by Full-Week Faith, created by Karen Bellavance Grace through the Fahs Collaborative, First Parish Church of Groton decided to hold a Blessing of the Backpacks. Here are some nuts & bolts, in case you don’t want to reinvent the wheel:
Don’t Do It the Night Before School Starts: We scheduled it for two nights before. Many families hadn’t seen each other since June. We had at least one new family who came so that their child could meet peers and have them be familiar faces on the first day of school.
Include Dinner: We planned it so that folks could eat (pizza; we asked for donations, but the church covered some of the cost) and then go home in time for the littlests’ bedtimes. We did ours 4:45 – 6:00pm. This may need to be adjusted based on your community’s rhythms.
Outreach – Early and Often: We had a save the date in June, but knew few would remember. Article in summer newsletter. Public Facebook event. We specifically asked some congregants to talk it up on their Facebook profiles, both to increase knowledge about the event and excitement. In the last two weeks, we upped activity on Facebook around the event. Use of visuals on social media is a must. For us, the most widely shared visual was a photo of our Main Street sandwich board, which ended up being shared over 1,700 times on Facebook! Go figure.
Inclusive Language: Since we were using school as a reference (“school is just about to start”) we were sure to reference those who are homeschooling. We also decided that to invite as much multi-generational participation as possible, we also included the School of Life – thus making it clear that anyone could receive a blessing.
The Actual Thing
- We did it outdoors. Sidewalk chalk to keep kids and adults busy as we prepared to start. Kept kids joyfully occupied, parents happy.
- Marked the end
of the summer by singing a silly camp song — enough of the kids knew it so they took over leading it.
- Asked youth to sing and we assigned official blessing duties to the Coming of Age class.
- We blessed not only backpacks, but all sorts of items including invisible (AKA forgotten at home) backpacks, briefcases, gym bags, cell phones, wallets, and shoulder of humans standing with us.
- We handed out talismans — a HUGE hit: combining symbols of peace, or beads that said “UU” or the name of our church (our church initials, “FPCOG”).
These are the words of our blessing:
Even when you are away from First Parish, you carry the heart of Unitarian Universalism with you wherever you go.
May you feel curiosity all your days.
May your imagination catch fire.
May you find courage when it is necessary.
May confusion lead to better questions.
May you feel compassion toward those around you, and they towards you.
May you feel heard and seen; may you hear and see others.
May you speak up for those who are not heard, who are not seen.
As your spirit’s home, we are made stronger when you share what you learn. We ask you to bring what you learn of the world back to this place. If you agree, say – “we will.”
You are welcome and encouraged to borrow any part of this –change it up to make it your own. My only request is that if you are going to use the words of our blessing in print (hard copy or online) that you attribute them to me, Karen Johnston.
Karen G. Johnston is the Intern Minister at First Parish Church of Groton from 2014–2016, serving in a part-time capacity as she finishes her Master of Divinity studies at Andover Newton Theological School.