A Back-to-School Liturgy That’s Not a Blessing of the Backpacks

4/52 - Homework

Flickr Creative Commons Copyright: Scott Akerman

Commonly, liturgical churches will do a back-to-school Blessing of the Backpacks. Usually, it is a simple, short blessing used in a Sunday Eucharist. But, for the purposes of junior and senior high students, I’ve always found them to be lacking something — honest engagement with how difficult and turbulent school can be for teenagers. So, I created a liturgy that doesn’t gloss over the anxiety, frustration, hope and fears that come with new beginnings and with returning to school.

The liturgy follows, or you can click here. You are welcome to use, edit, or copy as much as you like. It is free. I only ask that you credit the work.

A Service for A New School Year

Arrange chairs in a circle with an offering plate in the center. Pass out two different colors of index cards. Ask participants to spend several minutes reflecting on the coming school year. On one color, have the write down their fears or frustrations; on the other, their dreams and hopes for the year. Once finished, open the space for sharing, but do not press the issue. Pass the offering plate to collect the cards. (Optional) Pass the plate a second time and ask the participants to select on card of each color. If they draw their own, have them draw again.

During the calls and responses in the service, have a different leader for each couplet, rotating around the circle.

Litany of Beginnings
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,* not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
                                                                                                                                                                                                        2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Leader: It is the beginning of a a new school year, and God is a God of new beginnings and new creations. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, new life, blessed it and called it good.
People: We give thanks for a new year and for new beginnings. We give thanks that you call us good.

Leader: In the beginning, the heavens shone forth a star when our Savior was born. In the beginning of his ministry, the heavens opened up and called him God’s beloved.
People: We give thanks that you know our pathways and what it means to be human. We give thanks that you call us your beloved children.

O God of new beginnings, new life, and new journeys, you sent Abraham and Sarah into a new land; you led Moses, Aaron and Miriam out of Egypt and into liberation; you led your Son our Savior to earth, to the cross, and into resurrection. Walk with us, we pray, as we enter into a new year, a new path, new opportunities. Amen.

Optional Short Reflection

Litany of Difficulties
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed.

Matthew 8:23-28

Leader: We will get overwhelmed by tests, homework, and activities, and we will wonder how we will make it through.
People: Grant us quiet confidence and calm, bear our stress with us, help us to ask for help when it gets to be too much.

Leader: Our teachers, parents, and friends will piss us off and frustrate us. They will be unfair, they will hurt us, and they just won’t get what we’re going through.
People: Give us peace and rest in the midst of the storms raging around us and inside us.

Leader: We will be measured, tested, and judged, and we will be asked to measure our worth in how well we perform, the grades we make, and the friends we have.
People: Comfort us in the knowledge that you have already judged us and found us to be good, made us worthy, and called us by name.

Leader: We will be tempted to despair and see ourselves as worthless and unlovable.
People: When we cannot find our way, remind us that, to you, O God, the darkness is not dark, the night is as light as day, and even if we make our beds in hell, still there you will be beside us.

Leader: We will see darkness. We will see it in injustice, hate, exploitation, mean- spiritedness, and bullying of our peers. We will be tempted to join in.
People: Give us courage to resist and empower us to be your beloved people: loving others and standing up for the oppressed.

Leader: We will want popularity: we will want to fit in, even at the expense of others and we will wish to be people other than ourselves, the people you created us to be.
People: Remind us our identity, given in baptism, to be your sons and daughters.

Leader: We will want to hold grudges, gripe, and gossip when we are wounded.
People: Empower us by your grace to forgive as you have forgiven.

A Gathering of Hopes and Fears
Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask: Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Source: Book of Common Prayer)

Cards with fears and frustrations are read aloud or held up in offering plate. Then, the leader says:
Leader: These are our prayers, our fears and our frustrations for the year.
People: We will bear them with each other.

Cards with dreams and hopes are read aloud or are held up in offering plate. Then, the leader says:
Leader: These are our prayers, our hopes and dreams for the year.
People: We will dream them with each other.

Leader: In the name of God, we send each other forth with these dreams and fears of our community.
People: We pledge to pray with them each day.

A General Thanksgiving
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

(Pause for thanksgivings from the group)

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

(Pause for thanksgivings for friends and family from the group)

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

(Pause for thanksgivings for our tasks)

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

(Pause for thanksgivings for our failures)

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

(Source: Book of Common Prayer)

Closing Blessing
Live without fear: your Creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Go in peace to follow the good road and may God’s blessing be with you always. Amen.


(source: from Saint Clare, Enriching Our Worship 1)

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Carren Sheldon

    This is brilliant. As usual. Thank you!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      That means a ton from you, Carren!

  • tanyam

    Can somebody explain to me how worshippers –I dunno, how they feel, how they process — when they have so many words to say? When I come into a church and see so many words ahead that I have to say, it just makes me feel weary. And like a drone. How do you get yourself into the right place to read and say all those words?

    I can’t stop thinking about Charlie Brown’s teacher, “wawawa-wawa–wa-wa wa,” I think of all the care someone put into the writing, but honestly, its lost on me. I feel like I really only notice the words when I think they’re silly or wrong or badly written. The rest of the time I just can’t wait for them to be over.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I feel the same way when I go somewhere with praise and worship music or sermons over 10 minutes! I think it has to do with what you are accustomed to, really. If liturgy’s not your thing, it’s not your think, and that’s okay.

  • youngadult

    you lost me at “Arrange chairs in a circle…”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I would love to hear more about why arranging chairs in a circle lost you. It fits nicely with the rhythm of the liturgy. What is it that bothered you?

  • http://lotharson.wordpress.com/ Lothars Sohn

    Hello David.

    I’m wondering if the emptying of mainstream Churches might not be due to the combination of two factors:

    1) all supernatural beliefs are given up, the resurrection was only a wonderful psychological experience

    2) old-fashioned liturgy

    It seems to me there is absolutely no reason to be in such a Church.

    Do you think my analysis of the situation might be correct?

    Lovely greetings from Germany.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • Grandmother Angri

      Yes, indeed, your analysis of the situation is correct… for Lothars Sohn… and probably many others…. and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I can’t say that I agree with your assessment of the decline of Christian churches in the West/Anglo world.

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

        Hey, I just meant that for liberal churches. Conservative Churches are decdlining due to their clinging on the dogma of Biblical inerrancy.

        The challenge looks as follows: do there exist ways to understand how God acted in history once you begin to believe that the Biblical writers wrote their own thoughts?

        This is the question I’m struggling with.

        Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  • Karen Guthrie Bigham

    I am the parent of a 7th grader who just went back to school after a horrendous 6th grade year of anxiety and panic attacks. She came home yesterday (day 3 of school) and I could see it in her eyes…..although we had a good summer, it is coming back. I am so grateful to have stumbled upon your post. We will be using a version of it around the dinner table tonight. Many thanks.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I am so moved by this comment, and I am so thankful you found your way here. I pray this was meaningful for your daughter. Junior High can be such a brutal place. It gets better, but it is so hard to remember that.

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

    This is beautiful, David. Well done.

  • Nancy Janisch

    Thank you!

  • Marian Ronan

    David: I find your liturgy for the new school year quite moving. I imagine a lot of kids never have anybody address how anxiety producing, as well as exciting, the whole thing can be. Just buy them a lot of “stuff”and send them back to school. So glad to know you’re doing this work and sharing it.

  • Misha

    I’d like to share this resource with other youth workers in the PC (USA). We used it in my congregation the beginning of the school year, and it was very moving for the youth and for me. Presbyterian Youth Workers Association has a youth ministry resource bank, and I’d like to submit this as a .pdf. Thoughts?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      Please do Misha! I only request that you credit me and include a link to the main site, http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson. I wrote this and put it here so folks could use it. The more using it the better in my opinion!

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  • Jeannie

    The children and youth here in Hawaii (I am on the island of Kauai) will be starting back to school this week. We will be using a form of the service you have written. I have been trying to conceive of such a liturgy myself for a long, long time. I believe this is going to make our worship very deep and meaningful. Thank you!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I hope so! I too was frustrated with what was out there surrounding back to school.

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