More Unitarian Universalist congregations are holding backpack blessings at the beginning of the school and congregational year: each child (and an invited friend, sometimes!) brings their school backpack to worship on the appointed day, and the congregation "blesses" the children and their backpacks. In some congregations, children also receive a small token (like a special talisman) to clip to their backpack.
In the words of Carolyn C. Brown,* backpack blessings embody two important messages to children:
- They realize that they and their lives are important to the church. They see themselves as significant members of the congregation.
- They hear that God (or the Source of Love) is with them at school and that their church cares about what happens there. God and church are not “off to the side” or just a Sunday thing.
Rev. Karen Johnston offers the following suggestions for holding a backpack blessing:
- Choosing a Date & Time
Some congregations hold their backpack blessing during regularly scheduled worship; others hold a separate event, such as early in the evening (5:00) two nights before local schools begin.
- Before the Ritual
While families arrive, think about providing sidewalk chalk and encouraging anyone – but especially kids – to drawn on the sidewalk or a protected area of the parking lot. This activity leaves beauty behind, but it also allows energies to be channeled.
- Inclusive Language
Try using inclusive language regarding educational choices, and reference those who homeschool. One UU congregation invites as much multi-generational participation as possible by including the School of Life: anyone can receive a blessing if they're so moved. Finally, if you invite folks to bring their backpacks (empty), be sure to do two things: normalize if someone forgot to bring their backpack (you might speak of “invisible backpacks”), as well as to let folks interpret “backpack” to mean most anything. (One congregation reports that people asked if they could have their briefcase, their wallet, their cell phone, their purse, the bag that holds their sheet music, and so on blessed!)
- The Ritual
The blessing can include words and blessing elements of water, as well as giving a material reminder of the blessing (e.g., colorful beads that say “UU” or the congregation’s initials, put on a key chain to attach to the backpacks). Rev. Cindy Landrum's blogpost about UU backpack charms is one way to have fun!
Depending when you hold your blessing, consider ending the celebration by breaking bread (which could be pizza and brownies) together.
*Carolyn Brown is a Certified Christian Educator in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).
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