We have tried many things as a way of honoring Back to School. We don’t do a “Blessing of the Backpacks” as many Episcopal churches do (a former assistant rector was adamant that we bless people, not things).
I had read of Back to School Prayer Vigils and suggested it several years ago to our chapter of the Daughters of the King. They indeed planned a vigil, with the chapel open the evening before from 5-9 p.m. and all day on the first day of school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., or some such. We made great plans for families to come and for the whole parish to pray…and maybe two devoted members of the DOK prayed the entire time. I’m sure there were a few people in and out, but all in all it just didn’t work as we had imagined it.
In 2011, our third year, I think we’ve found a formula that works for our parish. This year we concluded that the first day of school is full of enough pressures without adding in a trip to church. So, we began our vigil on Sunday.
A Daughter of the King was present between the first two morning services and after the third in our chapel (which opens into the main church). The DOK provided beautiful flowers on the chapel altar (not usual for a regular Sunday) with pencils artfully placed in the arrangement. We had votive candles available, as well as paper and pencil and a backpack. We also prepared a list of all the children in our parish from preschoolers through graduate students by grade.
Parishioners were invited to come light a candle for their families going back to school, and grandparents came to light candles for their far off grandchildren (and would also add their names to the prayer list). Special prayer concerns (“Please pray for X who is very worried about her first day of high school,” for example) could be written on the slips of paper and put into the backpack.
By the end of Sunday services, our chapel altar was glowing! It was such a nice way to honor and pray for our families beginning a new season.
On the first day of school, we hold a “Back to School Breakfast” from 7-8 a.m., and all families and school children are invited to come for a (free!) hot breakfast. This has become very popular! Our faithful Daughters of the King were also on hand from 7-9 a.m. in the chapel to pray over the backpack prayers as well as the extended Back to School list from the day before. Families could light a candle or write prayers again, if they wished.
(One enterprising mom/Daughter made a sign at the top of the stairs with the message “Eat” (pointing in the direction of the breakfast) “Pray” (pointing in the opposite direction to the chapel) and the general command, “LOVE!”)