Dear United Methodist Clergy:
We hope you and your congregants will celebrate teachers and students with Back to School activities and recognitions in August. The Annual Conferences of both the North Carolina And Western North Carolina Conferences approved committees to advocate jointly on ways that the value of public education can be promoted and communicated through our churches, districts, and Conferences to leaders in North Carolina’s government. UMAPS (United Methodist Advocates for Public Schools) is working on ways to support students and honor teachers for the crucial work they do. Visit www.umapsnc.org
First day for most students is Monday, August 26 but check your local system. 1.8 million students will begin Kindergarten through Grade 12 this school year. We have seen many powerful ideas for lifting up our teachers and students, and below are some you may want to adopt.
You may have many teachers in your congregation as well as others who actively support our children in their education. Remember our administrators, assistants, bus drivers and child nutrition workers, custodians, counselors, crossing guards and the many others who support all children. We can show our love and support for children and teachers on our ‘Back to School’ Sundays.
Here are some suggestions for HOW you may want to celebrate teachers and students as they begin another year of learning and growing:
- Write about Back to School activities in your newsletter, bulletin or outgoing emails.
- Hold a Back to School service, lighting a candle for each school in your area.
- Consider partnering with other churches for this service. Host a Back to School ice cream party; collect and/or distribute school supplies.
- Bless the Backpacks, asking students to come to church with their backpacks one Sunday.
- Invite a teacher or principal, social worker or counselor, to speak at a service, at United Methodist Women or United Methodist Men meetings.
- Ask everyone who works with children to stand to be recognized during a worship service
- Add a prayer or responsive reading for teachers and students to your worship service; a laying on of hands for teachers and school employees.
- Send an email or note to your child’s/grandchild’s teacher showing your appreciation.
- Ask children in Sunday School classes to make cards for their teachers.
- Write an email or letter to your local or state representative expressing your support for strong public education and its importance for all children.
- Focus the children’s sermon on the importance of teachers and learning.
Below is a back-to-school prayer which beautifully illuminates many of our own prayers as all of us, in actuality or in our hearts, go back to school. This back to school prayer was posted last September by The Rev. Carrie Schofield-Broadbent, Canon for Transition Ministry & Congregational Development in the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York.
Holy God, source of wisdom and grace, you know the prayers of my heart, yet it helps me to write them anyway. It’s the beginning of the school year, God, and my heart is full of prayers.
For the students who are beginning a new school year, give them curious minds, critical thinking skills, the ability to tell right from wrong and the courage to act with integrity. Help them to learn deep truths about this world and about people so that they may be good citizens for the good of the whole. For the students who struggle with learning, give them patience, confidence, and grace. Help them to know the many ways that you’ve gifted them, even if reading, math, or memorizing don’t come easy. For the students for whom learning does come easily, help them with the gift of humility. May they all know enough challenges to keep them sharp, strong, and grateful and enough successes to keep them engaged, confident, and proud of themselves.
For the students who are lonely, hurt, unsafe, unwell, anxious or depressed. Breathe your peace and health into them; may they be supported by people who understand them and love them.
For the teachers, for the brave souls who wake each morning at the crack of dawn to educate other people’s children and love them like their own. It’s a tough job, God, please keep them from growing weary and cynical. Wrap them in your love, your peace, your wisdom, and your goodness. Help them to see the many ways that their gifts inspire learning, creativity, and compassion. And, please make sure they get enough good coffee, chocolate, and support from parents and administrators to keep ‘em going.
For those who support learning, for the bus drivers, crossing guards, school safety officers, administrators and aids. Bless those who keep our children safe. For cafeteria workers, nurses, and helpers. Bless those who help our children stay healthy. For librarians, music and art teachers, counselors, therapists, chaplains, volunteers and administrators. Bless those who tend to our children’s hearts and souls.
For those who grieve, for those grieving the loss of children. This day can be so hard for them as first-day-of-school pictures populate their social media feed. Wrap them in your love and grace, Gracious God.
This is a new school year. May we all meet this time of year with renewed commitment to our individual calling. May we all continue to grow in wisdom, knowledge, curiosity, humility, confidence, and compassion even when we are not in school. Help us to look toward the outskirts, toward the margins for people in need of compassion and generosity. May we never stop including those who sit on the edge of the playground. May we never stop sharing our pencils and sandwiches with those in need. May we never cease to see your Spirit and goodness in each person we meet.
I pray in the name of Jesus, our great teacher, prophet and Savior. Amen.
Pastor Jay Bissett, Western Carolina Conference, Maylo UMC, Gastonia, WNCCUMC
Brian Heymans, Chair, Board of Church and Society, NCCUMC
UMAPS Committee Co-chairs