Well, friends, it seems that a whole summer has come and gone with very little updating on my part. I wish it was because I took the summer off. (Can you imagine a whole three months of vacation? I didn’t know what I had while I was in school!) This summer has been filled with its fair share of traveling. I made it to my very first General Synod in Long Beach, California.
Afterward, I made my way back to Connecticut by way of Las Vegas for an all-too-short week with my dear G.
At the start of August, I flew to Cleveland for my first visit to the United Church of Christ’s Church House. I met a slew of really fabulous young clergy. Together, we’re part of the most recent class of the Next Generation Leadership Initiative (NGLI). The program takes young UCC clergy and invests all sorts of professional development resources in them hoping that those resources with return remarkable dividends later down the road. It’s an exciting prospect, and I’m honored to be chosen to walk alongside these particular colleagues.
In between all of that, church life has been fulfilling (and time-filling!). Lots of good things have been happening at Westfield Church, so many things. SO many good things, in fact, that there just isn’t space to tell you all about it. But there is one particular event that I must share with you. It was our Blessing of the Backpacks. I had vaguely heard of such programs, but when I joined Kirkwood United Church of Christ in Atlanta my eyes were opened to the possibilities that this ministry holds.
For our Blessing of the Backpacks, we encouraged our congregation to donate supplies and backpacks. I wasn’t sure this would fly. My congregation is a generous one, but this was a new idea for them. Pair that with a general shift in commitment to church-y type things in the summertime (which, for the record, is apparently fairly typical for churches in New England) and you just don’t know what you’ll get. What we got, though, was nothing short of amazing.
Not only were we able to give over 30 backpacks filled to the brim with supplies particular to each grade, but we were also able to contribute an altar table filled with all sorts of things–pens, pencils, notebooks, notecards, rulers, glue, scissors, and erasers. Those backpacks and supplies were then donated to one of our local elementary schools. Each one had a tag on it. One side read “This backpack is filled with school supplies and the love of Westfield Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.” The other side utilized one of the UCC’s long-standing mottos: “No matter who you or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”
I had placed the bags throughout the congregation. When the time came, I asked the congregation to reach out and hold onto a bag, to create a web of blessing. Together we prayed a prayer by UCC pastor and writer Quinn Caldwell:
O God, bless these backpacks.
Make them strong for their job
of helping our children to learn.
May their straps never break,
Their padding never give out,
Their zippers never jam.
May they never be forgotten
in strange places,
May the burdens
in them be light.
And may the bodies
that bear them be strong,
and growing, and whole,
and blessed, ever blessed,
by your love.
In the name of the great Teacher
at whose knee
we are all students, Amen.
The service of blessing didn’t stop there. After blessing the backpacks and school supplies, we offered an individual blessing for students of all ages.
One of the most moving parts of the service came toward the end. At Westfield, we have a remarkable number of educators in our midst.
In addition to our in-house educators, we sent invitations to educators who were not members but somehow connected to us as well as to all the principals of the locals schools and to the superintendent. So, on top of our blessing of backpacks and our blessing of students, we offered a blessing for educators.
Truth be told, I’m partial to teachers. My mother was a teacher for a LONG, long time. So was my grandmother and two of my aunts. My cousin is a teacher. Technically, my full title at Westfield is Pastor and Teacher. It’s a vocation close to my heart. So it was important to me not just to pray for the students, but also for the teachers–for their wisdom, insight, patience, confidence, and grace. And so, that’s just what we did.
It was a day filled with grace and joy. Later, I tweeted:*
There are days that this job fills me with such love, joy, and hope for the future that it overflows. Today is one of those days.
— Jonathan Chapman (@revjonchapman) August 25, 2013*
Indeed, it was.
*The above tweet was meant to read “There are days this job fills me with such love, joy, and hope for the future that it overflows. Today is one of those days.” Darn tiny keyboards on mobile devices!