LET’S DO SOME PLANNING…Faith Formation that aligns HEAD, HEART & HANDS

Head, Heart, and Hands – blog from Vibrant Faith @ Home

A Country CandidThe Faith Formation team at the Catholic Community of St. Peter in Charlotte, NC understands the importance and power of alignment. They’re working on a faith formation plan that will align head, heart, and hands.

Each month throughout the year, they will conduct a whole-community intergenerational learning program focused on some aspect of the Bible. Their “head” goal for the year is to enhance every member’s biblical literacy and help them see the relevance of God’s Living Word in their lives.

Following each intergenerational session, all parishioners will be expected to do an activity from Vibrant Faith @ Home, carefully selected to pertain to the topic of the month. Their “heart” goal for the year (and beyond) is to empower people to share about their faith at home.

Also, each month members will be encouraged to participate in a designated service/immersion activity. Their “hands” goal for the year is to get all members to recognize that learning about the Bible (head) and sharing faith at home (heart) should automatically lead to works of mercy and acts of justice for the sake of others (hands).

Here’s an example from their plan:

(Head) – Intergenerational Session on Introduction to Lectionary Year B
(Heart) – Vibrant Faith @ Home activity Sowing Seed
(Hands) – Refugee Event Serving with Catholic Charities
(Heart) – Vibrant Faith @ Home activity Welcoming the Stranger

That’s alignment.

As you plan your faith formation programming for next year, think about how you can align head, heart, and hands.  Access the many faith formation activities at www.vibrantfaithathome.org/ .

Leif Kehrwald,Leif Kehrwald


BACK TO SCHOOL! Backpack Blessing, Liturgies & New School Year Family Resolutions

Back To School! – by Carolyn Brown

These ideas were found on Carolyn Brown’s blog – Worshipping With Children

The return to school, starting a new grade with new teachers and students, even new schools is huge for children and their families. It sometimes feels more like the beginning of the new year than does January 1. When the church includes this in the congregation’s worship two important things happen among children.

  1. They realize that they and their lives are important to the church. They see themselves as significant members of the congregation.
  2. They hear that God 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.

There are many ways to raise the beginning of the new school year. It can be a simple as including it in the church’s prayers or as elaborate as a back to school festival.   This post offers some background on children’s concerns as school begins again and a collection of ways to raise those concerns in worship. Where specific August lectionary texts have a back to school connection, I will note it and offer ways to raise it in worship in the post for that day.


VOCABULARY HEADS UP     Vocabulary is important. Most elementary aged children think of themselves as “children” more than “students.” Since my focus is on including these children in worship, I will use “children” in my suggestions. Teenagers are not likely to respond well to this. So, if you want to include them in this day, use the “student” in both publicity and liturgy. Consider taking time early in the service to talk about what a student is and does to make sure the youngest know that they are students too.


Questions Children are Obsessing Over the Week Before School

Will I like my teacher/s?

Will my teacher/s like me?

Will I like the other kids in my class?

Will my friends be in my class?

Will kids who were a pain last year be in my class again?

L the kid who was constantly picking on you and making fun of you?

L the kid who always out-spelled you, counted further, and made a higher grade?

L the kid you just did not like and hated to be around

Will I be able to do the work? Will this be the year I flunk?

Will it be fun?

Ideas to Explore with Children on the Sunday before School Starts

#God will be with you every day at school.  No matter how good or bad things are going, God will be there.  You can count on God’s presence.

To explore this idea, include a litany with children.  This one was written by Rev. Karin Fowler  and modified by Rev. Larry Farris

Leader: When it’s the night before going to school, and I’m picking out my clothes and making sure I have all my school supplies…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m waking up and eating a healthy breakfast to start the day…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m getting on the school bus or being driven to school…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I meet my teachers and new friends in my class…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m playing with my friends at recess…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m finding the right school bus to ride home…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m telling my family about my day at school…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: When I’m praying at night and thanking God for my family, my friends and my school…

Children: Jesus is with me.

Leader: Let’s pray together:

All: Thank you, Jesus, for always being by my side. I know that if I get nervous or afraid, you will be there with me. When I see the cross on my backpack, I will remember that you are always with me. I know that I can talk with you any time – day or night – and for that I am so thankful. I pray this all in your name. Amen.

Give each child a small symbol to remind them of God’s presence with them at school. It may be a pencil printed with a message, a plastic symbol to clip or tie to their backpack or a sticker to put on or on the inside flap of their backpack. Do check to be sure such things are allowed. Some schools have banned clip ons because the chains of them children were adding to packs created very real safety hazards. And, some school systems will not allow religious symbols displayed openly. In either case provide something that can be put inside the bag (maybe under the flap) where the student will see it.

:God loves you always. Other students may cut you out. A teacher may not like you. But, God loves you no matter what.

% God loves you whether you get As or Fs. Some children go back to school excited about new things and expecting to do well. (Think Hermoine in Harry Potter). Other children dread the return to the classroom where they have not done well. (More like Ron Weasly in Harry Potter.) Even the academic super-achievers need to be told often that they are not valued for their success. God will love them even if, horror of horrors, they get a C. Those at the bottom of the class need to be assured that God loves them as much as the super-achievers. This theme needs to be revisited big time when report cards come out throughout the year.

@ Going to school is your vocation. At school children learn about God’s world and practice skills they will need as they live and work in God’s world. The challenge in school is to identify your gifts and talents and to become the person God created you to be. This is an important vocation.


Display two posters each bearing a large printed word – VACATION and VOCATION. Note the one letter difference in the words. Talk briefly about the summer’s VACATION activities and the joy of not having to perform. Then note that with the return of school, we all take up our VOCATIONS. Define VOCATION, name a few in your congregation, and identify going to school as student’s vocation.   Note that there is as much joy in VOCATION as in VACATION.

I Children are Jesus’ hands and feet at school. They are there on the bus, on the playground, in the cafeteria, and in small work groups in their class. Neither the preacher, their parents, nor anybody else at church can be there. So Jesus is depending on them to stand up for justice and to watch for people who need loving care.

If you explore this in worship, give students a hand or foot ornament or symbol marked with a cross to put on their backpack.

The Blessing of the Backpacks

Blessing the Backpacks is one way to celebrate the return to school. Weeks in advance invite students to bring their backpacks with them the Sunday before school starts. During the service, ask them to come forward with their backpacks. After a few words about going back to school, bless the students and the packs. It is most effective to bless each child and pack one at the time. Put one hand on the student’s head or shoulder and the other on the pack and say a blessing such as:

God, bless this bag and the child who will use it. Be with him/her as he/she learns and grows this year. Show him/her how to serve you and help him/her to teach us all about your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

In large congregations in which it would be unwieldy to bless the students individually during the service, the blessings can be done before and/or after the service. A minister meets, speaks briefly with each child about the coming year and blesses him or her. I heard of one congregation that sponsors a Back to School Festival with face painting, inflatable jump houses, treats, and a booth at which the blessings occur.

Some congregations expand this blessing by inviting worshipers of all ages to bring the briefcases, totes, even diaper bags they take with them as they leave home each day for work/activities. The negative side of this is that it horns in on the kid’s back to school celebration. The positive side is that kids with their backpacks connect themselves and their school work with worshipers of all ages and their work. It emphasizes the vocational nature of their schoolwork.

A Responsive Back to School Prayer

The following responsive ”Back to School” prayer was written by Rev. Larry Farris for use at Ann Arbor Presbyterian Church.  I would replace “school administrators” with the more specific “principals, secretaries, and school board members” and add a prayer for custodians, cafeteria workers, and maybe librarians.  And, you will of course have to adapt the prayer for church programs for children to fit your congregation.

Leader: O Holy God, the time is come when school begins. As these your children begin their studies, we ask a blessing on their backpacks in which they carry the books and note books, markers and pens and pencils they will use to learn. O Lord of Life and Love,

People: Hear our prayer.

Leader: Bless, O God, all who will teach our children in the coming days and weeks and months. Give them the wisdom to find inspiration for each child. Give them the energy and creativity and love that will make their work a blessing to our children. O Lord of Life and Love,

People: Hear our prayer.

Leader: Bless, O God, all school administrators that they may be faithful stewards of the resources entrusted to their care. Make them fair and merciful, able to do their crucial work with a spirit of grace and compassion. O Lord of Life and Love,

People: Hear our prayer.

Leader: Bless, O God, each one gathered here that we will seek every opportunity to grow in our knowledge and love of you – in our church school classes, our 2:42 program, all our classes for youth and students and adult learners. Grant that we may see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly. O Lord of Life and Love,

People: Hear our prayer.

Leader: And bless, O God, these our cherished children, those whom we have promised to love and nurture at their baptism. Keep them safe, keep them excited, keep them ever seeking to learn more and to develop their gifts. Grant that through their study, they may gain the tools to grow in love and faith and service, all their days. O Lord of Life and Love,

People: Hear our prayer.

Leader: Bless, O God, these backpacks and the children who carry them. O Lord of Life and Love,

People: Hear our prayer. Amen.

%   “Earth and Stars” is a great hymn for this day.  It is filled with concrete language and short words that older children can read.  Even the youngest can join in on the chorus.  To encourage children to sing…

–          Read verses 3 and 4 making the obvious school connections before singing

–          If you are emphasizing the vocations of all worshipers, point to the images in verse 2.  Even suggest phrases for other professions – computers and desks, etc.

–          Practice singing the chorus once so the youngest readers can join in on that even if they miss some of the verses

“Sing to the Lord a new song! God has done marvelous things.

We will sing praises with a new song!”

% Invite members of the congregation to help all the town’s children get ready to return to school by filling backpacks with school supplies for children who will need them.  The Boys and Girls Club, a shelter for homeless families, or some other organization can probably provide a list of what is needed for each bag.  Some families will want to pack a bag on their own as they fill packs for their own children.  Others will want to bring one or two items.  A school office can probably direct you to the organization behind this effort in your area.

!Because many families are settling into more structured schedules as school starts, it is a good time to encourage them to make one “new year’s resolution” for the new school year as a family.  Suggest the resolution (only one).  Make it clear and simple.  Then, check up on it over the first month.  The goal is to encourage families to undertake one activity that will enrich their spiritual life.  Possible resolutions:

  • Bedtime prayers.  A parent may tuck in each child, taking time to review the day and say thank you to God for what was good and ask God  for help where needed.  In some families all the children and parents may be able to gather for this.
  • Attend church school regularly.  Many families start off with intentions of doing this as school resumes, but soon fall off the bandwagon.  When this discipline is named and worship leaders gently check in with the whole congregation about sticking with it, families are more likely to keep coming.

Do You Commission Your Teachers/Volunteers in a Worship Service?

Commissioning Teachers

Have you scheduled a Sunday in which you will recognize all those volunteers who minister with children, youth, and adults? Whether you call them “teacher” or not, they will be the front line for mentoring and passing along the faith to young and old alike. Download this Commissioning of Church School Teachers, or adapt it for your own use. 


If you are looking for teacher training resources, check out these items:

1)Opening Doors to Discipleship – www.openingdoorstodiscipleship.com – This free web-based program features 4 courses: A) Teaching Skills; B) Bible Background; C) Presbyterian/Reformed Faith; D) Discipleship.  The courses can be done by individuals or in a group setting.  Contact me for the PCUSA login code.  kayebledsoe@presbycc.org  

1)    Equipping the Saints by Sara Covin Juengst – This book provides a nine-month teacher-training course that covers biblical background, basic Christian beliefs, and good teaching techniques.  Outstanding Resource! This book is available for borrowing in Presbytery’s Resource Center.



What Presbyterians Believe  – located on the PCUSA web site.                

Do you need one or two adult lessons to fill-in between studies or seasons of the church year or need additional information for a new member or confirmation class? Take a look at the articles on What Presbyterians Believe.

This ongoing series of articles on “What Presbyterians Believe” explores the Biblical and theological foundations of our faith.

The authors have given permission for these articles to be reproduced. We hope this series will be useful for adult church school classes and discussion groups, new member classes and individual enrichment.

What do Presbyterians believe about … ?

Reflecting on High School Service Trips

The article below by Matt Laidlaw reinforces the importance of the debriefing and discussion pieces of a service/mission trip. You can find this article and others at http://www.fulleryouthinstitute.org .

High School Service Trips, Part 3: Reflecting on the Experience

By Matt Laidlaw

After a year of planning, last summer a group of students and adult volunteers participated in our new service trip to Detroit, Michigan. Our students demonstrated an extraordinary amount of respect, compassion, and love during this experience. They worked hard, didn’t complain, and reinforced our belief that high school students are capable of much more than most adults usually assume and expect.

At several points throughout each day, and during an extended time of debriefing each evening, students and volunteers reflected on what they were experiencing. They shared how they were being challenged to rethink some of their assumptions about life and faith. Several students shared the following reflections:
• A storm destroyed Mississippi, but people destroyed Detroit.
• We are the story of the “Good Samaritan,” but most of the time we’re the religious people who didn’t help the suffering person.
• The love of Jesus is a beautiful, unique thing.
• The historical connection and conflict between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is anything but simple.
• It’s not okay to take your experience with a small number of people and project that experience onto their entire religion or culture.
• I didn’t feel “welcome” where we were working today, but then again, if a bunch of people who looked different than me showed up in my neighborhood uninvited, I might not want to welcome them either.
• We didn’t accomplish much this week. The problems here are bigger than a few people giving money or time. The system is messed up. That’s what needs to be fixed.
In response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” students shared:
• People we don’t understand
• People with different beliefs
• Immigrants
• Enemies
• Refugees
• Those we would last want to accept as our neighbor
• Anyone who needs me to be a neighbor
• People being silently persecuted by their own religion
• Everyone
We have continued to process this experience together as a team over the past year, and we suspect that further learning, discovery, and opportunities to serve will continue to flow from this trip in the lives of our students and volunteers.
Our year of planning, building consensus, and inviting collaboration and support from our community all contributed to the success of this trip. However, not everything went completely as planned. We learned plenty of lessons that we only could have learned by executing our first trip. There are certain aspects of the trip we could have better prepared our volunteers for as they led our students. Although well intentioned, several situations with our partners created awkward interactions for our students and the individuals we were attempting to learn from and serve.
And when construction begins on transportation routes you were planning on utilizing, or when restaurants you were planning on visiting close without warning, you realize that having a “Plan B” for every situation is necessary on a trip that you are designing from scratch.
We’re also working to assess what the future of an experience like this might be for our community. The consensus among the group involved in this trip was that the trip is definitely worth replicating. We want to strengthen and deepen the relationships we started. However, how often we should offer this trip and to how many students are questions we’re still exploring. We’re also working to discover ways to make the trip more cost effective, making adjustments to the trip itinerary, and exploring other potential partners to work with in the Detroit area.
Questions for your own context:
• What stories or reflections have you gathered from your students during previous service or mission trips? What do they tell you about the trip experience? In what ways were they surprising?
• What opportunities for storytelling or reflection do you offer your students and your community during or following your service experience?
• How do you evaluate service and mission trips once you return home? What factors do you consider when attempting to look at the past and plan for the future?
• Have you ever been on a trip with your students and had to improvise? What did you learn from the experience and how could you be better prepared with a “Plan B” on future trips?
• What kind of formal preparation and post-trip processing do you plan for your students and volunteers who participate on the trip? How has this been helpful, and in what ways do you need to improve?