I’m certain it’s due to my life stage, but I have been seeing a lot of chalkboard signs on my Facebook feed over the past few weeks. All these pictures show kids of varying ages and sizes — some with toothless grins, others crying because Mommy is making them take these in the first place! — holding said signs that read: “Evan’s 1st Day of 3rd Grade!” or “Collier’s 1st Day of 4-Year Old PreK” or (my personal favorite from a friend beginning her Ph.D. studies) “Mihee’s 1st Day of 21st Grade”

It’s August, you know, where kids and teenagers (and even some adults!) all around the country start school for a new year. With backpacks arranged over their shoulders, filled with fresh pencils and clean spirals and all the hope and excitement and nerves they can muster, a new year begins. New teachers, a diverse group of classmates, challenging tasks and lessons to learn, maturity and understanding that grow with each passing year.

The church may not encourage its members to take photographs with chalkboard signs marking such a beginning (maybe we should!), but we too align many of our rhythms with these of a new school year. Our Children’s Center, as well as our church’s Children and Youth Ministry Teams, are readying for Promotion Sunday and the first day of the new year this weekend, when many will “move up” to a new class. We mark such beginnings this weekend in worship as we “bless the backpacks” of all our students. In the School of Love that is the church, we’ll encourage our pupils to fill their backpacks not only with supplies for their studies, but with kindness for their fellow travelers, courage for asking hard questions, bravery to make good choices, respect for their teachers and guides, and a creative imagination for what they might learn.

Then in a couple of weeks, our Wednesday night fellowship will begin again, with new teachers and curriculum for all ages to find space for meaningful faith formation and discipleship. We are so fortunate that Dr. Chris Copeland, the Director of Leadership Development & Spiritual Life and Assistant Professor of the Practice of Spirituality at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, will be joining us for a five-week course this fall on the Enneagram. We learn together another layer of “neighborly living” using this ancient tool called the Enneagram, which will enable us to know ourselves and our neighbors more fully so that we can love ourselves and our neighbors more honestly! Read more about this wonderful learning opportunity in today’s eBlast. We’ll also soon welcome a new pastoral intern, Kaylee Godfrey, who will serve with us throughout the school year. Kaylee brings a rich spirit of learning and wonderful questions of God and the church to her time with us, and we all will benefit from her year among us!

So on the brink of a new year, might we all ask ourselves: how have I learned and grown in my journey of faith this year? What new lessons have I experienced that deepen my desire to know God more fully? Does my faith look different with each passing year? What will fill my proverbial backpack for another year in the School of Love? And while we reflect, I’ll get the chalkboards ready!

Together in the work of Love,

Pastor Emily

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