The “Backpack Blessing” at First Baptist Church, Bethalto, started as a way to bless students and families headed back to school. It turned into a prayer service dedicated to sending kids, teachers, and administrators into the new school year on a high note.
Before the Aug. 5 morning worship service, students brought in their backpacks, which were filled with school supplies and parenting resources provided by the church. Most important, though, was the prayer time, said FBC Bethalto associate pastor Tim Drury. During the service, families gathered in small groups across the worship as church members prayed over them.
“I believe the real blessing was the directed prayer time for all the individuals in our church,” Drury said, “and watching the generations pray for each other.”
Across Illinois, churches used August to reach into their communities with ministries tailored to families with school-aged children. In Chicago, Another Chance Church held their annual back-to-school party Aug. 10, with free services for kids and families, food, and a bounce house provided by the Chicago Metro Baptist Association.
The party was the culmination of the church’s six-week summer camp for kids. “We try to do the best we can to share Christ while keeping them safe for five hours a day,” said Pastor Kenyatta Smith. For Another Chance, which recently relocated to a new campus in a different Chicago community, the party and the camp are ways to show their commitment to the neighborhood. The church is working to “keep on letting people know we’re here,” Smith said.
Near the church is a housing community with 2,000 children. At the back-to-school party, Another Chance gave away almost 500 backpacks, and more than 100 kids received free eye exams and haircuts.
At the other end of the state, Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg welcomed families to a back-to-school celebration they’ve hosted for 16 years. People start lining up for the Sunday afternoon event while church is still going on, said coordinator Judy Taylor. Once inside the building, they meet with counselors who offer to pray for specific requests as their families start the new school year. Then, they’re able to choose from services including haircuts, school supplies, and a massive shoe store set up in the church’s dining room.
The church realized the need for shoes several years ago when teachers told them kids were sitting on the sidelines in gym class because they didn’t have appropriate shoes to play on the gym floor. “We need to fix this,” was Dorrisville’s response, Taylor said.
The church works with a local Payless Shoe Store to purchase the shoes—more than $11,000 worth this year. At the Aug. 12 party, they gave away 513 pairs of gym shoes and a pair of socks with each one.
“We just stand in awe,” Taylor said, of how God orchestrates the back-to-school ministry. In the room where volunteers served a meal of baked spaghetti, bread, salad, and ice cream sundaes, hostess Amy Craig met a young boy who was excited to visit the church’s Mercy Center to pick out gently used clothing. When he said he would choose clothes over the meal, Craig said, “I told him he could have both. He couldn’t eat fast enough to get over to the Mercy Center for clothing!”
Taylor said the annual outreach really changes the volunteers as much or more than the people receiving clothes or haircuts or shoes.
“We think we’re serving people, and we are, but we’re more like Jesus at the end of this year than we are at the beginning.”