“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Evening Prayer. Augsburg Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2006, 317.)

This prayer or blessing is one of my favorites. I use it for weddings, sendings, installations; and to close worship services that are occurring during times of congregational difficulty.

This prayer or blessing has come to mind a great deal lately. Even though it’s been several years since I have been in school myself (and I do not have a school-aged child yet, either), there is always a sense of newness and excitement for me around the start of the school year. It’s fun to see families get ready for the year by buying supplies, taking photos, and going on that final end of summer trip. At church, there is always excitement as we start a new year of Sunday School and Confirmation. I put together the plans and schedules with anticipation for the time together and the new students that will join us.

This year, of course, has felt different for many of us. Parents are inundated with difficult decisions about how to send their children back to school. They are having to arrange child care that normally would not be needed. Beyond school, they are trying to figure out what the return to school means for visiting grandparents and spending time with additional family members and friends. Teachers are discerning how to create COVID-safe classrooms and balance in person and online teaching. They are trying to tend to the needs of their students and also be mindful of their own safety and the safety of their family members. Churches are trying to figure out what these school realities mean and trying to make plans with parents, knowing full well that parents have many other things on their minds.

As we all find ourselves struggling during this uncertain time, may the words of the blessing above be a reminder that God is going to carry us through this.

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May each one of us listen to God speaking in our lives, guiding us to follow God and showing us how to love our neighbor in the best ways possible. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 notes, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” I think this this the verse we need to dwell on right now. That is, many of us are finding ourselves caught up in battles about what we should believe, what we shouldn’t, what the right thing is to do, etc. The truth is, though, school starting plans are underway. Teachers and parents are scrambling to get things done. It’s time we all stopped complaining and blaming. Every family is different and doing their best to make the decision that is possible and most ideal for their reality. Instead of criticizing and judging, each one of us should ask, “How can I be supportive of a parent, teacher or school staff member? What can I do to help with this difficult situation? How can I be of service to my community?”

As we ask these questions, I pray and trust that God will give each of us a different answer, guide us, and be with us.

Jeanette McCormick is the pastor at Worthington's First Lutheran Church.