A Prayer at the Beginning of a Strange and Difficult New School Year

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God of the Ages, who cares deeply about what transpires in both the sanctuary and the classroom; at both the dinner table and the school cafeteria; in both the comforts of home and the hallways of our educational institutions; through both in-person and virtual learning:

We cry out to you on behalf of students in these pandemic-laden days. Some of these students are very young, heading off for their first day of kindergarten. Some are a bit older, enrolled in elementary school or middle school or high school. Others are headed off to college, or perhaps into a new season of graduate study. Others are entering the workforce in order to begin a journey of lifelong learning. All of them are attempting to navigate the rhythms and demands of both in-person and online education, all the while cultivating a patience and a discipline that the realities of COVID-19 require.

Open the minds of the students, that they might be available to their teachers and receptive to meaningful learning, by whatever methodology it takes place. Open their hearts, that they might be compassionately attentive to the other people whose lives intersect with theirs in the journey of their education. Even now, O God, the faces of many different students are appearing in our prayerful reflection. Grant that, as the students learn about mathematics and science and literature and history and language and a host of other subjects, they might also learn a deeper reverence for the One in whom all knowledge is ultimately to be found.

We cry out to you on behalf of teachers, all of whom are working creatively and diligently to create environments that are safe for the students and conducive to their learning.  Strengthen them in their labor. Energize them in their task. Guard them against any cynicism that would make a classroom into a cold and unpleasant place. Deepen their love, not only for their subject matter, but also for the ones they teach. By the power of your Holy Spirit, equip these teachers to be the instruments of compassionate tutelage that you are calling them to be, so that their commitment to their students might find full expression, both in physical classrooms and virtual ones. Bless them with your comfort and encouragement as they balance their concerns for their own safety with their devotion to their students, online and in-person.

We cry out to you on behalf of school administrators and staff. College presidents, deans, financial officers, planners, and registrars. Superintendents, principals, vice-principals, and guidance counselors. Nurses, school psychologists, and behavioral counselors. Administrative assistants, receptionists, custodial staff, security officers, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers. These are the souls whose sacred responsibility it is to generate a safe and nurturing environment in which holistic learning might take place. Enable them to enter this season with courage and vision, since none of them have experience in doing their work during a pandemic. Bless them with an ever-deepening awareness of their purpose, and grant to them the strength to fulfill it.

We cry out to you on behalf of families, many of which are struggling in painful ways during this season of transition. Some parents are finding it particularly difficult to let their children go as they head off to school in this often-frightening world. Some children and youth are burdened by a sense of insecurity as they enter into a new season of life and learning. Other families are dealing with the heavy emotional weight of having to rearrange schedules and routines in order to accommodate their child’s (or their children’s) online learning. Weave the different threads of these family circumstances into the rich and vibrant tapestry of your grace, so that the members of these families might be drawn closer to one another and closer to you.

Build a protective fortress, O God, around our schools and our institutions of higher learning and both the physical and virtual classrooms that they offer. Guard them against violence, hatred, bullying, and hurtful manipulation. Make every classroom and office into a sanctuary for your presence, so that, through our system of education, many will be led to recognize that a reverence for you is the beginning of all wisdom. We pray this prayer out of a variety of faith traditions. Personally, I pray it in the name of Jesus, whose transforming grace is the curriculum by which his followers live, move, and find their being. Amen.

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