Backpack blessings give Vicksburg children spiritual support

Published 4:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2021

A special back-to-school tradition at several area churches helps send local children back to the classroom with spiritual inspiration and guidance.

When the school year begins, or at some time just after school is in session, students, teachers and school administrators receive a special prayer during a blessing of the backpacks at church services to help send them back to school.

Two local churches, St. Paul Catholic Church and Crawford Street United Methodist Church, hold their blessing service Sunday. A third, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Bovina, had its blessing on Aug. 1.

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“Every year, anyone returning to school — children, teachers, volunteers, school staff, come to have their backpacks blessed,” said the Rev. Elisabeth Malphurs, the priest in charge at St. Alban’s. She said the service is also a chance to collect school supplies for Bovina Elementary School.

This year, she said, seven children, one teacher, a college student headed off to study abroad in Korea and a school volunteer received the blessing.

“We’ve done this the past three Augusts. Last year, we had to do it as a drive-thru blessing,” Malphurs said. “It’s been going on for quite a while, the blessing of the students and collecting school supplies and making sure we’re reaching out to help Bovina Elementary. We also provide backpacks and school supplies for the kids at Lifting Lives (Ministry), so it’s kind of a joint outreach and blessing for our kids as well,” she said.

Lifting Lives Ministry is a shelter for homeless families.

Malphurs said the congregation asks the administration at Bovina what the school needs and the congregation’s members collect the items.

“This year we had them bringing Clorox wipes and tissues and earbuds and dry erase markers. We take those over to Bovina,” she said. “At Lifting Lives, it’s what the families need. This year, they needed school uniforms and backpacks, so that’s what we provided this year.”

Crawford Street pastor the Rev. Kevin Bradley said the church has, “for as long as anyone can remember,” held a blessing of the backpacks.

“Traditionally as the kids start back to school, we invite them to come forward and if they have their backpacks, to bring them with them and kneel at the altar,” he said. “We as a congregation pray over them as they start a new school year and we do the same for all of our teachers and administrators that are present in the congregation as well and invoke God’s blessing on all of those folks as they begin a new school year.

“Certainly, it’s something I have done at any church I have served in the past; it’s just as important as the beginning of the new school year.”

The Rev. Rusty Vincent, the pastor at St. Paul, believes the tradition of blessing the backpacks began with the Rev. Tom Lalor, who preceded him as pastor.

“It’s probably been going on now for a few years,” he said.

Vincent blessed backpacks in 2019, his first year as pastor, for about 30 children who brought their backpacks. He said backpacks were not blessed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prayer for the blessing, he said, is the blessing for school supplies from the Church’s book of blessings.

“The idea behind it is sending the kids to school with God’s blessing and God watching out for them throughout the day,” he said, “And they have this more spiritual connection with their learning at school.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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