The beginning of a new school year is just around the corner and with it comes some big feelings for students, families, and educators. Churches can provide a grounded community of support in the midst of transition. As the back to school rush approaches, consider inviting families to view this time as an opportunity to grow in faith. Below are 5 of my favorite resources – including music, podcasts, and prayers – to invite God into the center of any back to school routine.
Back to School Blessings & Prayers | Building Faith
Printable resource with suggestions for scripture, creating a sacred space, and prayers for students, parents, and educators.
Back to School Online Devotional | d365
An online daily devotional that follows a five-step format – Pause, Listen, Think, Pray, Go. From August to September, d365 features a series called, “Back to School.” It provides encouragement and wisdom from scripture for significant times of transition.
Backpack Tags | Illustrated Ministry
These vibrant tags convey a message of care, support, and love that can be shared with children returning to school or adults returning to the office. There are multiple design options in both Spanish and English.
EYE23 Spotify Playlist | The Episcopal Church’s Department of Faith Formation
This playlist features music from the Episcopal Youth Event held in College Park, Maryland this summer. Listen to the music that boosted the spirits of 600+ high school students and feel your own spirit soar. This playlist is the perfect accompaniment for the commute to/from school.
Liturgies for Parents Podcast | Kayla Craig
For exhausted parents, prayer often feels out of reach. In episodes that are 20-minutes (or less), Liturgies for Parents offers a nuanced and nurturing moment of reprieve, inviting all who are raising kids to breathe and remember that God is with you. This is a gem for parents navigating back to school chaos.
May these resources be a gift during transition and may God bless this new school year.
The Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell
Missioner for Faith Formation and Development
We are a chosen generation, called forth to show God’s excellence. All I require for life, God has given me and I know who I am. These are the opening lines of the worship song, “I know who I am,” by Sinach. It was one of the songs belted out collectively by hundreds of high school youth at last month’s Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) held at the University of Maryland at College Park July 4-8. The vibrant energy pulsating throughout the gathering was palpable as these words reverberated through the crowd. The lyrics expressed a deep truth for these young people – they know who they are and whose they are. They are beloved children of God. Their lives matter. They are good. They are loved.
This is a message that many participants longed to be reminded of. After navigating a pandemic that severed connective ties and made them feel isolated, many youth deeply desired to reconnect with peers and hear again the message that they matter to others, to God and to their church. EYE provided that opportunity to youth participants and their chaperones. The 5-day event featured uplifting worship, engaging plenary sessions, provincial meetups, an array of workshops and time for fellowship and fun.
Approximately 600 youth and 200 chaperones attended EYE, representing 108 dioceses, spanning 22 nations and territories. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington was represented by a delegation of 5 participants, several volunteers, our diocesan Creation Care Team, who had a booth in the exposition hall, and two EYE planning team members – Caleb Nelson Amaker, Director of Youth and Family Ministries at St. Mark’s Capitol Hill, and the Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell, diocesan Missioner for Faith Formation and Development. Liturgical items from several EDOW parishes, including chasubles, stoles, chalices, patens, albs, and processional crosses, were utilized at the worship services. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery welcomed participants to the Diocese of Washington on behalf of Bishop Mariann Budde, who was on sabbatical during the event.
The EYE23 theme was Regresso a Casa: A New Age of Faith. My experience at EYE reminded me that this new age of faith is one where all people truly matter, are welcomed, and cherished. It was reaffirmed for me that in The Episcopal Church, we value rising generations, not because they are the church of the future, but because they have gifts and inspiration to offer the church and the world today.
At a local level, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington also believes this to be true. And to that end, we are working to re-envision youth ministry in the diocese. Over the 2023-2024 program year, a newly formed Youth Ministry Visioning Committee will work to create a vision, mission, and strategic plan for youth ministry in our diocese. More information will be forthcoming. If you’d like to learn more about youth ministry in the diocese, be part of the visioning process, or learn more about EYE or youth ministry at the national level, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
ICYMI: check out this highlight reel from the event!
There are over 35 colleges and universities in the geographic bounds of the Diocese of Washington. Each of these institutions are centers of learning where students, faculty, and staff seek purpose and belonging. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington wants to meet our university neighbors, provide a loving embrace, and cultivate community in which faith can be explored and nourished.
Traditionally, this sort of community was tended by an individual chaplain who was employed by the diocese or a congregation to minister to students on campuses. This model of Episcopal chaplaincy is no longer in place at most universities within the diocese. Parishes and worshiping communities geographically close to college campuses have sought to fill the gap and minister to their university neighbors. The diocese has also sought to form creative partnerships with ecumenical partners like our neighbors at the Lutheran Humble Walk ministry at the University of Maryland, in order to support Episcopal students. These types of ministry present both blessings and unique challenges.
Given the challenges and great potential for meaningful ministry that colleges and universities possess, we are eager to discern how we might best spiritually support our university neighbors. To this end, we are excited to announce our partnership with The Vinery to reimagine how we do campus ministry. The Vinery’s mission is to awaken Faith and Flourishing at the intersection of Church and University through deep listening and purposeful design. Their vision is to be an incubator for thriving congregations who are ministering faithfully and effectively with young adults and members of nearby universities and supporting vibrant local communities. Working with The Vinery, we hope to refocus our efforts on campus ministry and discern a life-giving way forward to serve our university neighbors.
The first step in our partnership with The Vinery is to complete a survey to provide our new partners with information about our collective experience of campus ministry in the diocese. This brief survey has been shared with key leaders in the diocese to gather their feedback. Additionally, we welcome all people to complete the survey.
Help us, and our Vinery partners, have a better understanding of your experience of, and hope for, campus ministry throughout the diocese. Complete the survey by July 21.
The second step in our partnership with The Vinery is for diocesan and parish leaders to meet for an all-day, in-person, Vinery facilitated workshop in early September at the University of Maryland. This workshop will prompt us to ask ourselves how we can cultivate relationships with our university neighbors and enable greater mutual thriving. If you are passionate or curious about campus ministry and believe you (and/or your community) have gifts to offer this discussion, complete this form and inform us of your interest. We’ll see what energy the workshop generates and discern next steps.
We believe that God calls us to awaken Christian faith and flourishing. We have a vital role to play in supporting our university neighbors in this way. And they have gifts to offer us. I hope that you will consider joining the conversation as we discern next steps for campus ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
For more information, contact the Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell, Missioner for Faith Formation and Development.
Over the last nine months the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has partnered with Fuller Youth Institute, to assist our congregations in intentionally focusing on rising generations. Six parishes participated in a “Growing Young” cohort, facilitated by Fuller, in order to better meet the needs of young people and accompany them as partners in faith.
The cohort focused on six core commitments, outlined in the book Growing Young, that churches need in order to grow young. These commitments are: key chain leadership, empathy, Jesus’ message, warm relationships, priority everywhere, and being best neighbors.
St. George’s Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale is one of our Growing Young parishes dedicated to strengthening these six core commitments. Mary Frances Bruce, St. George’s team leader, shares this about St. George’s journey to grow young:
Being part of the Growing Young cohort helped us to identify our needs. We held listening sessions, one parish-wide and one for our teens facilitated by a college student, which provided a great opportunity for honest discussion. We distributed the Growing Young Survey to the whole parish and had a good response. We learned that most adults of all ages in the parish cherish our young people and want closer connections. We also learned from our teens, while they felt supported, we needed to do more to help them feel seen and heard.
To that end, we developed goals. We plan to improve our communications and messaging. We want to leverage new ways of using tech tools, especially to keep in touch with our younger members. We hope to build upon the intergenerational relationships in the parish to create an intentional mentoring program that connects all ages in support of one another. We want to develop a way to bring young voices into leadership roles.
Our listening sessions told us we should consider quick changes too. Just taking time to really talk to our young people can make a difference, so we are encouraging those chats. We are creating “table talk” cards for coffee hour with topics generated by our children and teens. We’ll send “care packages” to young adults for exam weeks or other life events. Volunteers will make sure we send notes for special events or just to say hello. We’re planning parish game nights and other intergenerational social events. We’ll keep our traditional youth events and build upon them as we go forward.
Our main take-away from the Growing Young program is that we can make a difference if we commit to keeping our young members in the foreground of our parish life. We are excited about the possibilities as we move forward with a Growing Young mentality. The value, we found, was not just in the information and guidance we received through the cohort, but in the chance to really focus on our young parish members with the time and energy to be creative in imagining for our future together.
This Growing Young mentality is also flourishing among the other parishes in our Growing Young cohort. Growing Young teams are dedicated to living out the six core commitments in their congregations with the intention of building up rising generations. This mentality is something we hope to strengthen throughout our diocese, beyond the parishes in the official cohort.
For more information about Growing Young or how to support rising generations, contact the Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell, Missioner for Faith Formation and Development.
May I speak to you in the name of God, Creator, Liberator, and Spirit. Amen. Please be seated.
How many people do you think fit in this main section of the Cathedral? 500? 600? Think again, it’s more like 8 or 900. Add the transepts and we’re at well over 1,000 people. That’s a lot of people. Now imagine all of those people are teenagers. Imagine what 1,000+ teens sound like – voices raised in song or laughter. Imagine the energy vibrating around you. We’re going to experience that this summer when the Episcopal Youth Event, or as it’s more commonly called, EYE comes to the Diocese of Washington! EYE is a gathering of over 1,000 high school aged Episcopalians that happens every three years. The event location rotates. This summer, the event will take place here at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Over the past nine months, I’ve been part of the EYE planning team. We have met regularly, both in-person and online, to prepare for those 1,000+ teens. At the conclusion of each of our in-person meetings, we worship together and share Holy Communion.
At our last meeting, the priest leading the worship service did something a little different. When it came time for Communion, rather than recite one of the Euchairstic prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, she did something a little more freeform and participatory. She reminded us that when he shared the Last Supper with his friends, Jesus asked them to remember him whenever they ate or drank together. Then, during the Communion prayer, the priest asked us what it was that we remembered and loved about Jesus.
There was silence for a little bit, but slowly and steadily, folks shared. “He cared about outcasts,” someone called out. “He was merciful,” another person said. “He listened,” another shared. He healed the sick. He forgave. At that point, the floodgates opened and people freely shared their remembrances of Jesus. “He showed us how to live. He taught us about God. He cried at the grave of his friend. People were devoted to him. He loved deeply.
That’s just some of what was shared in that circle. It was one of the most powerful Eucharistic experiences I’ve ever had because it recalled who Jesus was, and is, in a palpable way that made him feel somehow more present with us in that moment. So in the spirit of remembering Jesus and feeling his presence, as you take this next step in your faith journey today, I want to ask you, what do you remember about Jesus? What is something that you hold dear about him?
Perhaps another way to ask this question is, what is one of your favorite stories about Jesus? One of my favorite Jesus stories is the Gospel text we just heard proclaimed about Jesus and his encounter with a Canaanite woman. It’s one of my favorites because it depicts Jesus changing his mind. Just like us, he learns and grows and changes in his understanding of God’s call.
The text presents us with an image of Jesus traveling the countryside, as he so often did. Then suddenly, a Canaanite woman interrupts his progress and begs him to cast a demon out of her daughter. The fact that this woman is from Canaan alerts us that she is a Gentile. A Gentile woman asking something of a Jewish male teacher would have been uncommon in Jesus’ society. And Jesus’ response is less than charitable. He ignores her. He stays silent to her cries. The disciples want her gone and Jesus obliges. He dismisses the Canaanite woman and insults her, calling her a dog. Now when you hear “dog” in this context, don’t think of our modern dogs like bichons or labradoodles named Fluffy. In Jesus’ context, dogs weren’t house pets. They were dirty, street scavengers, hunting for scraps. For Jesus to dismiss this woman and call her a dog, well, it doesn’t seem very Jesus-like.
However, we ought not be surprised at ethnic tension in a text from early Christianity. We also should not be surprised to see problematic gender dynamics emerging from an ancient patriarchal culture. Yet, even given these tensions, Jesus’ response feels askew. He essentially refuses to heal this woman’s daughter because she is not Jewish. Some biblical scholars argue this is because at this point in the gospel, Jesus understood his mission as a ministry only to the Jews to the exclusion of non-Jewish people, hence Jesus’ insulting behavior.
The woman however turns Jesus’ insult into a teaching moment for him. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This logic resonated with Jesus. “Great is your faith,” Jesus tells her and he heals her daughter.
This encounter in the gospel is a turning point for Jesus. Before meeting the Canaanite woman, it is fair to say that Jesus understood his ministry to be limited to his fellow Jews. After this encounter, Jesus’ understanding of God’s mission expanded to include all people. In Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, we see him move from insulting to embracing, from refusing to consenting, and from withholding to healing.
This episode reveals that even our Lord could learn, change and grow. That is something that I love and remember about him. The God who ordered the cosmos was also capable of change. I love that. It gives me great hope because it allows me permission to also change and grow in my understanding of God, in fact it even encourages it. I love that about Jesus.
What do you love about Jesus? What stories do you treasure and why? What do you remember about him? At the Last Supper Jesus asked his followers to remember him. We do that in a very ritualistic way every time we come together for Communion. And it is important to do so. Because the act of remembering is more than just recalling a fact or distant memory. In Hebrew the word “remember” means to bring to mind, or (and I love this phrase) to hold in the spotlight of your attention. To remember means to hold in the spotlight of your attention.
Jesus didn’t ask his followers to remember him simply out of some sense of nostalgia. He didn’t ask them, or us, to remember him for funsies. He asks us to remember him, so that in remembering – in holding him in the spotlight of our attention – we find strength in and through him to live our lives in a similar way to how he lived his. Those things which we remember about Jesus – his love, compassion, his ability to grow, to show mercy and promote healing, to proclaim the Good News – these are all things that WE strive to live out today in our lives as his followers. It is the work that God calls us to. It is the work that you are signing onto and committing to anew today. And it is work that Jesus will equip you and empower you to do.
In just a few minutes, you will come up here. You will stand before your bishops, your family and friends, and before God, you will claim and affirm your faith. When you do that, I invite you to do it, holding Jesus in the spotlight of your attention. Those things that you remember about him – those things that you love – may he instill them in you, and grow them in you, so that you may be more like him. Growing into the fullness of his grace this day and always. Amen.
The Rev. Amanda A. Akes-Cardwell, Missioner for Faith Formation of Development
Sermon delivered at the Diocesan Service of Confirmation at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Watch a recording of the service (sermon begins at 30:05 in the video)