We spent three solid months building community with neighborhood families. We played games in the park every Thursday evening. We blessed bikes and danced to rock and roll. We ran away for a weekend together in the woods. We spent another weekend working on five homes in our area that needed repairs/painting. Then, we spent a week playing and eating nightly dinner together in our public park.
Now, all these young students and families were preparing for the beginning of a new school year. Since only a few households in this wide neighborhood network are part of our worship life, it just didn’t make sense to do a backpack blessing. We did that last year, and it was pretty lame because it meant we missed out on all those people who do not worship with us. And we knew that asking them to come to worship would mean comprising what we just spent a summer building (relationships without strings attached).
Finally, we hit on an idea that met this community where it lives: a back to school formal, blessing and dance. Out went a flurry of texts to parents “Want to take part in a back to school dinner where we all dress up and serve the kids a meal? Then we will do a blessing for the new school year and end with a dance?” and they immediately responded with zealous, “Yes! Fun!”
The family with the biggest yard volunteered to host. A menu was planned. Parents quickly lobbied for the coolest jobs: bartender (Shirley Temples), DJ, servers and then the rest of us filled in as servers, cooks, set up and clean up. One person printed up invites and walked them around to each house. Another dad volunteered to teach the Moonwalk.
The kids arrived (wearing lipstick, ties, skirts…one young man had a squash blossom tucked into his vest—plucked from his mom’s garden) to find a banquet table set with mismatched Goodwill dishes and table clothes, fresh flowers in jars, name cards and ridiculously excited adults. Everyone milled about with pink fizzy drinks, one mom wandered around with trays of pigs in a blanket. A big pack of our youngest kids wrestled over in the corner of the yard. Finally, we had everyone find their seat and we sang grace. The meal was served. At the end of the meal, we had all the adults surround the table. We had the kids turn and face the adults behind them and everyone answered two questions: What are you most excited about the beginning of school? What are you most nervous about? Then we said prayers of thanks for teachers and our schools—we prayed for bullies and those who are bullied–and asked Jesus to help us with our nervousness. Then we danced.
The following Sunday, we prayed those same prayers in worship—tying both events together.
As we were preparing for the event, one adult said, “We have to do this every year. This is the first annual back to school formal, blessing and dance.” That night, we were church together—asking for God’s presence as we navigate another wildly scary transition with our kids and giving thanks for the village of adults standing around those Goodwill banquet tables.