Milestones: Back-To-School

Back to school photo


As parents do pirouettes in the aisles of the local Staples singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” we recognize that the last few days of the summer are now upon us and soon the ‘real’ first day of the new year is about to occur. It’s ‘Back to School’ time in Canada, and students, parents and teachers are all getting ready for this event.

In the homes of our church families many annual rituals are now taking place; parents are out shopping with their kids, hunting for outfits that will fit and impress, backpacks are being dug through to establish what needs to be replaced, and what will do, and lunch box worthy foods are being assembled to ensure students are energized for their upcoming days of school. At home, children are beginning to go to bed a little earlier each evening to become acclimatized to the demands of an early morning rush to get everyone out the door on time for school buses and walks to school. Teachers are putting together lesson plans and decorating classrooms to be welcoming and educational.

Some students are looking forward to this brand new school year, while others may be worrying about what this year might bring. Will they like their new teacher(s)? Will their teacher(s) like them? Will they do well, or will the challenge of new learning feel like a constant up uphill battle? Will they get on the school team this year, or will they face disappointment. Will some of their very best friends be in their class(es), or will that person who bugged them every day be sitting in the desk next to them. For most students the first day of school is a complex mix of all of the above.

Where is the church in all of these preparations, celebrations, and anxious anticipation? As a church we are often great at marking significant religious events in people’s lives, but we sometimes forget to also offer rituals for the other significant events or milestones in the lives of our people. Back-to-School is a great opportunity for the church to mark this significant event in the lives of our children and youth and anchor this occasion in the activity of God. Rituals surrounding the special moments of our lives remind us of who we are and what God has done in our lives. As we celebrate this story with our families we place it into God’s story and our children hear that this aspect of their lives is important to God and to us. We remind our children that God goes with them as they return to school and that the church values and cares for them as they enter into this new year. Adults of the church are also reminded to care for the children and youth of the church and to be present in all of the events of their lives.

So what can we do to mark this great milestone. We begin in community worship the first Sunday after Labour Day weekend and acknowledge this event in our corporate prayers, stories, and preaching. Most importantly we must pray with and for our students as they head off to school. We need to give thanks for God’s activity in all of the events of the lives of our students and particularly for God’s care and presence as our children head off to school. Pray for growing wisdom, safe places, anxieties relieved, opportunities to care for others, fun and joy in learning vocation and for the teachers that will guide, teach and mentor our students. A file with a few samples of a few litanies for this Sunday are attached below.

In addition to prayer, many churches are beginning to add a ‘Blessing of the Backpacks’ ritual on this Sunday. Students (and even teachers) are invited to bring their packed backpacks to worship on the first Sunday of the school year and come forward to be blessed along with their backpacks. A children’s message that helps to anchor their activity in school as their vocation and remind them that God is present with them in all of the aspects of their lives helps children to see themselves as children of God in all things and to bring their faith and faithful activity to school with them. As they and their backpacks are blessed, consider also giving each child a small token reminder of this day as a gift from the church. A button or key ring that has a symbol of God’s love on it could be attached on the outside or inside of their backpack as a constant reminder that they are loved by God and their church community. A link to a blog posting on the backpack blessings can be found at the end of this article.

In addition to blessing the backpacks of the students of the church, consider also gathering good quality new school supplies and backpacks to be given to children who are unable to have these new and much-needed items as they return to school as well. These packed bags could be given to a local shelter that welcomes children or even a nearby school or teacher from your congregation to distribute as needed.

As you introduce this new ritual to your September calendar take note of what was welcomed by church and what might be improved upon for next year. Begin to think of what you might do next year, remembering that while our rituals may be tweaked each year the repetition of ritual itself is significant. Such rituals have ‘staying power’ and shape us and our experience of God’s presence in our lives.

Click here for Back-To-School Litanies

Link to Litany of the Backpacks

Some additional thoughts and ideas for Back-To-School


Getting Up-To-Date With Pokemon Go


In just a few short weeks the world has become obsessed with the recently released, interactive game Pokemon Go. This free app that you can download on your iPhone or Android is reviving the huge success of the Pokemon cards, game, and TV show of a generation ago. This new application of the game is getting players out of their chairs and walking the streets of their town or city trying to ‘catch ‘em all’. It is literally the talk of the town this summer!

Pokemon Go is a location-based augmented reality mobile game that has kids and adults alike throwing Poke Balls at Pokemon that pop up on the screen of their mobile phones as they walk around their neighbourhood, and then training and engaging in battles at PokeStops and Gyms. You may not have played the game, but you may have recently discovered that your church has been identified as a Pokemon Gym, and you now have kids and adults alike hanging around your church yard with their faces focused on their phones. What’s a church to do?

The first step is to get educated. Find out what this game is about and what your church has to do with it. If you’re not already playing, read a few of the articles linked below, and/or download the app and try the game out for yourself. Get out and chat with others you meet on the way and ask why they’re playing and what they like about the game. Learn a few of the terms and names of the characters and what the point of the game is.

Second, begin to think of ways your church can respond well to the occasional players that you find on your church property training at what they see as a Pokemon Gym. Through these unexpected visits, congregations have been given a fortuitous opportunity to reveal themselves positively to those in their community who might otherwise never know what a church community is. While I suspect that this new phenomenon is not going to bring huge numbers to your church looking to become members, I do believe that in these chance events we form lasting memories and attitudes shaped by our welcome and treatment of all people; we are defined in these telling moments. To help you consider ways of making these moments great again read a few of the links attached.

Have fun this summer, and I hope you ‘catch ‘em all’!

Pokemon: What Parents Need to Know

Pokemon: How The Church Of England Aims to Catch ‘Em All

Pokemon: Top Ten Do’s and Don’ts When Your Church is a PokeStop

Families and Screen Time




A Commissioning Service for WMS Executives – 2016


Each year we commission new WMS executive committees within our groups, presbyterials and synodical. Each year at this time we embrace this opportunity to recognize, set apart, and prayerfully commission the activities and faithful commitment of our leadership to the work of the WMS under the spiritual guidance of our God. This year’s service of commissioning has been inspired by the story of the exodus and the theme of our Annual Synodical meeting, “Wandering Ways,” which we look forward to hearing more about from our theme speaker Rev. Karen Horst. Please feel free to use the service of commissioning attached, knowing that throughout our synodical many faithful women and men are answering the same questions with words, “With the help of the Lord, I will.”

Click here for the 2016 Service of Commissioning in a bulletin format.

“Make Room” for a wonderful, new children’s Lent and Easter book



Presbyterian minister and mother, Laura Alary, has gifted the church once again with a wonder-filled, story-resource for families. Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter invites children and their parents to consider together the story of the life of Jesus during the season of Lent, and make room in their homes and hearts to welcome God in as they prepare for Easter.

From her perspective as a mother, Laura writes, “When my children were very young I always looked forward to the changing seasons. Inside and outside the church, the turning of the circle brought new colours and sights and smells – plenty of opportunity to explore and create. My little library of activity books kept us busy. But when it came to Lent and Easter I was never satisfied. The kids and I ironed grated crayons on to waxed paper to make stained glass crosses; we made purple paper chains, and hot crossed buns; we even blended and burned our own incense. But something was missing. Although we had plenty to do, we lacked a framework – something to hold the pieces together in a meaningful pattern. We were missing the BIG picture – a narrative which held the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as an integrated whole, and which invited children to become a part of the story.”

Make Room is written for children using a story format that gently weaves episodes from the life and ministry of Jesus with reflections on Lenten practices from the point of view of children. The rituals and practices revealed within its pages are simple ones for families to complete: cleaning our rooms; eating plain meals like bread and soup; giving up snacks and using saved money to help someone in need. They are all variations on the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and they all centre around the theme of emptying out to make space. Woven together the practices find their meaning in the stories of Jesus as these events are brought together to become a part of the big picture of what God is doing in the world – through Jesus, and through those that follow him.

Please consider buying this resource for your own family this Lent and Easter, and also placing an extra copy in your church library for other families to discover for their homes.

Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter can be purchased from Paraclete Press at, or through




Introducing: The HUB

About The Hub

The Hub is an online space for women to share their Reformed faith and how it relates to their daily lives. It is a place to create relationships with women who identify themselves as Presbyterian.

Blog posts encourage you to feel included in this community. They should help you to develop a relationships with each other, grow in your faith, and deepen your relationship with God. They should encourage you to serve God in your daily life. They should also encourage discussion.

Many of our posts focus on ways that women reach out into their community (local and world) and work towards justice for the marginalized, neglected, or forgotten.

The Hub is a resource of a larger outreach: Women to Women (WTW). It is supported by the Women’s Missionary Society.

The hub ad

A Letter From Our WMS Synodical President


Synodical of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda
Women’s Missionary Society

January 20, 2016

Dear Friends of CNOB Synodical, Presbyterials and WMS Groups:

As we begin 2016 I wanted to be in touch and share some of the great ideas and plans your synodical executive is preparing for this coming year. As we are planning for our annual meetings, for synodical and our presbyterials, we face new challenges and changes in these days. We realize our groups are getting smaller, which makes it more challenging to carry on as we have in the past…but change can be helpful and rewarding in new and wonderful ways.

Synodical Task Team
Our Synodical Task Team is trying to make some changes that will make it easier for you to continue in your various groups. One of the most important aspects of our group meetings is the fellowship we all enjoy as we come together for study, prayer and service. We hope that groups make it a priority to continue to enjoy this important time together even as the activities of your group may transition toward a leaner and lighter structure. We hope the studies that are provided in the Glad Tidings are clear and easy to lead for the members of your group, and that you are also able to adjust them for your group’s specific needs and interests. Many of the things we have done in the past may need to be approached in new ways during these days, and we trust your faith and hope for the coming year will encourage you to carry on and enjoy your time together.

The Synodical Task Force has discovered some groups have moved to eliminate the position of Recording Secretary as they scaled back some of the executive positions within their group. These innovative groups have created an easy-to-use ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ template for their minutes that one person voluntarily completes at each meeting and then places in a binder for their record-keeping. This simple template for their minutes has helped groups keep a record of their meetings, while easing the load for everyone. The Task Force has revised this template to suit any group’s needs. If you would like a copy of this template please
click on the link following this letter.

Report Forms
When filling in your reports this year, know that the WMS National primarily wants to know the name and church home of your group, and the names and contact information for all of the members of your group (including each member’s address, phone number, and email address if they have one). The most important piece of information that everyone needs is the name and email information for a contact person for your group, so that you will be able to receive all communication from the WMS National, Synodical and Presbyterial.

The other information you include in your report comes to first to your Presbyterial and, through all of the presbyterials to the Synodical, so that they can share what you’ve been doing with other groups throughout the synodical, and so that you hear what the other groups have been doing as you make plans for years to come. We are aware that the reports can feel burdensome for some groups, and so we will be simplifying the report forms for next year. To help us develop a better, more useful forms let us know what information your group would find most helpful to hear about from your presbyterial and synodical. This is the material we want to make a part of the report forms and eliminate that which is unnecessary for your purposes.

Synodical Annual Meeting
CNOB Synodical Annual Meeting is Friday April 15th and Saturday 16th, 2016 at Elmvale Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Karen Horst, moderator of the 141st General Assembly, will be our Speaker and Bible Study Leader. Our theme is “Wandering Ways”. Our Poster and Registration forms will be available shortly.

The Outreach wing of the WMS is also supporting a new way to keep in touch with other Presbyterian women………It’s called The HUB. The HUB seeks to encourage women to share their Reformed faith and how it applies to their daily lives. The website is Please share this especially with other women in your church that are not members of WMS.

National Women’s Gathering
The WMS is also supporting the third National Women’s Gathering on the holiday weekend of May, 2017, at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites in Richmond Hill with the theme, “Rooted in Love.” More information will be available soon.

Regional Ministry
We appreciate Tori Smit, our Regional Minister for Faith Formation, as she helps us in so many ways in our Synodical. She has given many workshops to various groups and encourages us in our meetings. CNOB Synod has a resource website which includes a special tab just for the WMS groups of our Synodical to keep up to date on the news, programs, and ideas for our groups. Please feel free to contact her at or 647-348-0879 for any particular need or question you may have.

I am also available to visit your presbyterial when invited, so please get in touch with me early to reserve a date. The same with me, if you have any questions please be in contact with me. My email is or phone 905 372 6075.

May God continue to be with you in your groups and bless you in all you do as you serve God in ministry and outreach to others.

Joy Randall
President of CNOB Synodical

Click here for a copy of the secretary’s template for keeping simple meeting minutes.