Blessings, Backpacks, and the Modern Mission Field

Saint David of Wales on the north side of Elkhart City near Simonton Lake has had a long standing history with Mary Feeser Elementary School. In the early 1960’s the congregation of St John the Evangelist in downtown Elkhart took on the project of establishing a Mission to the expanding north side. A property was purchased for the construction of the new church, but in the meantime a congregation was formed and in need of place for meeting. On 16 February 1964, the First Sunday in Lent, 126 persons gathered with The Rev’d George Johnson for a service of Holy Communion in the old gymnasium of Mary Feeser School. This continued until the Feast of All Saints of that year when the community met for the first time in the current building less than a quarter mile east of the school where they had first celebrated the Mass together.

Over the decades the parish has maintained a relationship with the school. Many parishioners were either students or teachers at Mary Feeser. As time past, through natural parish decline and less children in the community the relationship between the two institutions remained but became less active.

In 2015, the parishes newly ordained deacon the Rev’d Clay Berkley, a former student of Mary Feeser, shared a vision with the parish to support the teachers and students down the street with new backpacks and school supplied. That year they focused on Kindergarten and expanded from there.

 In 2017, after the annual blessing of the backpacks Fr. Joshua, Deacon Clay, and the newly commissioned Chair for Outreach, Cynthia Guzzo, began to discuss ways to enrich the program and increase engagement between the parish and the school. We began searching for ways to bring the students into the parish.

 During the late summer of 2018, we began collecting bags and supplies with a goal of providing fifty filled backpacks with all the supplies requested for Kindergarten and 1st Grade classrooms. We worked in conjunction with the MFES administration and established an event on 12 August 2018, to run just prior to the school Sundae Sunday that evening.

 The morning of 12 August the fifty filled backpacks were placed in the sanctuary around the altar. At an appointed time during the Mass the congregation stood to pray a litany for all students, parents, guardians, teachers, and administration going into the upcoming school year. Fr Joshua concluded with the following blessing as holy water was sprinkled on each bag.

 Almighty God, bless these backpacks and supplies, as well as all students, teachers, and staff of Mary Feeser Elementary School. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.   Amen.

 Copies of the Litany and Blessing were added to each bag so that in this way the prayers of the entire faith community were sent out over our community. A card with Psalm 22:6, A Prayer for the Care of Children from the BCP, and an invitation to our community was also added and given to each parent or guardian.

That evening rising kindergarten and first grade students arrived at St David’s with their families. The parish hall and nave were filled with music and children laughter as the students were met at the door where they signed their name and received a ticket for a free backpack. They then met Fr. Joshua or Deacon Clay who wrote their name on a new tag, inviting the children to choose a sticker in order to personalize their bag. The tags reading “This bag has been blessed by St David’s Episcopal Church” were attached to the straps as students struggled to wear the bags which were often larger than they. After receiving their bag the entire family was invited to enjoy a meal of hot dogs, chips, and drinks before moving on to Sundae Sunday at the school for a little dessert, to meet their teachers, and see their new classroom for the first time.

 That night we gave away fourteen bags full of supplies and served a meal to a gathering of fifty friends and family.  The leftover food was given to the overnight crew of Elkhart’s finest at Fire Station 6 and the remaining bags and supplies were taken to the school office the following day.

 In the words of Fr. Joshua on the night. “It’s our first time doing it this way so whatever happens it’s a record.” We are excited about all that God is doing in our midsts and we are encouraged to continue answering God’s call as needs increase to expand our program and build an even closer relationship with our friends and neighbors. Our parish was started as a mission and in this little way we continue to serve this, our mission field.

 -          The Rev’d Joshua Nelson, St David’s - Elkhart