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story.lead_photo.caption Gerry Tritz/News TribuneAva, left, and Claire Volkart, ages 7 and 9, hold their hands over their school backpacks Sunday morning during a “Blessing of the Backpacks” at The Oasis Church.

The Oasis United Church of Christ held its annual "Blessing of the Backpacks" event Sunday, with church members holding their hands over students' backpacks and teachers' book bags, seeking a good, safe start to the school year.

The church, located at 2017 William St. in Jefferson City, has held the event each year since it was founded in 2018.

"It seems especially important this year, and with last year as well with" the pandemic, Lead Pastor Rushan Sinnaduray said. "So we thought it would make sense to continue to do this — at the very least bless and pray over our children (and teachers.)

"It's a way of praying over them, providing a blessing, and making sure the year ahead for them is safe," he said.

He said the church has several teachers among its members.

The church also partners with Belair Elementary School. It supports them with funding for special events, providing resources and a "welcome back" breakfast for teachers.

Last week, church members did a "prayer walk" around the school, which also ties in the start of the 2021-22 school year.

As things return to normal in the schools, church members plan to volunteer each week to read to students in the classrooms, Sinnaduray said.

The blessing was held during the 10 a.m. church service. After the service, Sinnaduray gave school-age children laminated cards to attach to their backpacks. On one side, they read: "This backpack has been blessed by a church that loves and supports this student." The other side of the cards read: "Be a blessing. Pray often. Be kind. Give thanks. Do good. Have courage. Lead with love. Practice peace. Be the light. Work for justice. Encourage others. Be joyful."

During the church service, Sinnaduray emphasized and expanded on the above points.

"You know that God's light shines through each and every one. So in everything that you do, make sure that people can see God's light shining through you," he urged.

He also prayed for the children/teachers: "Loving God, we pray for these children, youth and adults before us. We pray your blessing on their lives as students, as teachers. We ask for your blessing on these backpacks that they will wear to and from school every day. As they carry these backpacks, help them be a reminder of this church family that surrounds them. As these backpacks get scuffed and dirty and even torn, we pray that each step of the way these children will know they are loved and will be able to give Jesus' love to the kids in their classes and to the adults in charge.

"We pray for the teachers of their schools, and all the adults that make the schools run. We thank you, O God, for their calling to teach and to make a difference in the lives of these young people. We pray, O God, that you would bless their school year, especially this year, and help them know this congregation surrounds them with love and with care as well."

Sherry Koetting brought granddaughters Ava and Claire Volkart, ages 7 and 9, to the event.

"With all that's going on in the world, a blessing of the backpacks and the children before school starts is just something that appealed to us with the pandemic and all the hate in the world right now," she said.

"We talk about kindness a lot and we find that here" at the church, Koetting added.

She said the church teaches kindness and appreciation for different people and perspectives.

"I think we need more of that in the world," she said.

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