Prayers, sung or spoken, are truly needed today for children as they start a new year of school. These prayers are answered when Christians do more than pray, but also continue to seek to help children throughout the year, in schools and outside them. "God of All Learning" is a new hymn for schoolchildren and all who seek to help them learn and grow.

Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The Crisis in the American Dream, laments the decline in social capital (how we are connected to others and care for them) with its devastating impact on poor children today. Past generations of poor children often had more opportunities because they benefited from connections with churches, teachers, coaches, and other mentors who supported them. Putnam, a respected Harvard sociologist, documents how too many children are missing these caring adults in their lives today. He offers "purple solutions" to the growing "opportunity gap" and poverty that includes support by all for public schools.

Many churches witness to their concern for school children with a "Blessing of the Backpacks" service. Some churches invite the children in the congregation to bring their own backpacks for a blessing before a new school year begins. This is a way to acknowledge that school is a common yet very important part of our children’s lives. Other churches collect school supplies for children in need, assemble the donated supplies in backpacks, and bring them to church for a blessing in worship.

The tune of the following new hymn is the same Gaelic melody used for "Morning Has Broken," and it seems appropriate to sing a joyful "morning" tune as children, parents, and teachers start to get up earlier in the mornings to head off to school.

The first two verses are specifically for the blessing of the backpacks, and a church may simply want to use these as a shorter hymn-prayer at that special time in the service. Churches that do not bless backpacks can skip the first verse and use the last three verses — for children, for all who are working for children's well-being, for families, for teachers, and for those who work in schools.

God of All Learning

BUNESSAN 5.5.5.4 D ("Morning Has Broken")

God of all learning, God of all knowing,

We bring these backpacks filled with supplies.

Bless all these tools of learning and growing.

Use them, we pray, to change many lives.

Bless all the students, young ones and old ones —

Walking or riding, traveling by bus.

May they remember that you go with them,

And that they all are precious to us.

Some kids are poor and some kids are wealthy;

May we give all the tools that they need.

May we make sure they’re safe, loved, and healthy

So that they all may thrive and succeed.

Bless all who learn and bless those who guide them,

Bless those who teach and counsel and care.

May they remember you walk beside them.

Through all their school days, you, Lord, are there.

 

Biblical references: Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Psalm 25:4,5; 78:5b-6; Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 18:5-6; 28:20

Tune: Gaelic melody

Hymn Use Permission: Churches that support Sojourners have copyright permission to use "God of All Learning" in their local church. 

Hymn with Music: The United Methodist Worship Office’s web site has this new hymn with the music as a free, downloadable file.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the author of over 300 hymns that have been sung by thousands of congregations around the world.

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