*By Claus Grue
Nowadays, children in Finland are offered blessings by their parishes in the beginning of each semester. The blessings take place in the local church, usually in connection with evening mass, but sometimes also during regular school hours.
This bold initiative was taken on a small scale around ten years ago by one Swedish diocese within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF), which is the country’s largest religious institution counting four million members out of a 5.5 million population.
“Parents and family gather with their kids in church to pray to the Lord to take good care of new schoolchildren and give them security, confidence, health, happiness, friends and all other important things in life”, explains Mirva Sandén, expert in early child education and school affairs on the ELCF-board.
Two years ago, a web- and social media campaign was launched which raised awareness dramatically. In August and September each year children across the country now receive blessings and the demand is stable.
“The response has been overwhelming. It indicates a clear need among children and their loved ones to know that someone cares for them and are with them through life-changing challenges such as school starts”, says Sandén.
The blessings are given in Finnish as well as Swedish, which both are official languages in Finland. Preschool children and children in first up to sixth grade are invited. This year, a special hymn has been composed and included in the campaign.
“It is important to point out that this is a parish initiative to a hundred percent, albeit sometimes in collaboration with schools”, Sandén adds.
The campaign culminates on St Michael’s Day, 30 September, which also is the day of all God’s angels when Christians contemplate on angels’ importance and mission.
Like its neighbouring Nordic countries, Finland is an increasingly secular society.
“The school blessings clearly make a difference for the kids and their families. It tells us that people long for a deeper spiritual meaning in their lives and that religious faith plays an important role in that sense”, Sandén concludes.
*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches