As part of their 150th anniversary celebration, Church of the Atonement in Tenafly has begun a new ministry: a portable “Blessings to Go” booth, which they have been setting up at community events since June of this year.
The “Blessings to Go” ministry came out of a desire to offer spiritual support and healing. Brainstorming for the 150th anniversary began at the Annual Giving Breakfast in November 2017, at which the congregation expressed the desire to both “look back” with gratitude and celebration, and also to “look forward” reaching out to their community in new ways.
The Vestry and congregation had held several “missional” conversations over the previous year, and this was one idea that flowed from that process. At one of the tables at the brainstorming session, parishioner and new vestry member Birgitta Karlén suggested that the church offer something specific to its core identity, which was to heal and to bless. The congregation discussed their experiences of “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday and “Blessings to Go” on the anniversary of 9/11, which developed into the idea of an ongoing ministry of healing and blessing throughout the year.
Cards with interfaith blessings were created in the parish office for general blessings as well as various occasions, including for someone being deployed in the military, for those who desire healing, are experiencing grief, celebrating a birth or birthday, for food and the Earth, for companion animals and grief at the loss of a pet.
A banner was designed online by parishioner Tanya Quirk. A basic canopy tent, table and cloth, are the only other physical items required – although “goodies,” when included, are always an attraction! Information about Atonement’s outdoor Labyrinth as a vehicle for meditation and healing is made available but is not the primary focus.
The “Blessings to Go” booth in its initial form was set up at the Earth Fair at Northern Valley High School on Saturday, April 28, in partnership with the Central Bergen GreenFaith Circle, of which Atonement is a member.
The completed “Blessings to Go” booth was set up on Sunday, June 24 in downtown Tenafly on the occasion of the town’s first Pride Day. The Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber, Rector of Atonement, represented the town clergy in the parade of nearly 200 people, and later she and several parishioners hosted the booth, handing out blessings for their LGBTQ+ neighbors.
Since then, the booth has shown up at various community and parish events, including two showings at a Farmer’s Market in August, and the Tenafly Community Night in September. It will be set up next at Tenafly’s Veterans Day ceremony on November 11 (with a new blessing card for Veterans Day) and at the church’s annual Country Fair, November 16 and 17 – November 16 being the anniversary of the church’s founding in 1868.
Most important is the ministry of parishioners who host the booth at various events. “The role of the hosts is to offer the blessings, both the cards themselves, and if desired, a spoken prayer. This pushes people a bit who ordinarily don’t pray for others in public to begin to feel comfortable doing so,” said Weber.
“Given the very diverse nature of the community, we knew that some people would be reluctant or dismissive of a church offering anything in a public place. What our hosts learned is that many people are more open than we think they will be. Episcopalians tend to be pretty private in the expression of their faith, not wanting to offend anyone by talking about religion. The Blessing Booth has changed our views on that.
“The Tenafly Community Night was an eye-opener; many people of different cultural and religious backgrounds appreciated the offering of a blessing for them, with no expectation of return.”
Of course, parishioners also want blessings. Blessing cards are available at services, and folks are encouraged to take one for themselves, or include one in a card sent to someone they care about. Over the summer parishioner John Hancock sent a photo taken by his teenage son Mack of the Celtic blessing card he had placed on the steering apparatus of the small plane on which he was flying his first major solo run as a pilot.