There are some songs, prayers, and words you just have to know in order to participate in a given congregation’s worship. The list differs from congregation to congregation, but includes such things as the Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, the Doxology, the Gloria Patri, and congregational responses to scripture readings and certain prayers. Many congregations try to help visitors by listing page numbers in the hymnal where these words can be found. But at some points in worship things move so quickly that there is hardly time to use that help – especially if you are an early reader. So we serve our children well when we teach them these words so that they can sing, pray and respond with the whole congregation.
Those who attend church school classes may be learning some of these parts of worship there. But the very best opportunity to learn anything is in the place you will use it and just before you will use it. So, a little on-the-spot worship education can help the children and enrich worship for older worshipers.
How do you do this?
1. Select one often misunderstood word to translate for the children and explain what it means in its given phrase. i.e. “the quick and the dead” in the Apostles’ Creed, “Hallowed” in the Lord’s Prayer.
2. Identify a line that is connected to the day’s theme to discuss and illustrate with stories during the sermon.
3. Put one phrase into your own words and identify situations in daily life when it can be prayed or sung (as well as in congregational worship).
4. Explain why you say, sing or pray those words at the particular point in worship that you do, e.g. why do you sing the Gloria Patri after hearing that God promises to forgive us.
5. Discuss a phrase then use it as the congregation’s response in a responsive reading that enlarges on the meaning of the phrase, e.g. a prayer of confession in which the congregation’s response is “forgive us our depts./trespasses/sins as we forgive….”
6. Discuss a given phrase or word then ask children to illustrate it. (Be sure you could illustrate it first!)
When do you do this?
1. Invite the children forward just before the part of worship you want to explore with them. Talk it through, practice it, then send them back to their seats to do it with everyone else. (Yes, this could be a children’s time, but it must be moveable. It is also possible to do a children time aimed at younger children who then leave the sanctuary AND gather the older children at the appropriate time to do this.)
2. You can locate this discussion in the “real” sermon. To get the attention of children who may have tuned out, ask all worshipers to open their hymn books to the given prayer or response. Talk about its meaning as related to the day’s worship theme. (This not only gives the children information about a given phrase, but also leads them to think sermons might be for them too.)
3. For big impact, interrupt the piece you want to explore. “Pardon me, but what did we just say/sing/pray? What did we mean?” After talking it through, repeat it together. For example, at Thanksgiving, interrupt the Doxology to say, “Wait. Praise God from who all blessings flow? What is a blessing?” Define blessing and list some of your own. In informal congregations worshipers might name some of theirs. Then sing the Doxology again.
To get started
This is not something you would want to do every Sunday, but occasionally as the worship theme calls for it. So, make a list of what your children have to know to participate fully in worship in your congregation. Post it near your work space for a ready reminding reference as you plan worship. (Mine is on a sticky note on my printer.)