Of late I’ve been especially aware that most children at church have very little familiarity with the psalms. There are lots of reasons for this, but one might be that they are not encountering them in the congregation’s worship. Too often the psalm of the day is just a snippet that is folded into a prayer. That is fine, except no one but the worship leader knows that it is a psalm. So, I am wondering if we need to be more intentional and overt in our use of the psalms in worship with the hope that the children (and other worshipers) will begin to recognize them and know them. Hence this brainstormed list of ways to share the psalms with children in the sanctuary.
1. Tell the back story (if it has one) before reading/praying it. Compare the situation of the psalmist with situations we face today.
2. Read/pray the psalm in worship the way it was originally prayed. Walk in place as you read pilgrim psalms together. Imagine yourselves alone in the field watching sheep when reading shepherd psalms. Join worshipers at the Temple to say psalms written for Temple worship. And when you do this, tell worshipers what you are doing and why so they can participate fully.
3. Read the whole psalm in a way that highlights its format. Read the alphabet psalms matching the verses with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Point out the Hebrew practice of rhyming ideas rather than the sound of words illustrating it with the day’s psalm, then read the psalm together separating the rhyming ideas to be read by different groups. Again, be clear with worshipers of all ages about what you doing and invite them to savor it with you.
4. Make copies of a psalm printed in the middle of a page. Read the psalm through with worshipers stopping to talk about whatever needs to be highlighted. Then, challenge the children to illustrate it in the margins. They might underline key words to illustrate or simply draw things that the psalm makes them think about and want to share with God.
5. When singing a hymns based on a psalm, take time to point out the connections just before you sing.
6. Print a key phrase of a psalm on a strips of paper (think of them as mini-posters). Give them to worshipers with instructions to post them where they will see them each day this week. As their worship homework for the week ask them to say/pray that piece of a psalm and think about what that phrase means for them on that day. Children have most success with this when they commit to it with their whole household.
That’s what comes to mind at the moment. There are bound to be other possibilities. You’ve seen some of these ideas already in my posts. Expect to see more in the lectionary posts in the weeks ahead. Add your ideas or raise questions about possibilities. Let’s share the psalms with our children.