This week I enjoyed reading a church newsletter article written by Rebecca DeVries from Covenant CRC in Sioux Center, IA. I asked her if I could share it and she agreed. (The children’s names have been changed.) Here is what she wrote:
We have nine Bible storybooks in our house, one for every year we’ve been parents. We received one Bible storybook from our church in Washington D.C. when Chloe was baptized, another from Covenant when Nathan was baptized, and I snagged a tattered Anne deVries book at the church swap meet a few years back. On top of that, Chloe now has three children’s Bibles of her own, Nathan received a storybook from his preschool teachers this year, and Lily got The Jesus Storybook Bible for Christmas. Sometimes our kids fight about which Bible to read out of after supper. This is a good problem to have, right?
Well, now we have added something new to the mix, a book the size of a Chicago phone book called Teach us to Pray: Scripture Centered Family Worship through the Year. Whoa. “Family worship?” you may ask. “That’s not just your average, ordinary, after supper family Bible reading.” Correct. This is more than a storybook. It’s worship. And we are pretty excited about it.
The writers of the book, Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen, brought to the table their formative experiences of contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina, and family worship time and created a prayer book they hope can help families encounter grace together. They wanted to keep it simple, dialogic, multi sensory, and repetitious. The teachers among us would likely agree that those are good goals to have when working with children.
Let me give the concept some flesh.
We began using the book during the season of Epiphany. Each night, one of our kids would take a turn lighting a candle and leading us around the room. The litany prompted the leader to say “We light a candle to remind us of Jesus’ words: ‘I am the light of the world.’” The rest of us would continue, saying: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.” (Side note: when our kids started fighting about whose turn it was to lead the processional, we knew we were on to something with this book. When they started dipping their fingers in the wax, well, we remembered that they are kids.) Back in our seats, we would sing a short song, the same song throughout the season. Before we read the Bible passage, we would quietly (except for Lily) ask the Holy Spirit to help us pay attention to God. Then we would read the passage (from a child-friendly translation).
And then, just as our children do during their time in Children in Worship, we would simply spend time “wondering” together about the passage. The writers include a couple of simple “I wonder” prompts which draw each child (and adult) into the story no matter the fact that they are at different stages of faith development. We would close by praying for specific groups of people and then say another verse together.
Each element is short and flows easily to the next. Each day’s prayer connects to the passage, each passage to the church season. For the record and before you get this idyllic little picture of our family in your head:
- We are lucky if we get through this without telling at least one child to sit down, come out from under the table, or stop singing for just a moment, please.
- We love The Jesus Storybook Bible and find value in just reading the Bible.
- We are lucky if we have three nights a week where we are at home for supper and don’t have to run somewhere afterwards. Now that church softball has started, we are lucky for two.
But what makes us excited about this concept of family worship is that it provides something for every member of the family — old or young (or younger), calm or antsy, auditory or tactile learners. Chloe said she likes the time of wondering and the rhythm and repetition from day to day — knowing what’s next, like the prayer of illumination. Nathan likes the opening hands-on activity and, “Well, mostly everything” he said. And Lily likes the songs and the stories — though she’s the one we often have to call out from under the table. My husband likes being bid to pray for specific groups of people. And as parents, we both appreciate being pushed by the “I wonders” to share with our children concisely and from our hearts — filled with assurances and questions alike — what we understand about God and His good Word.
Recently I’ve been amazed by the opportunities for faith formation available to my children: Sunday worship, Children in Worship, Sunday School, our Christian schools and preschools, GEMS, Cadets, Youth Group, Small Groups, Vacation Bible School. Our kids are being taught the stories and truths of God’s Word in so many places and are being nurtured in their faith by so many Godly people. And we are thankful for that!
It might be easy to let that formation happen only in those places and not in the home. I’ll admit, my husband and I too often leave it to the others. But we have been convinced by our experience of family worship around the table that the Holy Spirit is using this time to grow each member of our family and our family as a unit. And it has made us appreciate more the nurturing going on elsewhere.
I’m not sure where the tradition of family Bible reading or devotions after the evening meal started (The Passover?) but I think that it’s a good one.
- Rebecca DeVries