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Singing as Part of Family Worship

April 25th, 2017 | 6 min read

By Matthew Miller

The Mere O family worship series has been characterized so far by a markedly Reformed style. Jake’s and Eric Parker’s posts both emphasize catechesis, reflecting their roots in a tradition that has been notable for its mighty historic catechisms. My family doesn’t have that background, coming from a non-creedal and non-catechetical tradition in the Churches of Christ.

Accordingly, classic hymns may be the richest spiritual resources in our tradition, and that has shaped our family worship practices, combined with our rediscovery of a more catholic liturgical tradition. Just as I have received some resources for catechesis (which I’m in favor of despite my heritage) from previous posts in this series, I hope my reflections from a different tradition may offer some ideas worthy of consideration by my more Reformed brothers and sisters, as well as others who love hymnody.

My kids are quite young: My oldest is four, while his brother is nearing two. Our approach to family worship has changed over time with the ages of our kids and (frankly) our own attentiveness to it. I’m going to describe a few different practices and resources we have used, both informal and formal, as well as where we expect to go next.

The constant in our approach to our children’s spiritual formation has been classic hymnody. Since my wife and I come from a tradition in the Churches of Christ that has neither the catechetical emphasis of the Reformed churches nor the liturgical depth of the Anglicans, but that does have a wonderful tradition of a capella singing, hymnody has been central to our spirituality.

Hymns have enriched the language of my faith—their tunes and words coming to my mind and my lips in critical moments. I want that gift for my children as well, and so we sing as much as possible, both in formal family worship and whenever else we can fit it in. We sing hymns informally to our kids at bedtime every night, and beloved hymns are never far from our lips at any time.

These aren’t necessarily children’s songs—not that I have any objection to those—but rather the great hymns that have been particularly meaningful to us: “How Firm a Foundation,” “Rock of Ages,” “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “From Every Stormy Wind that Blows,” and so on. Whether or not our kids understand the hymns now, they are forming the way they think and the way they will speak as they grow up in their faith.

We have also recently formalized family worship at bedtime using Craig Katzenmiller’s book, which condenses the traditional Daily Office for families with small children. We pray his order for Night Prayer (Compline), which includes opening and closing sentences, Psalm 4 read antiphonally, the Canticle of Zechariah from Luke 1:68-79, intercessory prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Kyrie. We add an opening hymn, which I select to connect with the liturgical seasons, and always conclude with the Doxology.

All this takes us about ten minutes, and it has become a standard part of the bedtime routine over the past few months. The four-year-old participates actively—he can say all the responses, and he even starts the Doxology for us. The younger one is . . . less focused, but he does enjoy holding his own hymnal and flipping through the pages, and he’ll say “Amen” or sing a phrase from the Doxology at more or less appropriate times.

As our kids grow older, I intend to move toward a fuller Evening Prayer service, though with the hymnody of our own tradition. The brief order is serving us well for now, though, to create the habit and build a beginning language of faith for my kids.

The value we find in liturgical prayer is much like the value we find in hymnody—in liturgical prayer, the language of Scripture becomes not just something we study, but the words that we speak, the way we process the events of our lives. I want my kids to have that language in them from their earliest memories, and so we sing hymns and pray Scripture as well as the great prayers of the church.

Since I value singing so highly, I learned a lot from Eric Hutchinson’s recommendations on singing the Creed and ancient hymns, and while I am teaching my children the best hymns I grew up with, I also intend to ground them more deeply in the riches of the tradition and Scripture. I hope to get to a point where we would sing not just hymns, but the Psalms and other prayers as well.

Although I realize that not everyone will share my comfort with singing, it is a skill like any other that develops with practice (I’m not especially musical myself), and your family ought to be a forgiving audience, at least while the children are young. So I encourage you to break out the hymnals for your family worship time—singing is a beautiful and valuable complement to the riches of traditional prayer and Scripture reading.

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Matthew Miller

Matt Miller, a native Nebraskan, teaches English at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri. His first book, titled Leaves of Healing, will appear from Belle Point Press in 2024.