By Amanda Markel
Last week, my children attended a “Kantorei Kamp” at one of our sister congregations. It was a great experience for them. Even in just a week’s time, they learned a lot about music, had daily worship where they got to sing a wide variety of hymns, had an opportunity to share their time and talents when they sang at several different locations, and had some good, old-fashioned fun with their brothers and sisters in Christ. It was really wonderful…I wish every Lutheran child could have a similar experience!
It did get me thinking, though. We spend a lot of time in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teaching our children fun, cute little songs that as adults they probably won’t encounter (unless someday their children sing them, too!). And cute, fun songs have their place. But we should be spending as much, if not more, time on teaching our children hymnody.
I’m not sure why we don’t. Maybe it’s because we assume children find hymns to be boring. Or maybe we think they’re not capable of learning verses, and even whole hymns. But if we believe either of these things to be true, we’re selling our children short, because children have great memories, and a great ability to hear the Word of God in hymns.
The Lutheran church, in particular, has a rich history of hymnody. Our theology is expressed so well in the various hymns found in our hymnals. And words set to music are often easier to remember than just words alone (which is why the Sing the Faith CD that CPH produces is so popular), so hymns are a natural way to help our children learn how to participate in corporate worship, as well as learn the truths of the Bible.
How do we go about intentionally teaching our children hymns, then? The first way to do this is also the easiest and most obvious…encourage them to participate in Sunday morning worship. For children who are learning how to read and older, have them follow along in the hymnal. Model how to move from verse to verse, and where extra verses to longer hymns appear. And for those children who have not yet learned to read…well, you may be surprised at what they pick up! So encourage them to sing along with the words they do know!
We can also teach children hymns in settings such as Sunday School and VBS. Does this change have to be immediate and complete? No. I’m not saying that next Sunday, every Sunday School should abandon all the short, catchy little songs that they have been using, and go to hymns only. But you can add one hymn at a time to your rotation, or a verse here and there. Help children learn the words to the favorite hymns of the congregation, especially those children who are not yet reading…this will help them better participate in Sunday morning worship.
You can also help you children learn, understand, and appreciate hymns at home. This can be easier for some families than others, but it all begins with making sure you have a hymnal (preferably the one your congregation uses) in your home. (A My First Hymnal from CPH can also be a great resource for smaller children.) For homeschooling families, it’s simple to add a hymn to your morning religion lessons. Have your children memorize the words, discuss what they mean, answer any questions about concepts or vocabulary that may be unfamiliar, and sing the hymn together daily, if possible. For families with musical abilities, sing the hymns together, and if you have an instrumentalist, call upon him or her to accompany the singing.
But what if you don’t homeschool and/or aren’t musically gifted? You can still help your children learn hymnody. Ask your pastor what the hymn of the day will be next Sunday (I’m pretty sure he’ll be thrilled you’re asking!), and find specific times throughout the week to at least read through it a few times with your children before the service. Or, discuss the sermon hymn from the Sunday previous, and make sure it was understood by everyone in your family. You will have to intentionally set time aside to do this, so mark it on your calendar if you need to.
You can also just pick a hymn appropriate to the church season from the hymnal, and read and/or sing through it. Start with hymns that are familiar to you as a parent, something you might be able to sing, even if you’re like me, and not musically gifted (trust me, you don’t have to sound good…your children will just appreciate singing with you!). Find a CD of hymns, and play it around the house or in the car…the more you listen to hymns, the more familiar you will all become with the tunes, and the easier it will be for everyone in your house to sing them.
Like any other aspect of teaching the faith to our children, teaching our church’s hymnody is something we need to do intentionally, something that we must set aside time in already busy lives to do. But learning the hymns of our church, and learning how to participate in corporate worship are valuable life skills that your children will continue using after they are grown and out of your home, so it’s well worth the effort it takes to teach them!