Our Oldest Songs for Our Youngest Souls
Earlier this year, WELS teachers took a survey that included questions about psalmody and children. The results of the survey gave remarkable insight into the creativity that individuals have shown in using psalmody in the classroom. On the other hand, some responded that the chanting tones we use to sing the verses of a psalm are not melodic enough to connect with children or are too difficult to sing.
Singing psalms is certainly something children - even young children - can do. Psalms can be sung in several ways: melodic paraphrases, metrical paraphrases, or responsorial settings (like we have in Christian Worship). They can also be spoken. For the very little ones, learning to speak one verse or singing just the refrain may be enough for them. As keen observers and imitators, children will pick up on the value we place on psalmody. They will respond to every attempt we make to expose them to it – spoken or sung.
What is exciting about all this talk about psalmody is that it exists! If the committee that produced Christian Worship in 1993 hadn’t prioritized congregational psalm-singing and formatted the settings so clearly and prominently in the front of the hymnal, we might not be having these discussions about psalmody today. Now the question is, “Where do we go from here?”
The psalmody committee for the WELS Hymnal Project is beginning its examination of nearly every style of psalmody that has been used for worship in the history of the Christian faith. The committee is paying close attention to how psalms are presently being used in WELS classrooms and churches and exploring how we can offer believers of all ages the very best of what is available in psalmody. Within the next couple of years, we will begin offering sample psalms in different styles and will be interested in your evaluations.
Teaching children to sing psalms may indeed present challenges, but let's also remember the blessings. It has been said that the psalms teach us how to speak to God. The psalms have also been called the Catechism of the Bible. Spiritual treasures of great beauty exist in the psalms. They combine the emotion and drama of addressing the Most Holy God with valuable truths for our faith. Children can enjoy this kind of language, too. What's more, the time they spend singing psalms now will equip them with a language for worship they'll be using their whole life long.
Prof. Grace Hennig