"The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes." - Goethe
If you direct children's groups in church, you've probably lamented, as I have, that it can be really difficult to find quality children's choir music for worship. You've likely also felt the pinch of a tight music budget at one time or another. And if you direct multiple children's groups, you know how much more difficult it can be to find something to fill all those singing dates. Sometimes, as I struggle to find music that I can buy into, that resonates with my students, and that edifies the congregation, I too often overlook a rich resource already in my possession that is full of rock-solid texts coupled with engaging melodies that the kids love or will soon learn to love.
In our survey of educators this past fall, we asked what role children's choirs usually play in the worship service. About two-thirds responded that children's groups sing mostly anthems. Less than a third responded that the children participate in singing hymns, psalms, and parts of the liturgy. While there is a place for a well-crafted anthem that fits the theme of the day, there's nothing quite like having children's groups enhance the liturgy or singing hymns and psalms antiphonally with the congregation. Consider four reasons for teachers to balance worship music selection for their classes by including the hymnal as a key resource.
1. The children will gain a better appreciation for what happens in the service.
When kids learn hymns and liturgy at their Lutheran school or Sunday School, the likelihood that they participate in singing them in worship increases. And while singing a canticle like the Song of Mary in school is beneficial, having the kids memorize it and get it "performance ready" helps them to internalize it, think more about it, and appreciate it more. When you teach them a CW Verse of the Day setting and they ask you what a Verse of the Day is, you have a built-in opportunity to explain a wonderful element of the liturgy that they might not otherwise have thought about. The key is to be enthusiastic about these things. If you show genuine enthusiasm, the kids will pick up on it.
2. The children's participation can serve a more tightly integrated role in the service.
A quality anthem is a beautiful addition to a service. But participating in the liturgy and antiphonal singing of hymns and psalms is a special role. My students like to hear that they are leading the congregation when they are singing the first half of Psalm verses or introducing a new hymn. When they sing the Kyrie or the Gloria, they are singing something that is a foundational part of the service. When they sing antiphonally with the congregation, they connect and partner with the congregation.
3. It adds variety.
There are so many ways to get kids involved so that their participation breathes new life into the parts of a church service. When using Divine Service I from CWS, consider having the children sing the "verses" of the Gloria while the congregation sings the repeated “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth." Try having the children sing "O Christ Lamb of God" from Service of Word and Sacrament as Holy Communion begins. If you have access to handbells or handchimes, think about having your students sing hymn stanzas antiphonally with the congregation. Then use simple ostinato patterns or random rings from books like Creative Use of Handbells in Worship by Hal Hopson to accompany. Something as simple as having the children sing a single stanza from a hymn concertato, where the children can simply sing from the hymnal at no extra cost, can add a new vitality to hymn singing that both children and adults enjoy. Don't forget about the descants in the hymnal. I still can picture the excited faces of my 6th graders (girls and boys) who, this past Christmas, were designated to sing the Willcocks descant for “O Come All Ye Faithful” for our school's Christmas service. They were thrilled to sing something the adult choir normally sings.
4. It can make music selection easier.
Singing from the hymnal doesn't cost anything extra. If hymns and liturgy are selected far enough in advance, you probably need only to touch base with the pastor about having the children participate in something that's already planned for the service and then coordinate with the organist. If you're looking to introduce part singing, some of the CW Verse of the Day settings are an easy place to start. Knowing the hymn and psalm selections for a given Sunday can act as springboard for selecting hymn concertatos or alternate psalm settings like those found in Tel's Psalms for All Seasons or Hopson's People's Psalter.
I hope that this rich resource that is already in your hands can be a regular part of your planning as you get your school groups ready for worship. We’d love to hear what resources in the new hymnal would be valuable in helping your children's groups participate in the regular elements of a service.