Something amazing is happening at Holy Trinity. A random, ragtag bunch of kids from the neighborhood – our summer camp and preschool – have become a little worshipping community.
Here’s what happened. We are space challenged, to say the least, and have tucked our busy summer camp into just about every available nook and cranny on campus except for my study, and people have been eyeing that too. This meant that we had to combine daily chapel and bring our summer camp together with the preschool. There was apprehension, to say the least.
I gave the summer camp kids a little pep talk about being older brothers and sisters to the preschool and how they set the example for the little ones. I put together a simple liturgy, a combination of opening versicles (O Lord, open my lips…._), hymns, a reading from Scripture, the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Our Father (you’ll recognize that as the core catechism), and closing versicles. We keep things the same every day because the younger ones can’t read, so they have to learn it all by heart. Liturgy learned deeply is the goal anyway, so why not in our daily chapel?
We gather for worship just before lunch. The older ones are wrapping up their morning of “academics” and everyone is hungry for lunch. The kids are naturally squirmy, random, and noisy. We practice a bit of “stillness” before we start. Stillness is more than enforced silence. Stillness is being still in body, breath, and mind. They sit comfortably still (no slouching), closing their eyes lightly; they breath deeply (in for four, out for eight); and they think a simple prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Or just “Lord, have mercy on me.” Or simply “Jesus.”) We take a moment to enjoy the sound of stillness. Then we’re ready to hear God’s Word. You have to be still before you can hear.
I vest for chapel much the same way I vest for divine service on Sunday. Children need to see and experience office and authority. They know me on a casual and friendly basis, but we relate differently when I wear the symbols of Christ’s office. We are learning to be reverent and respectful, both to God and to each other, in our words and our actions. We bow, we make the sign of the cross, we extend hands in prayer and blessing.
Since the neighborhood kids come from Chinese, Spanish, and English households of varying spiritual backgrounds and experiences, we use the simple tunes from Taizé along with some refrain hymns from Lutheran Service Book for our chapel music. Some of the Taizé music is in Latin: Adoramus Te, Domine, Kyrie eleison, etc. If the kids can learn Gloria in Excelsis Deo at Christmas time, they can pick up a few more Latin phrases during the rest of the year. Latin becomes our common liturgical language.
Taizé music is very conducive to corporate song, singing all together with one voice, an important and oft-overlooked element of Christian worship. We are members in a chorus of faith not soloists on a stage. The kids have taken to these simple hymns quite readily. I hear them humming the tunes throughout the day. On a recent bus trip, a few of the kids wanted to sing the Kyrie eleison, which is in the “eketene” form of the liturgical Kyrie. I chanted on the fly petitions for various things, and at the end of each bid, the kids sang together “Kyrie, Kyrie, eleison.” We prayed for our bus driver, for the other drivers on the road, for poor people, for Moms and Dads, for all sorts of things. Using an ancient liturgical form of prayer. In Latin. On a bus full of kids.
We began learning music with my playing guitar and have since added a second guitar and the organ, thanks to Steve and Matthew, our organist. The kids are fascinated by the organ with its resonant bass and wide range of voices and sustained sound. It’s an instrument unlike any other. We’re going to build a mini-pipe organ next week to learn how they work. We just crawled the magnificent pipe organ at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange with Ryan, the organ’s builder, serving as our tour guide. Some of our kids formed an ad hoc recorder group that plays along with the guitars and organ in chapel. One of the boys was learning piano, so he joined in too. It’s quite an amazing sound.
We are hearing the Word of God in stillness all together. We are learning by heart the core catechism – Commandments, Creed, Our Father. We are singing all together with one voice. We are, for this short time together each day in summer, a congregation, a liturgical assembly, sheep and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. This is what the Church is.
Any seven year-old could tell you that.