My husband’s grandmother, now 94, tells wonderfully detailed stories of her years as a missionary nurse in India and Africa. She mentions with special appreciation the worship times with family, fellow missionaries, and hospital staff. With no church nearby they gathered for homemade worship, finding comfort and encouragement in simple acts of praise and prayer.
Household worship goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church, though it’s no longer a common practice in North America (only 1 in 20 churchgoing households do it, according to one study). Today we tend to invest all our worship energy in large congregational gatherings. But homemade worship can offer a healthy supplement for small groups and families, which often find that intimate gatherings give them a chance to feel safe and understood, to talk over spiritual questions, and to pray aloud for each other. Particularly in households with children, home worship provides an ideal context for faith formation.
Home worship can follow a simple outline. One excellent model is the pattern of morning and evening prayer services from ancient Christian traditions. These services include, in one form or another, four Ps: praise, psalm, proclamation, prayer.
In our family we’ve discovered that it’s important to put a little thought ahead of time into what we will do, then draw some kind of boundary between worship time and the regular noise and fuss of the household. When we gather in the living room, we might have our youngest child place a small cross and a candle in the middle of the coffee table and light the candle—just like in children’s worship at church. Then we open with words from the days of the early Christian church: “The Lord be with you.”
“And also with you.”
From there, each worship element can take many shapes.
Praise. This is a great time for singing favorite songs, accompanied by whatever instruments gathered folks can play. It might also be a good time to learn new songs. If there aren’t enough songbooks to go around, that’s OK. Sing from memory: we should learn more songs by heart so the words live in our hearts. Praise elements need not be sung, of course. Instead (or in addition) each person can offer one statement of praise or gratitude, and everyone can respond with “Amen” or “Praise God.”
Psalm. Psalm-singing is a rich feature of the Reformed heritage, and our hymnals and songbooks offer many musical settings of psalms. Our family especially likes reading psalms with a sung response. One person plays music quietly as another reads the psalm aloud. Every few verses the reader pauses, and we all sing the refrain together. Psalms invite nonmusical creative responses too. Members of the household can prepare a dramatic reading. Children can respond to a psalm by naming an image or picture that intrigues them and then drawing that picture. Older children might be asked to paraphrase a psalm with contemporary language and images.
Proclamation. Reading Scripture aloud reverently and attentively is an adequate way to proclaim the Word in home worship. The home setting is ideal, though, for the kind of informal, communal response not usually possible in congregational worship. Those present can be invited to listen silently as Scripture is read, then respond simply by repeating a word or phrase from the reading that the Spirit seems to be speaking to them. Our family has found that asking interesting, open-ended questions about the passage prompts wonderful conversations. Our children feel free to express their opinions and questions. As parents, we learn more about how our children think and feel, and we are able to share our faith and experiences naturally—and show that adults have questions too.
Prayer. Few things are more precious than hearing our brothers and sisters in the faith praying aloud for us. With a small number of people, it’s easy to invite prayer requests from everyone, to ask what each person is joyful or concerned about, and then to pray for one another. Small children can be given a few words of guidance: “Will you ask God to help Miriam on her tests this week?”
Home worship takes a little iniative and courage, but it connects us with a long Christian tradition that promises to bless our generation too.