This article is part of our series on Voices Together, the new worship and song collection from MennoMedia, in partnership with Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
By Ingrid Loepp Thiessen and Anneli Loepp Thiessen
When the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee met in Winnipeg in June 2019, a slate of songs for children was presented. In addition to all of the other material that had been screened, this slate was presented to give intentional thought to songs for children. These songs offered a distinct benefit to children; perhaps they had accessible lyrics, a repetitive melody, actions that went along with the song, or vivid imagery. What was known going into this process, however, is that children are not uniformly drawn to the same songs. Just as a group of adults presented with a new hymnal may each choose a different favorite song, so might children. The songs for children in Voices Together include contemporary worship songs, rounds, short songs with actions, four-part hymns, and songs from many cultures.
Parallel to the slate of songs for children, the worship resources committee for Voices Together (VT) also considered which worship resources may be accessible to children, and prioritized some of these pieces in the selection process. The Worship Leader Edition (WLE) also contains essays on integrating children into worship, including “Engaging Children throughout Worship” (WLE 180), “Children’s Time” (WLE 181), “Involving Children and Youth in Worship Leadership” (WLE 182), and “Worship Resources That Are More Accessible to Children” (WLE 183).
You can find a list of some songs and worship resources appropriate for children in the Topics and Uses in Worship index under “Children: Appropriate For.” (Note that there are many more resources that could have been part of this list – use this only as a starting place).
One of the most practical ways to involve children in the adoption of the new hymnal is by using children’s time or faith formation classes to teach about the songs and worship resources. Here are some specific ideas for how to do this:
- Go on a hymnal scavenger hunt. Choose some songs that children might be able to relate to. Write the numbers on cards and have the children draw cards, look up the songs or worship resources and talk about if they know the resource, what they think it is about, etc. You can also do this activity by asking children to call out their age, a sibling’s age, a favorite number, etc.
- Find songs about favorite things in nature. Do a check of songs and resources that include common things like trees, rocks, water, animals, flowers, breath, etc. Emphasize that God cares for all of creation and it is great to sing about it. Examples with this imagery include “Like a Rock” (VT 63), “Wade in the Water” (VT 454), “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (VT 177), and “God of Cosmos and Quarks” (VT 881).
- Learn about and memorize a Scripture verse from Voices Together. Short, accessible options include Psalm 118:24 (VT 15), Matthew 18:20 (VT 19), or Psalm 46:10 (VT 730).
- Teach a new song or worship resource using actions. Ontario Mennonite Music Camp has created videos for worship that teach actions to three Voices Together songs: “Holy Lord,” “Christ Be All Around Me (As I Rise),” and “Like a Rock.” Teach these actions to children, or involve them in coming up with new actions. A possible worship resource to add actions to is “Open Our Ears” (VT 866).
- Talk about heart songs. We all have songs we love to sing again and again. Invite children to consider that they might find a heart song in the book. You could then sing a congregational heart song followed by one from a different culture or context.
- Learn about words we sing a lot in church. Explain what a word like “Alleluia” or “Hosanna” means, and help the children find both sung and spoken examples.
- Examine how our songs can help us to understand our feelings. Show that the hymnal includes songs and resources for all kinds of different feelings and situations. Some examples to highlight include “Be Still and Know” (VT 37) for when we’re anxious or worried, “You Are Good” (VT 33) for when we’re feeling happy or excited, and “More Than You Know” (VT 598) for when we’re feeling lonely.
- Share the visual art in Voices Together. In particular, “Tree of Life” (VT 12) by Saejin Lee includes vivid imagery that children may be drawn to, including dinosaurs, children playing, monkeys and giraffes, and a beehive. The image represents all of God’s children gathered under the Tree of Life. For any image, children could be asked how they feel when they look at the art, or what it reminds them of.
- Teach children a new language. This is especially accessible using songs or worship resources with short texts, such as “Shukuru, Yesu (We Thank You, Jesus)” (VT 699) in Arabic, “Christ Have Mercy” (VT 615) in American Sign Language, “El Senyor es la meva forca (In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful)” (VT 118) in Catalan or Spanish, or Segala Puji Syukur (All Our Praise) (VT 82) in Indonesian. “Peace Be With You” (VT 850) also visualizes how to say “Peace be with you” in 22 languages. Once the children know these new words, they can help teach the rest of the congregation.
- Experiment with different ways a song can be sung. Show the children that prayer can be sung and that God delights in our songs. Sing a simple prayer song like “Somebody Prayed for Me” (VT 698) or “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” (VT 682). Sing it a few times adding instruments, movements, sing it loudly, sing it quietly pausing for prayer requests.
When introducing Voices Together, listen for the unique gifts children bring to the implementation process. Invite them to read Scripture, tell a story about one of their favorite songs, or learn a new song and share it as a solo. The children in our communities are theologians, musicians, caregivers, and intellects. They have active prayer lives, they work at perfecting their musical skills, and they are leaders in spiritual reflection.
Inviting children along on the journey of adopting Voices Together will strengthen community relationships, enhance worship participation, and make space to listen for God’s voice in new ways.
Anneli Loepp Thiessen is an active song leader, classical musician, and music educator. She is completing her PhD in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Ottawa, where she studies women in contemporary worship music. Anneli holds her Masters of Music in Piano Performance, her ARCT in Piano Performance, and a graduate diploma in Arts Management from Queens University. She is the director for Ontario Mennonite Music Camp, the co-chair of the Popular Idioms Committee for Voices Together, and the co-director of the Anabaptist Worship Network.
Ingrid Loepp Thiessen lives in Kitchener, Ontario. She has worked as a pastor and currently works as the chaplain in a large long-term care home. She loves to lead groups of all ages and has enjoyed teaching children in many settings. She is a collector of things “that might come in handy some day,” and thrives when creating lessons, sessions and fun out of them. Ingrid loves to sing and play the violin and watch things grow in the garden. She is married to Jim, and they are the parents of three young adult children. She is a graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.