Christian schools and learning communities frequently feature a daily or weekly “chapel” – and often this is a “mandatory attendance” event, for teachers and for students. Over many years of leading, participating, and observing in these chapel services, I have concluded that they typically demonstrate, in lived-out liturgies and pedagogies, the underlying worldviews that comprise the culture of that learning community.
Do we view students as empty receptacles, whose quiet selves must receive our measured-out godly wisdom? Is God’s truth habitually somber, severe, and threatened by “out of the box” responses? Do we even expect or desire responses? Can we learn from “the least of these,” or only from the “greatest” in our midst? Do we feel that we must entertain, or else no one will pay attention? Is “chapel attendance” part of our grading system? Do we require and evaluate external behaviors at the expense of hearts and minds and relationships? Do we honor and align with God’s design for teaching and learning?
Redemptive Education embraces the CDL view that, from the smallest and youngest of our students to the oldest and most mature of adult leaders, we are “people of God’s story, engaging in real work that forms self and shapes the world.” This view strongly contributes to our practice of the Welcoming to launch each day we are together in our learning communities.
What are the components of an effective Welcoming? Every day, they are the same. Every day, they are different! Like a train whose cars are linked and always going in the same direction, pulled by the same engine, the contents and sequence of each car will vary from day to day, from week to week.
And doesn’t “Welcoming” communicate invitation, rather than mere “attendance”?
So what is The Welcoming? How do we do it? Each morning’s 15- to 20-minute Welcoming includes:
Singing – Heritage hymns (preferred over “contemporary”) and original hymns and original verses by students/teachers based on those heritage hymns’ patterns of rhyme, syllabication, style. Our own rendition of “Happy Birthday” may be sung: “. . . May Jesus bless you!” instead of the final “Happy Birthday to you” for all the recent or upcoming birthdays. Often this is the first “car” in the Welcoming “train.”
Scripture – Both “deep dives” into memorization of passages such as a psalm and “deep dives” into shorter verses that feature topics for meditation (i.e. “darkness and light,” or “hidden and revealed” or “the three-ness of God”). Students read, teachers read, classes recite, the leader reads.
Speaking – NOT MUCH FROM THE FRONT – but interactive, with participation from the whole learning community, from youngest to oldest, visitors and students and teachers and parents alike. These are NOT little homilies or sermons or even “Bible Studies” but a gathering around considerations of God’s word and God’s world.
Movement – Motions to songs or scripture, responses to questions posed; energetic, fun.
Prayer – From the leader, teachers, anyone, but closing with student-led prayers in response to the content of The Welcoming. This is typically the “caboose” to close out our time together before heading to our various classes.
More on each of the above:
Someone in the adult learning community takes the lead on the singing, at least until student leader(s) emerge, if they do. ALL adults in the learning community model robust engagement with the singing.
Students and adults participate both with singing AND with percussion, as well as other instrumentation: formal (guitar? piano?) or student-made (bamboo recorder? stick/stone?).
Can include the biographies of lyricists and composers. Students can research/report on these.
Place hymn, (lyrics and melody) in its historical context: Missionary to China? American Civil War? Great Awakening? Monastery?
Can feature vocabulary from the hymn. Students can research/report on these. Motions can help with comprehension and retention.
Students and teachers can summarize or paraphrase the big ideas from a phrase, stanza, or whole hymn.
Identify rhyme schemes of the verses and/or chorus.
Identify patterns of syllables.
Model teacher-created original verses that conform to the above patterns, and invite student-created original verses. Celebrate these! Analyze them for the ways in which the student-lyricist chose to conform, or not, to the established patterns of rhyme and syllabication. Invite guided feedback if the students have learned to give/receive this profitably and graciously.
Identify melodic features: time signature, major/minor, tempo.
Teach conducting for the time signature and then switch hands, or invite the use of both hands or a stick as a “conducting baton”; invite student conductors to lead.
Apathetic singing is only slightly better than no singing. But only slightly. Maybe worse.
Linger on a passage or a Biblical idea or theme. Seek and find related scriptures.
Engage with a variety of translations and/or paraphrases if helpful.
Add motions to aid comprehension and retention.
Invite student and adult readers as individuals/pairs/trios.
Add dynamics: “May the Lord give you in—CREASE!” with a crescendo in volume and pitch as you say “increase” to aurally demonstrate its meaning: to get bigger or “more”.
Use different segments of the learning community to chant or shout or recite different segments of the passage (i.e. girls: “O, Israel trust in the Lord!” boys: “He is their help and their shield!”) .
This is perhaps where teacher leaders most typically err: with TOO MUCH TALKING from the front!
Most of the speaking invites reflection and response from the learning community, including children and adults, students and visitors, volunteers and those “called on.”
Story is great – but not always YOUR story, perhaps not even usually your story.
Humor is great – but not a comedy show. A joyful reverence, a holy happiness – these contribute to our knowing God. Too much “silly” detracts from our purpose.
Speaking is not primarily focused on information, except as a vehicle to foster wonder, to facilitate worship.
This is perhaps the most neglected component. Kids need to MOVE!
Especially if the Welcoming is outdoors and the weather is cold, or otherwise not very hospitable-feeling, including vigorous motion, whole-body or large-limb, not only invigorates the physical body but helps keep the engagement alive.
Examples can include stomping in rhythm to a song or rhythmic verse, conducting, marching one way or the other with each line of a hymn, stepping up on a bench (outdoors) or squatting down at designated words or lines, heavy percussion with large sticks/stones, dancing.
As noted previously, movement and motions can aid comprehension, retention, engagement.
Typically, prayer closes the Welcoming time, and is led by student volunteers.
The leader may call on specific students and/or adults, and facilitate this by prepping those individuals if there is any question about how comfortably they can serve in that role.
Young students may benefit from either a swift prompt or a quick inquiry: “Do you know what you will be praying about?” or “Will you be asking the Lord to bless Susie on her birthday?”
Model and offer practice in use of “leader voice” – “Marcus, did you bring your leader voice this morning? Let’s hear you use your leader voice to say, ‘Good morning!’ Oh, wow! That was wonderful!” or “Could you hear Marcus in the back? Oh, Marcus, could you speak loudly? There it is! Wonderful – thank you.”
Always thank your student participants: “Thank you for your leadership” or “Thank you for offering that on our behalf” or similar.
To close, a few Cardinal Rules for The Welcoming: KEEP IT BRIEF. KEEP IT REAL. KEEP IT MOVING. KEEP IT FOCUSED ON GOD, HIS WORD, HIS WORLD. JOYFUL REVERENCE THE PREVALENT TONE. INVITE & DELIGHT, MEDITATE & CELEBRATE. 😊TOGETHER.
Photo by Yura Forrat