Rev. Adam Douthwaite and Tim Shewmaker, Lilly Scholars
Ann Eggold, Congregational Representative
Our Redeemer Lutheran is both a church and a school. The church was founded in 1941 and has run a day school for over fifty years. The school currently serves approximately 115 students in Pre-K through 6th grade. The church holds two services and Bible classes on Sundays and has an average attendance of close to 250 people. For most of our history, the school has been an integral part of the church’s mission. In the past decade, the two have started to drift apart. Our project seeks to bring the two closer together through the renewed use of Lutheran liturgy in our day school.
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Lutheran schools were primarily for the children of member families of Lutheran churches. Music and worship were a central part of the formative experience. Every Lutheran schoolteacher had to pass a piano proficiency exam. Every day would include the singing of hymnody and liturgy. In recent decades, there has been a nationwide shift from majority-church member schools to majority non-member schools. The requirement of piano proficiency has also been dropped. In fact, most Lutheran educators receive no training in the Lutheran musical tradition.
Our Redeemer is no exception to these trends. Over the past decades, the church and the school began to develop different and distinct norms for worship, liturgy, and music. Briefly, while the church has seen a renewal of its liturgical life in the 21st century, the school has not.
Our Redeemer’s day school has, for well over a decade, used a children’s hymnal for worship that might be described as “campy.” This resource included liturgical orders, but they bore no resemblance to any traditional Lutheran liturgy. At the time this chapel book was implemented, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church was in a similar place liturgically. ORLC used a “custom” hymnbook, and moved towards a more informal liturgical order. Over the past years, ORLC has seen the restoration of full liturgical orders, chants, and Lutheran hymnals with a very positive response from the congregation.
This renewal in the church leaves the church and school in very different places. If families from the school visit the church, they and their children see little similarity between what the children in learn in school and what they experience on Sunday. From the perspective of mission, the school’s worship was no longer an outreach of the church. For Lutherans (and, indeed for many other denominations), music and liturgy are at the heart of our identity. We sing our faith.
To address this issue, we are bringing our church’s hymnal back into our day school. Through the course of the year, the school children are learning the same Matins service that is used nearly every week in our Sunday worship. We are teaching through our music classes and during chapel time. Our hymns are taught in the rotation of songs during music class. We started a special monthly class for 5th and 6th grade to learn the chapel hymns for the month. The Kindergarten through 2nd grade have a special 5 minutes “sing” every Friday to review the chants of the service. We hope to add a classroom set of our church’s hymnals to help in this work.
We also seek to address the knowledge gap among our Lutheran educators. In the spring, we will hold a monthly meal with a guest speaker to address the topic of children and liturgy. We hope to incentivize their joyful participation by providing a meal, conversation, and fellowship. The goal is not to return to the past, where all teachers played at some piano, but for our staff to have an understanding of and appreciation for the role our liturgy plays in faith formation of our school children.