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Lora Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen on Family Prayer and Worship

Families spending more time together during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have the opportunity to nurture—or begin—daily practices of family worship and prayer.

Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen, both ordained ministers in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, wrote Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship Throughout the Year. Copley teaches in and coordinates a pastoral leadership program on the Navajo Nation and teaches doctrine at Rehoboth Christian High School in New Mexico. Vander Haagen and her husband co-pastor Boston Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this edited conversation, Copley and Vander Haagen talk about helpful rhythms of family worship.

How is COVID-19 affecting your family?

EVH: Jay and I have two daughters, ages twelve and eleven, and a six-year-old son. We are feeling the effects of dramatic changes with social distancing and sheltering in place. As a family, we now have lots more time together during the day for meals and outdoor breaks, especially on weekends and in evenings. We’re playing more games together, watching a bit more Netflix, and Skyping with grandparents and cousins.

The uncertainty and changes to our routine are pretty stressful for everyone, and that shows up in different ways. But we’re giving thanks for mostly getting along and often enjoying each other’s company. Our kids have different areas in the house to do their schoolwork. We’re grateful there are ways for each to sort of have their own space.

LC: Joel and I have two sons, ages seventeen and fifteen, and two daughters, ages ten and nine. Now that New Mexico prohibits all gatherings of more than five people, we joke about which of us will be voted off the island. Between trying to work from home and help the kids with their online schooling, I’ve been putting one song on repeat: “We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are,” by Rich Mullins.

How is the novel coronavirus reshaping your work and church life?

EVH: For us, work and church life are the same thing. Pastoral care is limited to phone calls and emails. Meetings are happening via Zoom, and worship is too. It’s a pretty steep learning curve for me to adapt to more time on camera and interacting with screens. Yet key things in work and church life haven’t changed—prayer, Scripture study, and prayerful sermon and worship preparation.

All of this is now happening from our home instead of church. Study happens in an office in the basement, often referred to as “the cave,” and at the kitchen table. Last week, we led worship from the living room and recorded the sermon in the only quiet corner that could be found. On Friday or Saturday, we post the Sunday sermon on our church Facebook page. We post the liturgy on our church website.

LC: I now teach online and also call students personally so we can pray together. About 40 percent of our Rehoboth Christian School students have unreliable Wi-Fi, though even on reservations most have good phone access. One parent owns a trading post, but the teen helps manage the store twelve hours a day because of the threat of the mom contracting COVID-19. Another student takes care of siblings and cousins while parents work. We created a depository of each week’s lessons for all the high school courses. Our tech manager and volunteers put this all on USB drives and drive them out to people’s homes or to pick-up locations on the reservation. The school is very intentional about helping its students and families navigate the storm of this crisis in Jesus’ name.

Our Classis Red Mesa Leadership Development Network (LDN) usually meets two Saturdays a month, so we’re trying to figure out how to handle the five-people-or-less situation. Perhaps people can drive in to (an internet hotspot) Zoom sites in Shiprock or Farmington while maintaining social distancing.

And how does Rehoboth CRC’s current pattern of Sunday worship affect your family?

LC: We really miss being in the church. We want to still do the actions of the service, like standing to sing and do the greeting. Christianity is such an embodied faith. So it goes against our DNA as Christians to stay physically separated. We are grateful for (apps like) FaceTime and Marco Polo, streaming worship, and other digital media—but it’s a poor substitute for worshiping and learning together. We’ve settled on a prerecorded service with segments people can access on a YouTube playlist. Our Good Friday service provided space for families to do tangible actions, such as count out 30 coins, taste vinegar, and pour water till our cup overflows. It also included former Rehoboth members from around the world. Our Easter service had various parts recorded in people’s homes, yards, outdoors, and in the church sanctuary. Lots of us uploaded Easter greetings. [The Copley family greeting begins at 00:58.]

My husband often tells the kids that we’ll talk together about the sermon after the service. He’ll say, “Draw or write down what stands out to you, what connects to your life, and what is something you wonder about.” One online Lenten message was based on Psalm 22. Our younger daughter drew a pregnant lady walking on a path toward a cross and city. She named the path “life” and wrote words on the path, like “crying out,” “church,” and “I’m sorry.”

What is working best for your daily family worship right now?

LC: Over the years, during emergencies in our extended family or beyond, we sometimes have family prayer services. I set out printed scripture verses. We invite our kids to pray, read a scripture, or do both. Every kid is different. For some it’s good to learn you can let scripture fill your mouth. For others it’s a comfort to pray out their fears, tears, and anxieties. We did some prayer services soon after school closed and when one of their cousins was born prematurely.

EVH: When we learned that school was closing, we began a new routine of using Teach Us to Pray each morning after breakfast. We’d fallen out of the rhythm of using it after supper in the midst of lots of kids’ activities, though we did begin each meal with the invitation for the day. There was some resistance to the idea of using the book each morning (and sometimes still is!), but it’s working for us. 

For me especially, I find that Teach Us to Pray’s shared stilling time is grounding as the day begins. I’ve also been impressed that many of the book’s prayer topics are newly relevant and urgent in our current context. And the dwelling questions provide us with helpful tools to name some of our feelings with each other and before God.

When do you do family worship?

EVH: Besides using Teach Us to Pray after breakfast, we read a Bible story and pray with our son at bedtime. Before the girls’ bedtime, we read a psalm or an entry from Gayle Boss’s new book Wild Hope, and we pray together. On Sundays, we are participating or leading worship via Zoom with our congregation.

LC: Our family has devotions together right after meals about four or five nights a week. We took time away from Teach Us to Pray in 2018 and 2019. Instead we used classics like Pilgrim’s Progress and Hinds’ Feet on High Places or newer resources, such as The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New, by Marty Machowski, The New City Catechism, and the Community Bible Experience.

Throughout this Lent, we used Teach Us to Pray. I see value in reading straight through Scripture and training our children in the vocabulary of the church. But we also miss worshiping together through songs and silence, so that’s why went back to Teach Us to Pray for the Lenten season. After Easter, we dove into Psalms in the Community Bible Experience for lunch and Big Truths for Young Hearts, by Bruce Ware, after dinner. We may return again to Teach Us to Pray for Ordinary Time.


Read this helpful review of Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship Throughout the Year. Freely download Teach Us to Pray’s daily content for Eastertide (Easter to Pentecost Sunday).