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Lora Copley on Preparing Families for Sunday Worship

If you have been wanting to start or strengthen your family’s faith formation, perhaps the new coronavirus pandemic offers a novel opportunity.

Lora A. Copley, an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), co-wrote Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship Throughout the Year with pastor Elizabeth Vander Haagen. She teaches in and coordinates a pastoral leadership program on the Navajo Nation and teaches doctrine at Rehoboth Christian High School in New Mexico. In this edited conversation, Copley gives ideas for nurturing faith formation at home.

What is your family situation?

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 our 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.

Joel is a public school principal. New Mexico schools are closed for the rest of the school year, so he’s been doing professional development to help his staff teach online. We live really close to our church, Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church. I periodically help with worship leading at Rehoboth or pulpit supply in our classis. Joel is the church treasurer, often does tech support, and is a middle school youth leader.

Our county, McKinley County, has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico. Our boys recently helped with Rehoboth’s distribution for Navajo Nation Christian Response Team. The new coronavirus is spreading throughout the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area.

When churches could still meet together physically for worship, how did your family prepare?

On Sundays, we have a rule of no screens until 4 p.m. On Sunday mornings before church, we’ve always done something we call Shabbat, even though it’s not an exact cognate of the Jewish Shabbat. We light two candles. Each person has a hot washcloth. We have bread and juice but remind our kids that this is not communion—it’s a pointer to communion.

My husband reads part of Isaiah 58, sometimes just verses 12 and 13 (NIV):

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

Then you will find your joy in the Lord.”

We wash our faces and say, “Sunday is like a hot washcloth. It refreshes us, because we confess our sins, feel clean, and get ready for the week to come.” We hear blessings for that week ahead.

Where did you get the idea to do this?

I grew up that way. My parents always did this with me and my six siblings on Saturday evenings to prepare our hearts to set apart the Lord’s Day. It was especially orchestrated by my mom, Kathy Byker. She has a worshiper’s heart, and, combined with her artistic and educator sensibilities, my mother had a knack for making special rhythms and celebrations to glorify God throughout the year. My dad, John Byker, was a CRCNA Home Missions pastor. He also intentionally made home and worship mission-minded.

The Jewish version of welcoming the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) often includes candles, prayers, songs, and blessings over wine and bread. My parents’ version of Shabbat was more drawn out than what we do. My husband and I realized that short and regular family worship practices pay more dividends than longer practices do if they are not sustained. What we do is short, regular, expected, and manageable.

Most families have enough trouble getting out the door on time for church. Is that a problem for yours?

Because we’ve been doing this since our boys were in high chairs, it’s just part of our family rhythm, like brushing teeth. And my husband has a way to lead Shabbat so everyone can enter into it. Everyone plays a part to get Shabbat ready, like setting out candles, bread, and juice, or microwaving damp washcloths.

Now that Sunday worship is a virtual experience, do you still do Shabbat?

This past Sunday, we still did Shabbat before church. Our church prerecords worship service segments that people can access on a YouTube playlist. 

"It’s especially important to have rhythms of family worship when everything else in our lives is so much in flux."   

- Lora A. Copley

While Sunday, Shabbat, and daily readings are set rhythms for our family, some parts look different now. For example, we have introduced a family hike between our Shabbat and our Sunday worship service. We sing (well, maybe not our teen boys, at least not loudly) and talk about the passage before we hear it preached. Or, as another example, we pause the prerecorded service to engage in different ways. We use the mutual greeting time to text or call congregation members. After the congregational prayer, we pray our own family prayers as well. We invite interaction during the children’s or pastor’s message.

Do you have other family worship rituals?

Our family has devotions together right after supper about four or five nights a week. On Saturdays, we were going through a spiritual biography of George Whitefield. Now that we are staying home all day, every day, we do the spiritual biography readings at lunch. If we’re in a rush (less so now), only one person reads, while everyone else listens and eats.

My favorite time of day is meal time. We enjoy our conversations and always know we’ll be in some book together. Over the last few years, those books have included classics, like Pilgrim’s Progress and Hinds’ Feet on High Places; newer resources like The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New, by Marty Machowski, The New City Catechism, and Community Bible Experience; and Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship Throughout the Year, which Elizabeth Vander Haagen and I wrote.

Given that your kids go to Christian schools and are active in church life, why do you put so much emphasis on Shabbat and daily family worship?

Family worship is one area where God can bring beauty out of this COVID-19 chaos. Richard Baxter, an English Puritan pastor in the 1600s, said that no stream can rise higher than its source, and no church can rise higher than the spiritual life in its homes. He revitalized his community by getting them into psalm singing. Some of that spirit got imported into America by the Puritans who moved here. If we want to see our churches do more, then we must begin at home. 

LEARN MORE

Read about observing Shabbat in Jewish and Christian traditions. The New City Catechism combines and simplifies the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms into 52 short Q&As that are easy for families to memorize. Buy Teach Us to Pray: Scripture-Centered Family Worship Throughout the Year or download free excerpts.

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