I first read about summer choir camp in the Guild Letters, a magazine published by the Choristers Guild. It sounded like such a good idea—-just the thing to involve our children actively in the church music program. I talked to our pastors, outlining some possibilities, and they were enthusiastic. Together we started planning.
Setting a date wasn't difficult. We decided on the third week in August—the end of the summer when kids have often run out of things to do. Finding materials wasn't a problem either. We settled on a theme package—"Be a Sport—Sing with Our Team"— prepared by the Choristers Guild and aimed at the fourth- to eighth-grade audience.
Our objectives were clear. We would guide the group through planning and leading a worship service as a way of teaching them the elements of worship and preparing them for their future role as church leaders. We would also use this week as a way of recruiting members for the fall season in children's choirs and the handbell choir. Perhaps most important, we would have fun praising the Lord together.
Once the plans were in place, the next step was recruitment. We started out with a phone campaign, calling all the families in the congregation who had children in the target-age bracket. We followed up by sending out postcards, hanging a large poster in the narthex, and including an announcement in the bulletin on each of the four Sundays prior to camp.
The response was gratifying. A total of twenty children enrolled, eight of whom were seventh and eighth graders.
On each of our days together in camp we followed the schedule outlined below. We asked one of the older boys to play the Westminster chimes tune on orchestra bells to signal the end of one segment of our morning and the beginning of the next.
9:00-9:10 Devotions. We began each day with devotions in the sanctuary. Our Scripture for the week was from Ephesians 4 and 5, the passages our pastor had preached on in a sermon titled "Using Our Gifts to Build Up the Church."
After an opening song of greeting, several campers (notified in advance so that they had time to prepare) read the Scripture for the day and explained in their own words what it meant. Then, as is our custom in choir, a chorister extemporaneously sang a prayer, phrase by phrase, and the choir sang it back antiphonally.
9:10-9:20 Wake-Up Exercises. Exercises included active singing games and stretching to music.
9:20-10:00 Choir. Choir time began with ten to twelve minutes of fun "vocalises," designed to finish waking up the rest of the body, mind, spirit, and voice. (It takes a whole person to sing and rejoice.) We spent the rest of our practice time preparing three pieces of music to sing in our worship service:
"Come with Cymbals, Harp,
SA choir, keyboard, finger cymbals, autoharp, drum, timbrel (tambourine), flute, handbells
"God Bless Families"
Natalie Sleeth, CGA 298
Unions with keyboard
"Go Now in Peace"
Natalie Sleeth, in
Sunday Songbook 2 or 3 part round
10:00-10:10 Refreshments. One of our eighth grade girls arranged for refreshments for the week. The older kids took turns serving and cleaning up each day.
10:10-10:45 Special Guests. On Monday Jan Zuidema, our church organist,demonstrated the stops of the organ,concluding by playing a spirited piece that showed the full capabilities of the organ.
On Tuesday we viewed a videotape on liturgical dance (10—12 minutes; available through CRC Publications). We spent the remainder of our time learning a circle dance presented on the tape.
On Wednesday we extended the time allotted to this segment of our morning. Ellen Van't Hof,who teaches dance at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent one hour and fifteen minutes teaching us basic arm and leg movements of sacred dance and a beautiful dance she had written for "The Lord's Prayer." Finally, with help from the kids, she choreographed movements to our benediction, "Go Now in Peace."
On Thursday and Friday we practiced these two liturgical dances,"The Lord's Prayer" and "Go Now in Peace," during this half hour.
10:45-11:30 Fourth through sixth grades—recorders; seventh through eighth grades-—handbells. Fourth- through sixth-grade campers went to a remote part of the basement to play recorders. By Wednesday everyone knew the C major scale, and four students played "Go Now in Peace" (our goal for the entire class by Friday). Also on Wednesday we sent the kids home with staff paper, and before the end of the week we were listening to some original compositions. (See "My 1st Little Piece")
Handbells were the big attraction for the seventh and eighth graders. They learned proper ringing techniques, sight read "fun" music, and worked hard on "Come with Cymbals, Harp, and Drum," the introit for our worship service. The group especially enjoyed playing hymns.
11:30-12:00—Plan Worship Service. Our final half hour flew by each day as we reviewed the text from Scripture, discovered our gifts, and talked about how these gifts could be used to build the church. Each camper wrote his or her name and gift on a big brown wrapping paper "stone" and posted it on our large "stone wall."
Each day we talked together about some aspect of worship and practiced one part of the worship service we were planning.
"God Did It"
The actual worship service was a celebration. The Choir Camp Choristers served as greet-ers and ushers. They also spoke, sang, and read the introit; read the law (with a congregational response); sang the anthem; took the collection; and read the Scripture. The choir concluded the service by singing the benediction, "Go Now in Peace," while doing the liturgical dance they had helped to create. Then, splitting into two groups, the children sang the benediction again as they encircled the forward part of the sanctuary, down the center and side aisles. When they were all in place, they sang the song a third time, this time inviting the congregation to join in.
Perhaps the greatest lesson the children learned during this whole week-long experience occurred just prior to the worship service as we were practicing the introit. All of the instrumentalists had practiced separately, and nothing seemed to be coming together right. We needed more time, but the congregation was arriving in the narthex, and the kids needed to greet and usher them. We sat down and quietly prayed together, admitting to God that there was no way we could do the introit alone. We needed his help! After the worship service, which moved along without a hitch, one of the kids said, "God did it!"